Author’s note: I originally wrote this article following the week of my grandmother’s death, in July 2017. I now would like to share it.
The timeline between my grandmother’s diagnosis of cancer and her death was short.
On the 31st of May 2017, she arrived at our doorstep wearing a red jacket, to tell us she had small cancerous tumours in her stomach.
On the 28th July 2017, at 4am, she died.
In less than two months, what doctors thought was, at the worst, a stomach ulcer, turned out to be a stomach and lungs riddled with cancer.
She would have turned 75 three days later.
My grandmother’s name is Beverley and she will forever be the woman who taught me to love in an adult kind of way. That may not make sense, so let me take you back a few years.
About a month before she died, like the queen she was.
Beverley isn't my *biological* grandmother.
(Side note: Ooooph, I hate that word. Biological. As if it qualifies our relationship to be more meaningful. I digress.)
Beverley is the mother of my step-father, who has been in my life since I was about two.
The truth about blended families is that we don't always work like the Brady Bunch. Despite everybody's best intentions, despite an enormous amount of love - sometimes, too much - families are infinitely complex ecosystems.
So, from about the age of five until 13, Beverley and her husband, Bob, weren't in my life. After some family reconciliations, Beverley knocked on our door on a Saturday night, finally back.
From there, I created a relationship with Beverley unlike any other in my life.
I came to know Bev beyond a grandmother but as a woman whose love was abounding, who would politely drink tea while playing Cards Against Humanity with us, and who controversially, refused to marry her husband for many years because she was having a much better time... living.
So, when I met Beverley all over again at 13 years old, I fell in love with a new woman. I didn't just love this grandmother figure, I loved Beverley for all that she was.
I loved her like a best friend. I still love her like a best friend.
Bev: "Be vogue, Abby, be VOGUE." Me:...
She taught me that while we can love some by the nature of our relationship, like a mother, uncle or sister, others you choose to love. Even if you are not tied by blood.
Beverley chose to love me, and without a shadow of a doubt, I chose to love her. Fiercely.
Perhaps it was the hype of the 2017 New Year combined with lots of contemplative thinking over the summer break, that I decided Beverley should know this (and, not just a text with, "Love you xxxx").
So, I wrote Beverley a love letter.
A letter asking for forgiveness for the years we lost; a letter appreciating all the wonder she had brought into life; a letter of love that grows; and a letter to thank her for unconditionally loving me.
Because, every single darn day it was a blessing to be loved by that woman.
On the 14th January 2017, Beverley wrote back. I shan't recount her entire response, but she simply ended it with this:
March 2017. About two seconds after this photo, we ate a whole plate of brownies. We had priorities.
The last time I saw her before she died, I remember she held my hand. She stared into my eyes, breathing in and out through her oxygen mask. She was growing tired and I quietly pushed my chair back to leave.
She woke up, took off her oxygen mask, and wrapped her very frail arms around me.
In my ear she whispered, "Sweet dreams, darling", and I whispered back, "Sweet dreams, my darling Beverley".
She died a day later.
I remember sitting in my car heaving with pain. I had cried for so long, and so physically, I thought I would vomit.
I sat outside her house and I cried for this woman I had lost.
For the woman who had demanded I take her to see Magic Mike XXL (and also wondered if I could find her someone like Channing Tatum).
Approximately four seconds after we finished watching Magic Mike XXL. Five stars, she told me.
For the woman who had been another word for home.
However, not once, did I cry in regret for Beverley.
I was angry that she was taken so fast. I was in despair to have lost my greatest confidant. I felt lost and so utterly alone.
But, I have not once, for a moment, wondered, 'What if?'. I have not thought, 'If only she knew', I have not felt pain for things left unsaid.
We had said all the words and all the love before either of us knew she was ill.
I knew when I wished her sweet dreams, there was nothing more I needed to say. There was nothing more she needed to say because we both knew.
Forever, I will be thankful for whatever possessed me to write that love letter, because it has been the greatest anchor throughout this grief.
I have now finished writing love letters to all the other people in my life. Even if we have both said, 'I love you' a million times.
I want it said. I want no what ifs. I want them to know certainly, categorically, irrefutably just how much I love them.
As my darling Beverley did.