Saturday, 23 May 2015

The magic of remembering

I have a little white silkie named for my mother's mother, Nana McHugh.

Yesterday, I heard her screaming and ran to the verandah too late to see what had happened, but there was a flurry of large white wings and a shrieking of smaller birds in the trees on the bank of the creek. All that was left was a bloodied scatter of Nana's fluffy feathers on the lawn. Hawk attack. She didn't come for food in the evening, so we lamented the loss of her little life.

Poor Nana.

Last night I was filing correspondence and found the following letter from me to my Nana in 2002, just before she died. So I read it in honour of her namesake's passing.

Dear Nana, Lydia:

I am so sorry you are in pain now, and I wish I could make it stop for you. Remember when I asked you if you were afraid to die? You told me, no, as long as you got to go in your sleep. I want you to know I will miss you. Death is all very well for the one on their way out, but it's not for us left behind. You never told me your stories! That is my business, stories - I know thousands of stories, but none of them mean as much to me as yours, because yours tells me who I am. Please, before you get too ill to remember, tell me your story so I've got something to be going on with! Write to me - tell me where I come from; tell me who you are, so I know how I've become myself.

You are my only remaining grandparent, and I am your first born's first born. Tell me what you wanted to be when you were 16, tell me your secret desires, tell me what you haven't had a chance to achieve, and I'll pick up the baton and run with it!

I find myself thinking about you a lot, and your life, and what it means, and how to deal with your eventual death. We all spend too much time trying to ignore death, or hide from it. I try to imagine what it would feel like to finally release myself from this bloody bag of bones and water we all drag around and call our 'body'. I try to imagine what it would be like to just be me, without the weight of existing in this world.

Your daughter, my mother, said to me when I was pregnant with my son, while she watched your husband, her father , dying, that she thought they were the same thing, birth and death - a release from one state into another. She knows big things, our connective tissue, the body between us, Hazel.

I am distressed that you are ill, that your body is worn out, but I am really distressed because you are living out my own mortality. You are proof that I will have the same fate as you - I will age and die - your fate is mine. We are the same thing and will suffer the same fate. And it makes me realise that all the nonsense and stress and crap that I worry about in the minituae of daily life means nothing - it will all only lead me to where you are now.

I feel humble, but the strength it gives me is the knowledge that this life we breathe is the only wealth we have as humans. Eventually, all we have is our selves, and if we can live with ourselves and our choices, then we have lived well. You have lived the best of lives. You are a good woman. Congratulations. 

I love you and will never forget you.

This morning, Geoffrey was downstairs gathering tools for work when I heard him exclaim, 'Nana!' There she was! Back from the dead! The hawk must have flown off with just a clutch of feathers. There are small punctures on her back from its claws, but she was able to flee under the house and must have hid there all night, terrified to go our under the dangerous sky.

Or, maybe my remembering her namesake brought her back to life.

Lucky Nana.


  1. Now that I think about it, you do appear to be somewhat careless with your poultry. Wasn't there an incident where a snake ate a Muscovy duck?

  2. Free range falconry, we call it.