The gulf left behind by Pepi’s passing has been so much greater than I expected. It’s made me realise how lucky I am that, of the many goodbyes in my life, few have been permanent.
The only person I’ve lost that mattered to me was my Grandma, when I was eight. She was seventy-one. Defeated by cancer.
I remember being woken by my older brother and sister, and delivered the overnight news; their worry, and the feeling of numbness that gripped.
It was only as the coffin lowered, to the solemn recitation of “Ashes to ashes…”, that the numbness turned to grief.
After that, fragments of memory.
My other Nanna, the one I didn’t care for, making a triumphant show of comforting me.
At the wake, the older kids across the room staring at my reddened eyes as I refused to eat.
The feeling I was the only one crying.
The vow never to let them see me cry again.
I was her favourite, they always liked to say. But that wasn’t how I saw it. She was simply my favourite. My most important person in the world.
She’d let me sit up with her in bed and watch A Country Practice.
Afterwards, I would kiss her goodnight and tiptoe off to my own room filled with the scary shadows of overstuffed brown wardrobes.
I’d wake to the sound of ABC wireless news, the smell of porridge and warm toast and wood smoke.
She’d talk to me as I followed her around in the garden, and take me visiting with her friends, where I’d be offered tea with Iced Vovo.
There were the precious moments of laughter and consternation that we shared.
The night she dozed off, falsies in the glass beside her, when my light goodnight kiss provoked a startled gummy scream.
The morning she couldn’t get the potbelly burning, and smoke billowed, and the comedy of it all tickled me with unappreciated giggles.
The day, as we walked on the beach, Grandma stumbled in the sand and we were uncontrollably struck by the moment’s hilarity.
But, perhaps best of all, was Trudy – the fluffy, yappy Pomeranian.
The rest of the family hated how she doted on that dog. How Grandma talked to her (as if she understood!). How she hand fed her human ‘tidbits’. And cleaned her teeth. And gave her the run of the house (not to mention everybody else’s).
But it all seemed perfectly natural to me. And so I found myself idolising the ground my Grandma walked on.
I dressed myself in my signature yellow-rimmed spectacles (glass removed), and marched about with a stuffed toy dog under my arm, parroting Grandma’s every word.
“Ooroo,” she would say from her back step, Trudy under arm (‘Ooroo’ is ancient Aussie for goodbye).
Much to everyone’s irritation, I also honed a perfect imitation of Trudy’s bark.
To this day, whenever I say something not to my sister’s liking, her favourite refrain is “Oh, you old Grandma.”
Perhaps, if she had lived long enough, I might have come to see her as the crotchety old bag the others always claim she was. But, from the rose coloured perspective of an eight year old, I can imagine worse things to be called.
Once, a local Aboriginal elder explained to me how children inherit the totems and characteristics of their grandparents. It is this relationship that shapes them, and is considered much more important than the child-parent bond.
As I look back, this seems to resonate. My independent Grandma and her little dog. Is this why, as a young adult, I found myself bringing home a Pepi pup? A replay of that little girl running around with a stuffed toy dog under her arm – only this time for real?
It seems silly, but I am strangely comforted. As though she’s with me as I say “Ooroo”.
Do you have a special Grandparent? How have they left traces of themselves in you?