Monday, 2 July 2012

Jennie Wright - Nan's Week


By Jennie Wright

When I was asked to do a Life Writing piece for one of my English and Professional & Creative Writing modules, I thought about this quite carefully and I bypassed all the topics I could cover; first love, starting University, first rite-of-passage holiday with friends etc but I couldn't summon up enough enthusiasm about these topics. 
They seemed too mundane. 



And then I thought about the year I was having and all the things that had happened. It then occurred to me to write about my Nan. We were always very close and I admired her. She was very brave for many reasons and the biggest reason was the fact that she chose to die in August 2011. So I wrote the piece in hope to commemorate her for her bravery. 



In Memory Of
Jean Margaret Rose White
1937-2011

Tuesday 2nd August 2011
I can’t breathe. I’m scared but I don’t want to keep talking about it. I’m sick to death of it. All I know is that my chest is tight and I’ve been feeling ill again. The girls are back from Tenerife. I wanted to wait until they were back. It wouldn’t be right if they weren’t here. I tell George to phone for an ambulance because I think I have to go into hospital. I hate it in there. Them bloody nurses are horrible. Ignorant. But I think it’s getting worse.                                



A man and a woman arrive in their green uniforms. They’re nice to me but I feel like crying as they lift me up off the bed. My nightdress suddenly feels too short and I feel like I’m a baby again, back in Richmond, with my Mum. Rose. The ambulance woman talks to me like I’m a kiddie. There, there, Jean.  

She looks at my swollen, blue feet and my bruised legs with sympathy but I know that deep down she is scared. She is scared that her legs may never see a miniskirt again. She is scared that her feet might not even be able to squeeze into slippers on a winter’s night, let alone those heels she loves. She is scared of being old. Like I used to be.  

They manage to get me down the stairs and out of the house. George locks up the front door. As I’m lifted in the ambulance I see George go to Leslie, who is waiting by his car. They both smile at me. Call the girls, I want to tell them, I need them all to be with me. And the kids too.

I get to A&E and I feel calmer. It’s happening. After five years of doctors, disabled signs, oxygen, tears and anger, I finally feel like I can breathe easy again.

I can’t really. I’m wheezing as the doctor prods me with a needle. I wince as my blood travels out of my papery skin. My back hurts. I want to go back to bed. But I have to go through all the tests. They take an X-ray of my chest. My lungs aren’t what they used to be. I’m taken to a ward and I can lie down. 

George is sitting on a blue padded chair, with a cup of tea. He asks if I want one. I do but it’s stewed to death, these hospital cuppas. I’ve had enough to last me a lifetime. Leslie has gone outside to phone the others. My husband is here with our son so I need my daughters here too. They have to come.

The doctor comes round. She looks tired. It’s been a long day and the sun blazing through the windows makes it worse. I used to love days like this, especially when we had the caravan. Now I don’t. The heat chokes me.

Dr Weber clears her throat and looks at her clipboard. I wheeze.


‘Jean, the X-ray results show that you have double pneumonia. We would like to treat it with antibiotics.’

‘No.’
She double takes. George sits up in his chair, his eyes narrowing.   

‘I’m sorry?’ says the doctor.     
        
‘I don’t want the antibiotics,’ my voice cracks but I’m certain. ‘I refuse to have any more treatment.’

‘Jean, that is quite a big decision to make. Are you sure? I mean, the antibiotics will get rid of the pneumonia and then –’

I cut across her. ‘And then what? I go back home and stay in bed all day? Or back to Meadow House? My family have to see me in one room nowadays. The last time I went downstairs was on me birthday and I didn’t enjoy it because I thought I was going to die. You don’t have emphysema, doctor. I do.’

I look at George. He is looking at the doctor and then he stands up. I notice how thin he is. 
  
‘Doctor Weber, my wife and I have been married for fifty-six years and if she wants to make that decision then I respect it entirely.’

She nods. ‘Well, without the antibiotics your quality of life will not be great.’

‘I don’t have a good quality of life anyway,’ I say.

Doctor Weber looks down at her notes then back at me. ‘You’ll deteriorate quite quickly. If you are one hundred per cent sure that this is what you want, then we can make you as comfortable as possible. I urge you to see all your family.’

‘Thank you, doctor.’ I smile, even though there are tears in my eyes. ‘My family will be arriving soon.’

Irene, Brenda, Pamela, Angela and Leslie come to the ward. I don’t think anything could have prepared them for what I was about to tell them. They all gather around my bed. I try to smile.

Doctor Weber comes back with a nurse. The nurse draws the curtains around my bed. Good. I don’t want everyone else on the ward looking at me. I’d rather a side room but I know they won’t give me one.

The doctor looks at my son and my daughters. ‘I’d like Jean to repeat to her family what she has said to me.’

Then they all look at me. My moment.

‘I … I’ve got double pneumonia. They’ve offered me antibiotics but I don’t want them. I can’t take it anymore. I’ve refused treatment.’             
                                                                                
My children look at one another. They know what this means but none of them say anything. I go on. ‘I just want it all to end. I’m sorry.’

Angela is the first to cry. She takes my hand and just sobs. It breaks my heart.

‘Are you sure, Mum?’ she keeps asking.

I am sure. I’ve never been surer of anything in my life. It’s the end now.

‘I want to see my grandchildren,’ I whisper as the others begin to cry too.

My son-in-laws, daughter-in-law, grandchildren and great-grandchildren all arrive within the next few hours. The other people on the ward must think I’m like the Queen.

George and my son and daughters leave the ward for a while. I think they’ve gone to get a drink and something to eat. Brenda has gone for a fag. My son-in-laws and daughter-in-law replace them. I look at them all: Peter, Paul, Dave, Tony and Claire. Their faces are pale. They already know.

‘You understand, don’t you?’ I say.

They all nod.

‘I am sorry. I really am. But I just can’t take it anymore.’ I breathe in and out heavily.

Dave turns the fan on for me. It’s sweltering.

Then the grandkids come in. Well, some of them. Robert, Samantha and her Kieran and Annette with her William.

I tell them I’m sorry. Sam and Nettie are crying. Robert is holding the lil’uns hands. William looks at me with his big brown eyes.

‘Nanny Jeen gon’ get better?’

‘I will do, darlin’ but this time it’ll be different.’

Kieran looks at William. ‘She’ll go to Heaven. I know about it already.’ He sounds proud
.
Heaven. I wonder what it’s like. I wipe my eyes as they leave and Trudie, Liam, Olivia, Samuel and Emma come in. Samuel, bless him, just keeps telling me it’s OK. Emma and Liv don’t say much. I think they’re scared. Trudie and Liam have tears in their eyes but they tell me they understand. I don’t think any of them are angry.

Then Jennie comes in. I look at her. She avoids my eyes. I want her to come closer but I know it’s hard for her. She might not.

She does, though. The others move away, to make room for her. She takes my hand and looks down at the bed, her dark hair covering her face.

She’s more like her Nanny Pauline than me. May she rest in peace.


Jennie isn’t going to like this.

‘I’m sorry, Jen. But I know you understand. More than the others. You’ve always understood.’

I start to cry. She opens her mouth to speak. I look at her.

But then she drops my hand and walks away. She says sorry to someone outside. Then I hear her she crying. I look at Trudie, her sister.

‘I didn’t mean to upset her.’

‘I know you didn’t, Nan. She knows too.’ Trudie strokes my hand.

All my family, here with me. It is the saddest but happiest moment of my life.
*****
Sunday 7th August 2011
A football lands on my head with a sharp thwack. I look around the park angrily. I spot a tall, dark-haired chap grinning at me. He looks familiar.     

                                                  
‘You gonna kick that back over or what?’ he yells.      
                                                             
I huff and pick up the ball. I chuck it as hard as I can but it falls feebly, barely reaching him and his friends.    
                                                                          
They all laugh and I feel my cheeks burn. I turn away. Then I hear his footsteps coming towards me.                                                                                                                                       
‘Do you want to come to the pictures with me?’

Up close, I realise who he is. I’d seen him about Acton High Street before with Bill Murphy – Margaret’s boyfriend. He’s a bit older than me, in his early twenties.

I’m not letting on that I know he is Bill’s friend so I speak abruptly and haughtily.

‘I don’t even know you.’

‘I’m George White, trainee painter and decorator. I live in Acton and I like having a pint down the pub,’ he laughs. ‘You’re Jean Langton, you work in a factory and one of your sisters is that crazy Maureen.’

I blush furiously. I’m amazed that he knows so much. I like the way his eyes crinkle when he smiles.
I find myself nodding. 


‘Tonight?’

He grins. ‘Outside the Odeon, at half six. I might even treat you to an ice cream.’ He walks away with a wave.

Footsteps. A warm hand on mine.

I stand outside the picture house, waiting. I’m wearing my best pencil skirt with a tucked-in blouse. These stilettos are killing me. Where is he? We’re going to miss the film at this rate.
I watch all the other couples go in, hand in hand. I feel lonely. Then my heart skips as a hand lands on my shoulder. I turn and face him. He is dressed like a Teddy boy, with his hair gelled back.

We go to the ticket booth and he pats his trouser pocket, a grin of disbelief curling his mouth.

‘I’ve only forgotten me wallet.’

Muffled laughter. Whispering.     
                                                                                                                                                                           ‘I’ll have to pay then,’ I’m quite annoyed but I try not to show it as I get out my purse. I hope this chap is worth it. 

I pay for our tickets and we go in. The usher shows us to our seats. The lights are fading. As the film starts, George takes my hand. I feel warm inside.    
                                                                  
After the film, he walks me back to my home on Junction Road. There’s not much conversation between us. I turn to face him when we reach my door.    
                                                         
‘I’ve really enjoyed myself tonight, Jean,’ he says, smiling. ‘I’m sorry about forgetting my wallet.’ 
                                                                                                  
‘It’s OK,’ I look into his bluey-grey eyes and feel brave. ‘You’ll have to pay next time.’  
    
He cups my cheek and kisses me softly.

Soft lips on my forehead. ‘We’re here, Mum. We’re always here.’

After our kiss, I turn away and put my key in the door. I walk into our warm hallway. Just before I go to shut the door, I allow myself one last look. He looks back and then he walks away. My hand shakes as I lock the door for the night. I’m only seventeen but I think I’m in love.  

‘I love you.’ It’s closer.  

I go upstairs quickly. My bedroom is empty – Doreen is in the living room with the rest of my family. I lay down on my bed, in the dark.

            Darkness. Further away. 


I tuck my feet up, like I used to when I was a little girl. I put my hands around my knees, hugging them to my chest. I’m not a lil’un anymore. I imagine my future with George White – it’s ridiculous but I can’t help it. I’m happy.    
                                       
I’m happy. 
Pandora's Note 
A big thank you to Jennie for sharing this touching piece. For those of you who have just joined "Peace from Pieces", Jennie is my proofreader / editor who works wonders with a red and yellow highlighter. In the few months that I have been working with her, she has spotted, corrected, tweaked and amended sections that so-called experts have missed. So if you ever have a manuscript that needs a keen eye, Jennie's your girl.
                                                                                                                                                                                   
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Total - 120,836

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6. Blog-A-Licious Directory 2012
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10. Dora's Essentials - Books, Blogs & Smiles 2
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11. Elevenses from Around the World
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