I was 13 when my Nan – my Mom’s Mom – died. I spent a lot of time with her growing up, with all my grandparents actually. She looked after me when I was poorly and my Mom was at work, or during summer holidays, or just because. She had an infectious laugh. She used to let me play hairdressers with her grey curly permed hair and made me cheese sandwiches with sweet pickled onions. In summertime she would sit in a deckchair in the garden while I made up songs and dances with an upturned mop. We’d go for afternoon walks where she’d nose in other people’s houses as we passed. She always had a tin of broken biscuits in the cupboard. She was ace.
Inevitably though, when I think of my Nan, I always come back to a similar memory which makes me feel sick with shame even now, 27 years on. My grandad used to homebrew beer and lager. He had a set up at home with all the kit. And one day me and Nan went to the local town and she had to buy him a new brewing container, like a big plastic bin. On the walk home (Nan didn’t drive) I was carrying this big plastic bin, in a black bin liner, and it was bashing against my legs and it meant I couldn’t walk on the wall like I always did when we came back from town. So I was grumbling and whinging and Nan took it off me and struggled herself with the other bags as well.
If my Nan was around now, or probably even at the time, she probably wouldn’t have even remembered that day. She certainly wouldn’t have held any grudge and would tell me not to be silly. I was just a kid after all, probably about 10 or 11 when it happened.
But it weighs heavily on my mind, and I can’t help it.
I have a different type of guilt when I think of my Dad. I’m sure I did lots of shitty thoughtless things to him when I was a kid, but there’s nothing huge that springs to mind. There was the time, after he and Mom had divorced, that I was supposed to go out to lunch with him (it was his birthday or maybe Fathers Day) but I’d been out clubbing all night and fell into such a deep sleep that I missed my alarm and all his calls. I do feel bad about that, but in later years we talked and even laughed about it. That’s one of the “good” things (if you can call it that) about him being terminally ill and knowing that time was limited. We got the chance to say all the things we wanted to say. I apologised for things like the afore mentioned deep sleep incident. I brought up anything that had upset me or played on my mind but I’d squirrelled away, because that’s what people do, and he was able to explain situations and put me at ease. I can’t imagine losing someone suddenly and having unfinished business or unanswered questions.
The guilt I have around losing my Dad is mainly connected to what I’ve gained as a result of his death. He was a very switched on and organised man who was saving towards his future retirement, which he was supposed to enjoy with his wife. And obviously his diagnosis stole that from him; from both of them. So I was in the position of losing my Dad at what I think to be a young age, certainly prematurely to what I ever feared but also being left some money. Money that I didn’t need, didn’t want and certainly didn’t want to inherit in such fucking tragic circumstances. Money that, his wife told me, he wanted me to have for my future in the absence of him having a future. The only thing he asked of me, before he died, was not waste it. I know he meant spend it on shoes!
There’s a huge amount of responsibility that comes with inheriting money as a result of such a life changing loss. The thought of using it towards enjoyment when it existed purely because my Dad had died was unthinkable to me. But having money sitting there doing nothing isn’t what my Dad would have wanted either. He wanted me to enjoy it and benefit from it. So we’ve used some of it towards our home. We’ve been able to stay in our chosen area and buy a property with the intention of having building work and renovations done to make it into a perfect home for us. We couldn’t have done that otherwise (well we could, but we’d be living on dust and in a building site while we saved up enough money to do the work we needed). My Dad’s gift has given us a home and garden that we love with all our heart (so much so that we don’t go out anywhere near as much as we used to!) It has given us some financial security and an investment in our future, because the work we’ve had done on our house will increase the value as the years progress.
But how can I be so happy with something that has come at such a huge personal cost? The dichotomy between loving it, and hating the situation that made it possible. Knowing that the person in my life who would have been THE MOST EXCITED for us will never see it. He’d have been involved every step of the way; wanting photos, listening to our builder woes, telling us to give people a kick up the ass. He’d have walked in and done his amazed face where his eyes opened really wide and he said “WOW. Just WOW”. He’d have walked backwards and forwards and around and said things like “I tell you what…” and not finish the sentence because he’d spotted something else to look at. He’d have opened and closed and opened our bifold doors and said something like “these are a bit smart”. He’d have listened while I told him about all the different birds that come to our bird table and how my hydrangea is growing back after a cold winter. His eyes would have crinkled up at the sides like they did when he was happy and he’d have hugged me really tight.
And all of that would have happened because of the money he gave us, but can’t happen because the money he gave us is because he died.
It’s a headfuck.
I feel so lucky to have a wonderful home, but so unlucky to have been afforded it in the way it’s happened. All I can be is thankful and grateful to him. To do him proud. To have invested the money wisely in property, and not in my wardrobe! To be happy and settled. To share it with family. To make it a welcoming and lovely place to be. A place he would have approved of. To try not to feel guilty, because what good does that do? Gratitude is much more useful than guilt.
Somehow though, just like the feeling I have when I think about my Nan, it’s something I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to shake off.
Thanks, as always, for reading. x