Each time the reminder pops up on my phone, I feel my heart tug. As my Nana grew older, I decided it was best to ring her more often if I couldn’t get up to visit. Since my grandad died in 2005, she had kept herself busy and contained. She attended church groups weekly and had life-long friends she visited and who visited her. So, she was busy.
I thought, twice a week would be good. So I put reminders in my phone calendar. I rang each week on Wednesdays and Fridays. My older cousin would call her before or after me— completely unplanned.
“Oh, you just beat your cousin,” she would answer.
I would respond, “Of course I did. That’s why I call.”
We would laugh for a bit, and we would speak about our days. I didn’t have to be careful about what I regaled her with. She understood the intricacies of a podcast, the moderate happenings of social media, my experiences trying to write and what I was doing with my life surprisingly well.
In her accent that reminded me of curry goat and love, she would say, “Just make sure you’re taking some time to rest, darling.”
This was the weekly routine for years. The reminder popped up, and I would ring again. Sometimes, if she didn’t answer she would call back an hour later and it would be my fault.
“Oh, so you remember me now?” she would say, completely ignoring the fact that she was calling me back.
“Well, you seem to be having a better social life than me. Glad you could squeeze me in.”
I laughed. I could hear her hold back her laugh, with her characteristic “hmm.”
Nothing prepares you for the moment you lose your grandparent. I used to play out how I would react when the news came. I made a mental checklist. I wouldn’t cry straight away. I would say something profound at the funeral. I would be proactive in helping it come together. I would do all the things I could do.
Of course, all of that went out the window when we received a message in our group chat one autumn afternoon from my aunt, informing us that my Nana had a heart attack and was in very critical condition.
I was at home, writing and preparing to go on the radio when my mum called me and asked, “Do you want to come to the hospital?”
“Of course,” I replied.
She said, “I’m on my way.”
She hung up the phone and was back home in twenty minutes. We were on the motorway within thirty minutes. We were in Leicester by late afternoon.
All of my cousins arrived sporadically at the hospital, arriving in cohorts. Me with my mum. My cousin with her brother. My other cousins came together. My sister on foot. We got to the hospital and stood outside, fear splattered on our faces. We were all asking the same question: could this be the day we lose her?
The next 48 hours were critical, so I spent them in Leicester. There were three events planned for me to attend, and I pulled out. To hell with them, they could wait. Not being with my Nana would have broken me. Doctors said she was on the mend. She would be fine. I slept in her house for those 48 hours. As I lounged on the sofa in the front room, my phone buzzed.
Call Nana, the reminder popped up.
I was hoping that normality would resume itself.
I looked around, and thought, soon.
Weeks before she went into the hospital, I rang my Nana from the back of a taxi. I was on the way to my friend’s house for a catch-up.
“You’re always out of your house.”
I couldn’t exactly call my grandmother a liar.
“No, Nana. I am only out when you happen to call me.”
She made an “mmhmm” sound and told me that she wasn’t feeling too good. She told me she thought she might die.
“Don’t say that, Nana.”
For my sake, more than her’s.
“I have to go. I love you,” I said.
“I love you, darling.”
When she came out of the hospital the second time, I called. She told me she was getting better. I wanted to hold her hand and squeeze some of my youth into her. She went back in. She came out again, weaker. I was oiling her feet and encouraging her to eat. I rubbed her back. I stayed in Leicester for as long as I could.
My mum and I got back on the coach on a Sunday evening. We were back in the hospital on Monday afternoon. Nana had another heart attack. There really was no coming back from this one, the doctors said. She died in the early hours of Tuesday morning. I rubbed her feet as she took her last breath. My mum and aunties stood watching. They had known their mother for longer. I had only known her for twenty-eight years.
“You’d make a good nurse,” she said to me as I rubbed her back and encouraged her to eat and take her medication the day before.
I smiled at her and encouraged her to take it easy. I adjusted her pillows. I lay my head on her stomach and listened. I was listening to her body tell me she was alive. As I rubbed her feet in the hospital, I wanted to hear her body tell me she was alive, one last time. Her breath diminished. It was done.
When she died, there were no more sounds. No more “I love you darlings”. No more “hmms” or “eehees”. The only sound came from my phone. I looked at it when it buzzed.
To this day I still scroll to her phone number and press it, hoping to hear her answer, “Hello, darling.” It rings out. She isn’t there.
When do you delete the reminder on your phone that was there so that the person you loved most in the world would feel less alone? I don’t know.
I might delete it once we reach a year of her passing this November. I might not. One thing I do know for sure is that when I’m sitting on the tube on my way home, scrolling through my phone, and a notification pops up saying Call Nana, I will.
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