The Last Letter

 Tears are the silent language of grief ~Voltaire

I lost my grandmother four days ago. Just writing those words rips at my heart. I know she’s gone, but she can’t be. Not Grandma. She was ready to go; she told us so as kindly as she could. But never were we ready to let her go. Not Grandma.

The world, my world, my children’s world, is poorer for not having her in it. She would laugh at that, my grandma. Tell me I’m a wonderful child then tell me to stop being silly. Joan Mary Spedding never saw the greatness that she was. She was humble, wise, loving and kind. And she was stubborn, boy was she stubborn.

But she slipped away in the early morning hours last Sunday, ninety-five years young, leaving us but now reunited with my grandfather – the love of her life. Eric and Joan. Together again. And that mends my heart just a little.

Eric and Joan

I write this because the world needs to know what it’s lost, for it’s those who toil quietly who seem to pass into obscurity, and it’s those who should be remembered most, especially my grandmother.

She had two great loves, my grandma. Family and words. She was a writer, my grandma, a storyteller. Her last book, and her most prized, Ten Men of Resolution, was published when she was 89. There’s beauty and wisdom in words, courage and magic, she told me, and I know she was right.

My grandma wrote stories and poems, history and anecdotes, but it was her letters I most cherished. From my earliest memory I received them. Hand-written words on paper. Letters. And when my children were born, they too received letters – “all the way from New Zealand!” Each one addressed to them and opened with excitement at what was to be found inside. Sometimes it was a poem, other times a story, and always there was a newspaper clipping or two she thought the kids would find interesting. There was love in these letters, in each beautiful phrase, and lovingly formed word.

I wrote back often, but now I think never often enough. Grief does that. It brings with it guilt, and I can hear my grandma calling me silly, telling me I’m a wonderful child, but … grief. I treasured the moments I could sit down and put pen to paper, writing to my grandma of all that was happening here, what the kids were getting up to, how I missed her. We shared memories of the year when I was 19 and my grandfather had had a heart attack. I’d flown over to stay with her – just me and Grandma in her house, staying up ‘til all hours just talking. Of me climbing One Tree Hill in Auckland the ‘wrong way’ – oh, how she and Grandpa had laughed at me. Years later I told them I’d hitch-hiked back from the Hill to the hospital; my grandfather was livid, my grandmother smiled and said (in the English accent she never lost): “What an adventure! Just don’t tell your father.”

When I became a journalist she was proud; when I became a storyteller, she told me this was where my heart lay, and she was right. Grandma didn’t read horror, it wasn’t her thing, but she read every story I ever wrote. Even the ones I warned were explicit. She didn’t care. I wrote them, she’d read them.

She loved unconditionally, all of us. And we saw it in her letters. Letters I will no longer receive. Hand written notes of love my children will no longer receive. Letters.

I found my last letter from Grandma sitting on my bedside table. I’m sure I put it away with all my others. I know I did. But there it was. The last letter. The writing was a little more shaky, the words painstakingly written, but always, there was love. ‘My wordsmith’ she called me, ‘there is always magic in what you do, creating worlds from imagination is a gift, don’t waste it. But remember the greatest magic you have ever created is your children. Magic. Wonder. Love. Kindness. Take that with you wherever you go.”

But the magic is dulled, the wonder floundering, the love is aching and the kindness hard to fathom. My grandma… Grief. It clouds it all. But I know she’s not truly gone, for I see her in the sweet nature of my children, hear her in the words she passed to my father – those same words he passed to me, and I, in turn, to my children. “Nothing is fair in this world. If you know this, really know this, when life knocks you down, and it will, you can pick yourself up and go on. Stronger because of it. Kinder because of it.”

I know this, I really know this. Nothing is fair in this world, because it took from us one of the most remarkable women I know. Am I stronger because of it? I’m too deep in tears to know. Am I kinder? I hope to be. For my grandma, I hope to be.

Joan Mary Spedding… Grandma, though your flame burned bright, the world is darker now you’re gone.

Me and Grandma

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