I stand alongside her, too antsy to sit and too scared to wake her.
I cross my arms and stare at her sleeping face.
She had changed so much these past few years in the nursing home.
I want to leave and I feel guilty for wanting that.
Nanny Ballingarry we called her in our bedtime prayers as children.
‘God bless Nanny Ballingarry and Nanny in the new house’ we would chant each night before slumber.
Nanny in the new house moved to a grave many years ago.
I never knew either of my grandfathers, so this is the last of my connection to the generation my parents grew up in.
She is my mother’s mother and visiting her was always something to look forward to as a child.
When I was 10 I made up the infamous ‘secret handshake’ that nanny would dutifully engage in with all the grandchildren when we arrived at the house in clusters and left together as a crowd.
We all loved the secret handshake, which she always did carefully and systematically.
It was never a natural movement for her and the culminating embrace, in true bromance style, always made her laugh out loud.
Up until very recently we all still did the secret handshake with nanny, but looking at her now, I am not even going to try.
It has been months since I visited her.
When I think of all she has done for me, I am ashamed of my lack of dedication.
It is such a sad experience to see a prominent figure of your youth before you in a feeble and frail state.
I find it confusing.
My memories of her are a strong, capable woman, very kind, gregarious and accommodating.
She loved life and life loved her.
She had a beautiful garden she kept herself and her home was immaculate; we used to make fun of her for her slightly OCD organisational skills, but if you needed anything, nanny had it in a neatly labelled box in the garage.
She had a great way with animals as well, the dog next door always came up for a few nibbles and some attention at various points of the day and there was a multitude of birds in the garden because she had a number of bird houses for them.
She got sick when I was in college abroad.
It all happened quite quickly and I had thought she would recover, but I’m still waiting for that miraculous recovery.
Five years later, here she is.
A shell of her former self.
An insult to the memories I hold of her.
A feeble stranger.
A nurse knocks on the door and I jump a little.
She has a tray with three glasses of orange gunk.
She chats chirpily to me as she spoon feeds nanny a glass of gunk.
I know Nan has a drip for food so I don’t know what the stuff is.
The nurse tells me it is diluted orange.
She tells me there is no point to feeding Nan the gunk, other than to give Nan the chance to carry out a somewhat normal function.
Nan shows some interest and we give her a second glass.
The nurse leaves.
Nanny is awake.
Her left ear is the good one so I walk around the bed and talk into her ear.
I say hi, I tell her my name, I give a bit of context; Monica’s daughter.
‘Monica’ she blurts out.
I continue to chat slowly and loudly into her ear.
A few things get a loud and childish ‘yeah’, a few things confuse her so I brush past them.
She thinks I am still in college in Wales
I am not sure how to summarise the events that have occurred since that period of time, so I roll with it.
Yes, I tell her, college is going well.
It is not long before I run out of things to say.
There is a silence.
She stares into the distance and I struggle with her despondency.
I wonder does she feel bored?
I wonder does she think of death?
I wonder what it is like to feel so tired that you cannot get out of bed.
I wonder does she like her life: Does she enjoy our visits? Do we mean anything to her anymore? Does life mean anything to her anymore?
Does she want to die?
I throw a few more sentences at her, but she has lost interest and I can’t take anymore.
I tell her I am going and I will visit soon.
I gather my stuff and as I go to leave I hug her while she lies in the bed.
She doesn’t move.
She doesn’t react.
I am not one for religion or faith and I don’t believe in Karma or reincarnation.
I think you get one shot at life and you do what you can until the final whistle blows, but I think if you have a lived a good life there is a satisfaction in death; like finally getting into your own bed for a big sleep, after a hard week and a stellar few nights.
I think nanny lived a good life.
I think she has partied hard, in her own way of organised boxes and lovely flowers, and she deserves a big sleep.
‘God bless Nanny Ballingarry and Nanny in the new house’ we used to say at bedtime all those years ago.
God bless Nanny Ballingarry.