Ooroo, Grandma

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.

Grandma was the only person I was allowed to escape to visit for a sleepover – which I did as often as I could.

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?


  1. says

    This is beautiful Alarna…you hold your grandma in such high regard, and I think she deserves it. She sounds wonderful…I never met my grandparents except for my dad’s mom, and I was quite young….

    Enjoyed reading this!

    • Alarna Rose Gray says

      So sad to hear you didn’t have grandparents in your life. When they take their role seriously, it is so very special. I feel lucky to have had this – even if it was for a short time. Thank you for your lovely comments… 🙂

  2. says

    Just gorgeous, so vivid and real and honest. Lovely to see how you saw your relationship through a child’s eyes.You also gave me an insight into how my favourite grandchild may be seeing me…and how profound the aboriginal explanation of the bond is… I could actually see how it’s working between my eldest grandson and me…
    So many layers to your story – quite beautiful, and so very telling…loved the yellow rimmed specs! And how true , how annoyed family get when you spoil your dog after they’ve gone… You never let us do that, my grownup children used to grumble, meaning both them and the dogs we had then!!!
    You hit he spot.
    Thank you dear friend.

    • says

      You are a very special grandparent, Valerie, and I hope that your grandkids realise how fortunate they are to have you.

      As for jealousy of pets. I don’t get it. How hard it is for humans to accept that we might be the lesser beings! My own family have been pretty resentful that Pepi’s care has come before theirs this year. And I don’t even have children!

      Animals are on a different plane, and that is all there is to it. Grandma and I both understood that, so we were happy in our little bubble 🙂

      Thanks so much for your own wonderful and perceptive comments. I love hearing from you 🙂

  3. Help Baby Jayden says

    This made me sniffle so much. I adored my Nana. I always felt like she was the one person who understood me and loved me and thought I was special, so I understand your relationship. I do believe the relationship with a good grandparent is one of the most special in a kid’s life. It’s why I’m so pleased I got to be young when my grandkids started to arrive because I want so much to be that person for them 🙂 Your post today really showed me how much I probably do/will mean to them and I’m so grateful for that.

    She sounds like a very special grandma, indeed, and you, a very special granddaughter 🙂

    • Alarna Rose Gray says

      Wen! What a darling you are…

      I have no doubt at all of the wonderful influence you have had and will continue to have on your grandkids. You are so there for them, in every way, and it sounds like you have lots of fun together (bruises or no bruises 😉 ).

      I’m glad you made specific mention of ‘good’ grandparents, because ‘bad’ grandparents can have the opposite effect.

      Wishing you many long years to come with your little ones…they are a treasure xx

      • Help Baby Jayden says

        Aww, and the same to you 🙂 I do think bad grandparents can be just as big an influence in an entirely other way, too. I definitely want to be the good sort 🙂 Hehe, I’m sure there will be many more bruises on my watch, too! 🙂

  4. says

    This is a lovely story, honestly told and touching .What precious memories you have of your grandmother and the ties you shared with her.You have inherited her gift for loving animals, forming an unspeakable bond with them. Losing Pepi was like losing your grandmother all over again.
    My grandfather and I were very close. He would say, “you don’t know how well you raised your children until you see how your grandchildren turn out.” I would laugh and remind him I was his only grandchild. I knew how special I was to him. to him. The odd thing…he wasn’t close to his son, my father and I believe the Aboriginal elder had a good explanation for this.

    • says

      Such a thoughtful response! Losing Pepi does seem to have made me confront the loss of my Grandma – who knew! I love the wisdom of your grandfather’s words – that the generational patterns take time to play out. As kids, I think we spend a lot of time differentiating ourselves from our parents, whereas the bond with grandparents (if it works right) is less encumbered, somehow. A lot of pressure on you, as the only grandkid, but pretty sure he’d be proud of his accomplishments 😉

  5. says

    That was a very beautiful post!! Though to me, my family means just my mom and dad, and though I have never been close to any one else, I have had a lot of love from my grandparents… And it definitely is a special form of affection that is to be cherished!! 🙂

    • says

      No one family is the same – I’m endlessly fascinated by the differences. I’m glad to hear there is a lot of love to go around – from what I’ve read on your posts, you seem to have a wonderful relationship with your parents, too. Much to be cherished there – thanks Sumithra 🙂

  6. Ralph says

    Hi Alarna. Yes. I had a special Grandmother who always had a place in her heart for me. She left me nothing except fond memories of those many years ago when I was a little boy. Take care. Ralph x

  7. says

    What a lovely relationship you had with your grandma. These days it is so rare to be living close enough to our grandparents (and other relatives for that matter) that we get to see them on a regular basis. I’m so glad you had a special bond, that magic, in your life, that you get to keep with you always.

    I’m sure your relationship with Pepi is no coincidence, and had a lot to do with your relationship with your grandma. What a great gift.

    • says

      You’re so right, it is rare these days – kind of sad, isn’t it? Thanks for the reminder of the magic of that gift…I hadn’t thought of it like that – and how easy it is to take these things for granted.

  8. says

    Beautiful post Alarna. The only grand-parent I had the chance to know is my grandma (my mum’s mum). The others passed away when I was a child. I have beautiful memories of my grandma… She faced many challenges in her life and had a lot of wisdom… She passed away 6 years ago. I still miss her a lot.

    • Alarna Rose Gray says

      Hi Rita! There’s something beautiful and, I imagine, reassuring about that kind of ‘lived wisdom’ of a grandma. It’s wonderful that she was with you for so long – you must undoubtedly miss her terribly…

  9. Coleen Patrick says

    Lovely post Alarna. I had one special grandmother. I didn’t get to see her often, as we moved a lot, but I will never forget having toast and tea with her when I did get to visit. It’s a simple and sweet memory. Thanks for prompting me to think about her. 🙂

    • Alarna Rose Gray says

      My pleasure Coleen… Perhaps its the perfect combination of unconditional love and sweet treats that make our Grandmothers so special 😉

      • says

        Alarna, this post did something to me. Since reading it I’ve been trying to ignore a little voice urging me to write a piece for my dear Aunt. But I was trying to avoid the pain. That is until I couldn’t escape any longer and found myself surrendering. Please read my post ‘when she left us‘. It was very difficult writing it, I couldn’t stop crying. I can’t believe how much I miss her after all these years.

      • says

        Dear Besma,

        Thank you so much for sharing your story with me. I’m very moved by your writing…it captures so terribly, and so beautifully, the grief we feel when those important souls leave us. Unexpectedly or not, the separation is as you say – the life and light being sucked completely from our world.

        I’m not sure if this grief is ever fully resolved, because those who leave us are so irreplaceable. I suffered from hypoglycemia after my Grandma died. And then when Pepi died, it took me right back to that time in the most unexpected way.

        Even though the writing was painful, I’m glad you gave it voice, and I hope you feel some peace from it as well. Sending you much love, and hugs. xo

  10. says

    This is a beautiful tribute to your grandma, Alarna. I love your writing. You’re ultra talented. And after reading this, I love your grandma, too, and that little eight-year-old who adored her.

  11. says

    How gorgeous..if she seemed as she did to your eight year old heart, then that speaks to how wonderful she was because to connect with a child, at their level, is far more important than impressing the other adults around you. She sounds great and reminds me of my great aunty Gert, an Irish Aunt, who was outspoken and brash to an extent but loved by all, especially us kids and her great niece, my mum. We all adored her. She never married and so we were her children in a way. Like you, one grandma was not a favourite because she was extremely demanding of her daughter, my mother and we children and treated us like we were there to serve her every need. Dad’s mother was lovely and open and very giving and a real survivor. Thank you for this post. Regards Leanne

    • says

      You are so right…a connection with a child is priceless. Great Aunt Gert sounds like a wonderful character…it’s funny, because I think kids can handle that kind of brusqueness better than adults, so long as there is love.

      It is a shame that some grandparents can’t seem to engage. Not only do we miss out, but so do they…

  12. says

    I really enjoyed reading this, Alarna! I had a Grandpa of this sort, with whom I own a great mutual contact rather than with my parents. But its a crooked fact that he passed away too earlier, when I was studying in 3rd grade. This post helped me to reminds about my lovely Grandpa, dear. Thank you so much for sharing this delightful piece. Have a good day ahead. Cheers.\m/ 🙂


  13. says

    Wow! Thirty nine responses, no wonder, we all have or had a grandmother, just as you, I had one I loved dearly and cherish each memory and the other, very strong willed and a disciplinarian yet full of personality which I wasn’t close to and even had some problems with, learned a lot from, but could apply it only much later in life.
    Well, you can guess which one left it’s strongest mark…
    Your grandmother sounds like she was a very special person, I’m sure a lot of children would’ve wished to have someone like her! 🙂

    • says

      Very well said, there 🙂 I guess the negative marks are what they call ‘character building’ – and maybe the others are what make us bloom.

      I know what you mean about applying it much later in life…It’s only post 30 that I’ve really been able to say I’m happy with the cards I’ve been dealt. We have to make the best of it, right? And appreciate the good stuff that we had. Thanks for your lovely comment.

  14. says

    What a truly touching story, Alarna. So sorry for your loss. I’m actually named after my Nana, Ginger. And, she’s always been there for me when I needed her. But, the thing that’s never faltered is her love and support. Every new venture, hobby, obstacle, no matter what I do, she’s behind me 100%. And, when my mother and I started Inion N. Mathair four years ago, she was there to support us, and has become our number one fan. Great post!

    • says

      What a treasure to have a Nana still with you on the journey! No doubt you have inherited more than her name, and I love that she’s your number one fan. That’s how it should be, too!

      You must also have a pretty good relationship with your Mum to be doing what you do together…really like the name you’ve come up with for your partnership.

      Thanks so much for your comment. 🙂

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