My Longest Letter

Dear Nan,

Here I am, writing to you again. Don’t worry, I haven’t lost the plot! I’m doing fine. This is just my way of telling you all about the things you’ve missed. A way of still being able to say that I love you and miss you. These letters are in some way a small substitute for the kisses, cuddles and phone calls that completed my life until earlier this year. This might be the longest letter I ever write to you, Nan…

…Because I’m pregnant.

I know how much you longed to hear those words from me, and I couldn’t wait to say them to you one day. I always hoped and dreamed that when the time came, I’d be running into your house and flinging my arms around you to say it. I had imagined us both crying and then dancing around together like we did whenever any good news came about! If we’d been apart, I know I would have phoned you. You’d have said “Oh, Rebecca!” and I’d have heard you telling Grandad with sheer happiness and excitement in your voice. I didn’t think it would ever be like this.

I often confided in you about wanting a baby. I’d tell you how much I loved the idea and you were the first person I told when we were finally serious about it. We told you we would go on one last holiday and ‘see what happens’. But right on cue, we fell in love with another cruise itinerary. And then another. And then we’d add another city break to our travel list. I’d come to you and show you. You’d say “Go for it, baby. See the world!”. And so we’d book. And of course, the baby plans kept getting pushed away. You were so excited to become a great grandmother yet so selfless about your dream drifting further into the future. You’d say “You’re doing the right thing, darling. See all of the places on that list!” You told us both that having a baby would change our life forever and that it would happen when it was supposed to. Well Nan, I guess it’s finally happened as it was meant to. We just wish more than anything that you were here to share it with us.

2nd April 2020 was the worst day of my life to date. Watching the end of your amazing story absolutely broke my heart. I have never felt as sad as I did as I stood before you in your hospital bed, unable to say anything apart from how much I loved you. I showed you that I was wearing your ‘D’ necklace. The very same one that you wore when you held me for the first time. When you saw me wearing it, you smiled. You were so full of love and care in our final moments together, and in what must have been a scary time for you, you told me to have a brilliant life. We both knew I was there to say goodbye but the words wouldn’t come out. I couldn’t say it because I didn’t want to believe it was happening. I had never cried so much until that point, or wanted so badly to change the scene in front of my eyes. It physically hurt, just to stand there. I desperately wanted to pull my mask off and kiss your cheek. I wanted to hold you but I couldn’t. Later that day, when I got the call to say that you had fallen asleep forever, I broke down. I completely lost interest in life. You were gone and so was that sparkle. We always knew that losing you would be so difficult, but it was even harder than we ever could have imagined, for reasons I’m glad you don’t know.

For months, I floated in and out of my days. I didn’t work. I didn’t cook a single meal. I stopped looking after my appearance. I was a mess. You would have gone mad, Nan! But you would have been so thankful for Darren. I only ate because he put food in front of me. I only washed because he ran my baths. I only slept because he wrapped his arms around me every night and promised me things would get better. I only came out of that dark time because he held my hand and led me through it. He shared my pain and was there every single time that I cried. Even in the middle of the night. He completely understood what I was feeling and never once got annoyed. It still amazes me that we never argued. Not a single time. It was impossibly difficult and we were helpless. We were shut off from everyone else that we loved, but it made us stronger. The way that he treated me in my lowest moments when nobody else could see really confirmed his true colours. They’re beautiful. I honestly fell in love with him even more, Nanna.

It took months for my outlook to improve but things did start to pick up. I started a new and far less draining job, which I know you would be thrilled about. I was socialising again. I was wearing makeup and I had my hair cut. But physically, I was rock bottom. I cried to Leah most days about how poorly I felt, wishing she could work her nurse magic and make me feel better. I felt so tired and sick. Darren couldn’t believe how much I was sleeping. Then Leah suggested I did a pregnancy test. In all of the grief, I hadn’t realised that it was actually a possibility. And so I did the test. When I saw the word “PREGNANT”, I sobbed. For you and the moments you wouldn’t be here to share with us. For the next chapter that was starting without you. For myself and the Nanna Doris cuddle that I instantly yearned for. For my baby whose life wouldn’t be graced with your beautiful presence. Because they would never feel your comforting cuddles, or hear your moving and meaningful words. Because they would never be loved as intensely as you loved. Because they would never be made to feel as important as you made me feel, or able to relish in the Friars View traditions like having their first bath in your kitchen sink. But then Darren pointed out that this must be a gift from you. A focus and a reason for us. A light at the end of our darkest time. He made me see that we can give our baby the love and affection that we received from you. That it’s up to us to provide those reassuring embraces. To be their safe place. To love them always and forever. That’s our honour. The happiness came when I realised that we can do this.

On 2nd August 2020, I saw another hospital bed. It had been exactly four months since I saw you in yours. This time it was me lying there, holding Darren’s hand and watching our tiny baby dance around a big screen. I was wearing a necklace with your picture on which made me feel like you could see it too. It’s crazy, Nan. My worst ever experience and one of my happiest were exactly four months apart. We didn’t see either of them coming. When we saw the baby for the first time, it became real and so, so exciting. I felt my mood lift. It was then that I realised… this really is from you. You know Darren and how he doesn’t believe in all that, Nan. But he said it first. We both believe it. It’s like you blessed us with this to pull us out of the grief. It’s like you turned our loss into a gain. So, thank you for that and for somehow managing to support me even though you‘re not here. I won’t lie to you… I still find it difficult and I still cry a lot. After that first scan, I sobbed in the car park. If you were still here, I would have called you right then. We would have drove to your house as soon as we could to show you the picture. We couldn’t do either, and it hurt us both.

It is SO hard because you held my hand through every single stage of my life. My first days at nursery, school and college. You watched every school show or play that I was ever in. When I got my GCSE results, I came straight to show you. You were happier than I was! Darren and I did the same with our A-Levels. You were so proud when I passed my driving test and you celebrated each of my birthdays as a milestone of its own. When we went away to university, you came through to Manchester all the time to share the experience with us. You were right there with me when I graduated. You took me right back under your wing when I moved back to Barrow. You supported us through buying our house and helped us to make it our home. You were the first person I called when we got engaged and the only person I called when we were on holiday. Wherever we were in the world, I would try to make sure we spoke. You were a huge part of the run up to our wedding – all of the planning and the actual day. You made a big thing of the anniversaries that followed. So it is indescribably painful for you to miss this. When we broke the news to everyone, every single reaction made me grieve for yours.

I miss you like you wouldn’t believe. When I look back on my life so far, I see you. When I go right back to my earliest memories, I think of being so small and climbing into bed with you after a bad dream. I remember making dens out of your fresh bedding. Instead of getting angry, you made jam sandwiches for us to sit and eat inside. When I reflect on growing up, I see your support right the way through. I was 11 years old when I was crying in my room because of something a boy had said at school. You came upstairs, opened the curtains and said to me, “It’s okay to cry darling, but you mustn’t ever shut the world out”. That’s always stuck with me, even now. When I was 12, I remember being poorly with shingles. We were at Auntie Michelle’s birthday party at Abbey House and I was trying my best to hang in there. You could see that I wasn’t well, and you asked Grandad to drive us home. It was your daughter’s big birthday and you were having a great time, but you took yourself away to look after me. You were unbelievably caring like that. You stayed awake all night to comfort me. Everyone else that we loved was either partying or sleeping, or so it felt. We watched Stepmom and Titanic – both films that we had watched together countless times before. All I could see when I looked at you was pure love. When I jump ahead to being 17, I remember us having a huge heart to heart on holiday in Spain. I told you how much I loved Darren and how I really wanted it to last. You gave me relationship advice that I still follow now… “always make an effort with each other, ask how he feels and listen to what he says, keep laughing together…”. You have been so key in me becoming who I am, Nan. You have been a huge part of this life that Darren and I have made together. That’s why it hurts so much for you to miss our baby becoming who they are.

Knowing what you would have said and how you would have felt about certain things has brought me so much peace, though. Sometimes I can almost hear your voice, and I dream about you all the time. Every time I mention the possibility of the middle name ‘Doris’ for a girl, I can hear you in the back of my mind saying “now don’t you dare!”. When we talk about really quirky names, I can see that look on your face- that mix of shock and disgust. It makes me laugh so much! Nothing will stop me wishing you were here to share this but I am doing my best to think positive and to keep your memory alive. Darren and I talk about you every single day. As our baby grows up, they will see and hear all about you. The photographs. The videos. The stories. My memory box of all your keepsakes. You might not be here to hold our child but your flesh and blood runs through them. You are part of them. And I want to promise you something, Nanna. I want to promise you that I will be the best mum I can possibly be to your first great grandchild. Everything will take a back seat while I find my feet in motherhood. I am going to put my heart and soul into loving our baby and doing everything right by them. Me, Darren and the little one will find our way as a family. We will be fine. We’ll have each other. I know you’d be proud and I know I’ll do well, because of you.

Love you always and forever xxx

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