“The last time I saw you,” she sighed, staring at an afternoon decades ago, “you were wearing a little shirt with a pocket on the chest, and a nappy, and I took you straight off ya Mum and walked down the back of the yard. We had a look at the animals, and you put ya head down on my shoulder. It was a few weeks until Christmas, and..” she paused, puffing out her cheeks before starting again, “.. ya Mum said she’d bring you back then to get your presents.” She pushed at the tablecloth, straightening wrinkles and bumps into temporary submission. She heaved in a breath, looked up to meet my gaze, blinking against the tears falling into the creases of her face. “I didn’t see you again. I didn’t even know if you was dead. Nothing.”
“Oh I’ve missed you,” she choked out. “I never forgot you. Never stopped loving you. Not ever. Not a single day without wondering where you were and if you were okay.”
This was my grandmother; a woman whom I didn’t even know existed until two months earlier. But I could see my face reflected in hers, and finally had a physical, genetic explanation of where my red hair and curves came from. It was our first weekend together (that I could remember), and we stared hungrily at each other’s face, asked questions and tried to fill in the enormous, bewildering gap of over two decades of life (and deaths and marriages, babies, successes and heartbreak) we had lived without knowledge of the other’s experiences.
Over and over again my Nan would say the same phrases, and still does whenever we talk. “I never forgot ya. Never stopped loving ya. Not ever. Not a single day without wondering where you were and if you was okay. It broke my heart.” I don’t doubt it hurt her. My biological Dad and his siblings have told me of her grief, of their eventual insistence that she not speak of me in their hearing because of the pain it caused all of them. I couldn’t imagine what it meant, or felt like, to lose a granddaughter – the first grandbaby born to the family – in such a sudden, inexplicable and deliberate way.