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Gladys M. Yates was born on the 28 August 1921 and died on Saturday 5th November this year, a few short weeks after her 95th birthday.
The ‘M’ stands for a classic 19th-century name, beautiful in its own right.
But, in Nanna’s head - I learned at the funeral yesterday - it stood for ‘Mortified if anyone finds out’, so I will spare her the fate of having it forever committed to the internet here.
Perhaps the only funny thing about death is how much it makes you reflect upon life. Your own and, in a more profound way, the life of the person so dear to you for so long, but who we’ll never see again.
Eighteen days feels like a long time to pause life between Nanna’s death and the chance to say goodbye to her properly, but it’s given a window to think deeply about all that she meant in life, as well as changes her death bring to the family.
By the measure of people, 95 years is a phenomenal amount of time to be alive.
If I’m fortunate enough to emulate her achievement, I still have over half a century to go!
In that time, she experienced a lot of life.
Our Glad was born less than three years after the first World War and turned 18 just a week before Britain declared war on Germany in 1939. The entirety of her childhood was prised into the short gap between two world wars, which were almost certainly the UK’s most difficult years in modern times.
During the second world war, at an age when today you’d be on a gap year or having a blast at university, nanna was dealing with blasts of a very different kind. She worked in a munitions factory and, as mourners learned yesterday, almost caused her own explosion when she (literally) dropped a bomb one day.
Most lives have their share of trauma and challenge, sure, but I highlight just a few of nanna’s challenges not for bragging rights on how tough her life was, but to spotlight just what - I think - is the very essence of what made her such a remarkable lady.
Despite the challenges, setbacks and toughness of life, she retained a forever childlike innocence and warmth for everyone around her. All of my memories of her, and I’ve been reviewing them in some detail these past weeks, are cosy and pleasant; they make me smile - Nanna always made me smile!
The more I reflect, the more magical it seems that a fairly ordinary woman who has faced some extraordinary difficulties, certainly by today’s standards, could bring such lightness of being to the people around her.
Even the last time I saw her looking well, at her 95th birthday party, she was excited that a party was going on and that so many people had turned up to be a part of it. Nanna’s dementia meant she was barely aware who we were or that this was her party, but it was no matter for her soul...
Even as that awful, pernicious illness ravaged her brain, it could not diminish her being. At her very core was a light joyfulness of life that was never surrendered. She laughed and enjoyed the party with us and I have no doubt that, had she been able, she’d have got up to dance with us too!
The tragedy of living to be 95, especially when you’re the youngest of three children, is that there’s a good chance you’ll outlive every one of your peer group.
At yesterday’s funeral, there was a marked absence of anyone from her generation, but the next two generations were there in number to share our love with her one more time as we said goodbye.
Jim and I were not as close to Nanna as Heidi, but I know she always had a soft spot for Jim. He felt particularly connected to her, especially when her sister Ethel died. Jim and his family will miss ‘nanna in the sky’.
My sister, Heidi, was her next-door neighbour for a while. Actually, they were next-floor neighbours. For the whole of my life, Nanna lived on the 12th floor of a block of flats and Heidi came and nestled below her at a testing time in her life.
I was going to say that Nanna became like a second mum to Heidi, however, the more I reflect on the relationship they had, the more I see it as a deep friendship.
A friendship that unusually - but wonderfully - spanned the near six decades which separated them. Yes, they were at very different ages of their lives, but they were experiencing similar life events.
Serendipity made them neighbours, circumstance made them sisters and time spent together made them friends.
We get so few relationships of that strength in life, I know what you shared will bring you many happy memories for the rest of your life, Heidi.
Nanna leaves behind three children, Tony, Wendy (mum) and Mark.
My uncle Tony, like me, is the eldest of his siblings. Consequently, he knew nanna for longer than any of us.
Tony took Nanna on holiday to Egypt. I may be wrong, but think this was the first time she’d ever been on a plane and was it that time she had to go down the emergency escape chute on the runway?! I do remember her relaying the story of the tour bus being surrounded by armed guards as they travelled outside the holiday compound.
I wish my memory for facts was better, but I think he also took her cruising more than once. Before he took Nanna away, she was not a well-travelled lady!
Another thing I learned yesterday was Tony took her to see her idol, Frankie Vaughan (his 1955 signature tune ‘Give me the moonlight, give me the girl was played at the funeral). They’d arranged for Frankie to read out her name on stage, instead, he pulled her onto the stage itself and serenaded her! She was star-struck for months and his signed photo was pinned to her kitchen wall for years.
I don’t know Tony as well as I ought, but I know he gave Nanna some wonderful experiences.
I hope Nanna’s funeral and the chance to share stories about her with us afterwards bought a small measure of happiness for him at a very dark time in his life.
My mum, Wendy, is Nanna’s second child.
It’s no surprise to learn that almost all of my memories of Nanna figure my mum in there somewhere.
Being her only daughter, their emotional bond was incredibly strong.
It was hard for them both when mum moved to Spain, but the connection was kept very strong with visits back and forth - including Nanna and Mark having Christmas on the beach with Mum and Ray.
Mum had us laughing yesterday as she recalled the day Nanna inadvertently met Prince Charles. Mum knows how to get what she wants and, by fluke, Nanna was in hospital on the day Charles was there to open a new wing.
Crowbarring Nanna to the front, a security outrage was nearly caused when Our Glad (who, I should point out, was a royalist beyond compare) reached out from her wheelchair, grabbed Charlie’s arm, pulled him in and said: “I’m having the same operation your grandma had!”.
Nanna’s strength was deteriorating by her late 80s and her mental prowess diminished rapidly over the past two or three years. I can only imagine with great sadness how hard it has been for mum to see that happen to Nanna.
We laughed yesterday when we called out that Mum had now become the matriarch of the family. She was less thrilled with the title, but I’ve been reflecting on what that means.
“You’re next in the firing line!” is how it’s been put in the family and, whilst that is a slightly scary truth, taking the time to see how Our Glad wore the crown shines more positive emotions on it.
Nanna was the matriarch of our family from before my life began almost 43 years ago.
Her long reign in that position came with a simple philosophy: bring joy to those around you, provide solace when it’s required and be the linchpin which binds a spread out family together.
At a time of massive shock to the family structure, like that which hit us in the early hours of the fifth November, we all need a loving symbol of calmness and security and the sense that we do carry on as a family unit which loves and cares for each other.
You should be incredibly proud to step into your mum’s shoes as our new matriarch because I know, mum, that you will do that wonderfully!
Uncle Mark is the youngest of Nanna’s three children.
He was born only a few years before Graham, the eldest of my generation and he’s just 13 years older than me.
Until Nanna moved out of the flat to receive 24hr care a couple of years ago, she and Mark had lived together his whole life.
He is very much the unsung hero in Nanna’s story.
I struggle to recount individual stories of Mark and Nanna. As a child the most I saw of him was when Nanna forced him to come out of his room and say ‘hi’ to us. I suspect he dreaded having us running around and screaming on a Sunday dinnertime!
One fond memory I have of Mark is getting drunk with him one Christmas. I’m afraid I don’t recall which one, but think it might have been when mum lived in Southwell (more than twenty years ago) and he and Nanna came over.
Anyway, Mark’s experience is one I've thought about a lot since she passed.
Whilst everyone else was moving, marrying (and remarrying), having kids and generally having life filled by all the things that make it more difficult to spend time with your parents and grandparents, Mark was there, always at Nanna’s side.
His banter with Nanna is somewhat legendary within the family. He gave her stick, she gave some back and laughed at nearly all of it!
She washed his clothes, packed him up, and made sure he was out of bed at some ungodly hour for the morning shift (we used to tease her a lot about going to bed so early and getting up at 4!).
As age began to take its toll on her, Mark reciprocated by being her constant companion. There is no doubt that Nanna lived as long and as well as she did in no small part for having Mark constantly with her, messing with her, shouting at her, caring for her and loving her.
But, sharing your life so completely with someone means the void they leave behind is that bit bigger and takes that bit longer to adjust to.
Take calmness Mark from this simple fact: you shared more time with Nanna than anyone else on this Earth. She was one of life’s truly wonderful people and I hope all those memories you have of her - even the one where she wakes you up at 4am on your day off - bring you comfort and happiness in the time ahead.
Nanna had a wicked sense of humour and a wonderful laugh. When it got out of control, we used to tease that it was like being in a farmyard.
My mum inherited her crying/screaming laugh, I have it too and Iove it. I know when that laugh comes out, I am truly lost to the funny side of life!
Just like her life, her death was a colourful affair. Nanna’s casket was adorned with blue sky and poppies, two of my personal favourite things in the world. It was perfect that even at that saddest of moments on a dreary, wet day, nanna still brought warmth, joy and light into a room full of family.
Heck - she even had a laugh as me, Jim, Tony and Mark had to carry her coffin in with a crouch to fit through the door.
After the lovely ceremony, we had a warm afternoon sharing stories of her over a drink, and I look forward to sharing many more over coming Christmases, birthdays and other family get-togethers.
I’ll always remember you laughing Nanna and your happy, childlike take on life.
I love you, miss you and wish you a very peaceful rest.