10 years ago today …….remembering Jean

When MamaKat sent out her blog post prompts one lept out at me immediately…..10 years ago today my husband’s mum Jean was in hospital.

We didn’t know it at the time, but she would only be alive a few more days.

Jean was only 65 when she died, and as I am now 44, that seems incredibly young.

So today, I want to share a few memories of Jean.

Her childhood was tough – her mum died during the childbirth of her 6th child while her husband was overseas during the 2nd World War. Although her father returned from the war, the family weren’t able to stay together.  Jean, the youngest of the family, and her 4 brothers were separated, and Jean was raised by a maiden Aunt in Co Armagh in a very rural area. It must have been a real shock to Jean, having been raised in inner city Belfast.

By the sounds of it, her aunt was quite a character, and Jean pushed her boundaries a bit – she owned a pair of trousers but her aunt never knew about them as Jean would go to change at a friends house before heading out!

Jean left school at 14/16

Married in the early 60’s Jean was very proud of her two sons, who both when on to University.  This is a photo of her on our wedding day almost 20 years ago.

When she died she had 3 granddaughters. I would love her to have met my son, and her other granddaughter, who arrived just over 2 years later.  She would have loved my son’s red hair and her youngest granddaughter’s tight curls.

Although she had been ill with a serious lung condition she was in relatively good health when she was admitted to hospital for a change of medication.  Unfortunately she caught an MRSA infection and she rapidly deteriorated.  Maybe it was better at the time that we didn’t realise this was our last time with her, but I have very vivid memories of the last afternoon my husband and I sat with her. She chatted a little about when she hoped to get home. It was a sunny winter afternoon, and as we sat in that side room Jean was dozing, we became aware of a large flock of small birds outside in the trees. They made such a lovely racket! It was one of those “frozen in time” moments, and looking back I am glad we had that time.

The following morning we received the call to go immediately to the hospital. My husband probably already knew, but it was only when we arrived at the hospital, and Jean’s minister met us at the door on his way out, looking visibly shaken and upset that I realised she had died.  Fortunately our daughters, then aged 4 and 2 had been staying with my parents for a few days, so we were able to focus on the wake and funeral.

Here in Northern Ireland, when someone dies, the friends and family rally round. Within hours neighbours were delivering cakes and sandwiches, and for the rest of that day and the following day there was a constant stream of visitors. I was grateful for the busy-ness of it all, and spent most of the time making tea and washing dishes.

There was a huge turnout for the funeral, including some of our own friends and neighbours who travelled quite a way to be there. After the service we drove to the small country church and graveyard just a mile up the road from where Jean had lived most of her married life. The procession of cars paused for a minute outside the house before driving on the to church.

There was more tea and sandwiches, and most of the women (including me) stayed in the church hall and mostly just the men when to the graveside for the final committal.

The whole experience was draining, but the next day our daughters came back and my husband explained to our 4 year old about how Granny was now in heaven. Our daughter was more concerned that Daddy had tears on his cheeks, and just accepted that Granny had gone to heaven in that matter-of-fact child-like way.

Since my childhood, when my last grandparent died when I was about 7, I had never had someone close to me die. However sharing Jean’s strong faith and knowing she was pain-free in Heaven helped. I remember feeling anger though, why did Jean have to die before she could see her grandkids grow up. A few days after the funeral I saw some little girls, aged about 10, walking with their Granny and I thought “WHY does SHE get to be with her grandkids when Jean couldn’t” I am sure that seems ridiculous, but that memory still remains with me.

Phew ….. sorry about all of this, if you have made it this far, but I did want to share this at some stage on my blog.

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