By Helen, posting on Instagram @sw_helenrich78
Writing this piece about two extraordinary women is something for my daughter to keep so she can understand in future who her Nanna is and who her other Nanna would’ve been if she’d been lucky enough to meet her.
Both Nanna and Mam’s names are Margaret – a coincidence as they’re not mother and daughter, though everyone assumed so because of their closeness. Nanna and Mam were actually mother and daughter-in-law. They were both called Meg by many people so I felt it was fitting to name my little girl Megan, to continue the link.
Nanna came from a large family. She met my grandad when she was a teenager and they were together until he died several years ago. Nanna’s had a tough life, when her first daughter was just 9 months old she passed away. Then, when her youngest son was 25, she lost him too. Nanna’s dealt with a whole different level of grief to what I think most people experience but she’s always strong for other people.
I lost my Mam a few months before I found out I was having my little girl, so she never got to be the Nanna I know she’d have loved to have been to my child, though she was a Nanna already to my brothers’ children.
When my Mam became ill we had a very tough time, fear manifested as stubbornness and for weeks she refused to go to the GP to get anything checked out. When she finally did go, none of us were prepared for what followed.
Mam had seen me through a mentally abusive marriage, then the breakdown of that relationship and rebuilding my life. On top of that, when I was newly single I’d survived a car crash which left me housebound for a year. Mam was the glue holding me together. Finding out I was going to lose her was terrifying as well as overwhelmingly sad.
Nanna, despite being in her 80s, rallied round. We had Mam at home rather than a hospice and I don't think Nanna slept for a fortnight, nursing Mam around the clock, determinedly taking the brunt of the work until the very end. Ever since, Nanna’s continued to be the strength in our family. She is quite simply incredible.
Finding out I was pregnant it was lovely, lovely news but I never expected to face first time motherhood without my own mother to guide me. Once again, Nanna stepped in and agreed to be my birthing partner, coming to appointments and scans when my partner couldn't get time off too. Nanna was by my side the whole time I was in labour (nearly 2 days). She rubbed my back, put socks on my freezing feet and assisted in every way needed. Amazingly, she did all this fuelled by just one bacon sandwich!
In the end, I had an emergency Caesarean and Nanna was there and ready again afterwards. Once we were home, she took over hoovering, batch cooking, cleaning and keeping me sane. I saw Nanna every single week of my year of maternity leave and loved that time, three generations of women, like we had our old team back only with a new member to help make the hole in our lives a little less noticeable.
Unsurprisingly, Nanna and my daughter have a very close bond now too. They spend one day a week together still and adore each other, I’m so happy they get to have this relationship, it’s beautiful. Mum will always be missing but I do appreciate what’s present so very much.
Going back in time, Nanna’s nursed so many people through ill health, including terminal illnesses during her life. As well as that, she’s helped most of our family through grief and tragedy and rarely indulges self-pity. She’s quite literally a machine of generosity and willingness to always help others.
Because of all this life experience and her wonderful nature, Nanna always has a story to tell. Her laugh is also the most infectious I’ve ever heard.
By contrast to Nanna’s busy childhood, Mam was an only child. She lost her dad aged 21 after an industrial accident and her own mother suffered severe mental health issues after her husband’s death and she was often unable to leave the house. So, aged 21, Mam became her mum’s carer and continued in that role for the rest of her mother’s life. Mam was always sacrificing for other people. She’d never put her own needs first and was one of the kindest women to walk this earth.
Once, we went away on a London theatre break together and ended up in the same hotel as an international sports team. Mam had no clue who she was flirting away with while nervously trying to make conversation!
Another time, we went on a coach trip to York. The coach dropped us in a really obscure location and said we’d be picked up at the same place later that day. Of course, we got lost and were horribly late! Me and nanna spent the whole time trying to find the pick-up point; constructing an elaborate excuse for our lateness so we didn’t have to admit our rubbish bearings! We were so proud of our cover-up work and then it all got blown out of the water by my Mam loudly announcing the second she set foot on the coach full of cheesed off pensioners, “we got lost!”
We laughed all the way home about that. Nobody else did though!
Fundraising’s been part of my life for many years but never more so than since we lost Mam. I've done many events in her memory and this year I'm taking on my biggest challenge yet – The Great North Run - a half marathon, and I’m not built for running! I know it's going to hurt but I think of the pain Mam must’ve suffered in her final weeks and I think, well, at least I’ll still be alive at the end of this. If she could endure that pain, I can endure this.
I've had a lot of difficult times in my life, and couldn't have got through them without Mam. Sometimes, I don't know how I do it now Mam isn't here anymore. People tell me I'm a very strong person but I don't think I am, I’m just determined not to let my Mam down.
If I can achieve being half as good a Mum to my daughter as Mam was to me, nothing else in life comes close. I wish Megan and my Mam could’ve met each other but maybe, hopefully, she’s here with us sometimes in a different way.
Unfortunately, after the death of her mother 15 years ago, Mam and the rest of her family became estranged. She never got over the loss of those family relationships (and I don’t think I ever will either). However, the silver lining on the cloud is that the already wonderful bond Mam had with her mother in law, wonderful Nanna Meg, strengthened even more and their incredible relationship become the foundation that supports me today and gives me so many precious memories.
On a Saturday, me, Mam and Nanna used to have a weekly day out. We’d go round the shops, then for lunch then for cake and coffee along the way home.
These simple days were the best times.