Life lessons from my grandmother

July 26, 2018


She died within a few weeks of his birth.


My grandmother, the family matriarch – the only grandparent I really remember knowing – left us at the age of 89 in April 2013, shortly after my 10lb 8oz son somewhat traumatically joined the world.


Grief, we are informed, is a process. But sleep-deprived, hugely hormonal and overwhelmed by the new responsibilities of motherhood, I don’t recall experiencing any of the five (or is it seven…?) ‘stages’ I was told to expect.


When my boy turned five this spring, I found myself thinking about my grandmother a lot. Like a large stone dropped into a still pool, his birthday somehow started powerful ripples of remembering.


I recalled her humour, her strength and her indefatigable love for her family.


At a personal crossroads, I also contemplated the life lessons I could learn from her half a decade after her death.


Embrace the chaos


Grandma Audrey had five children, a chronically ill husband, nowhere near enough money and an array of pets that variously included dogs, cats, guinea pigs, rabbits and – at one point, according to family legend – a crow with a broken wing.


Wherever my own control freakery comes from, I’m pretty sure it isn’t inherited from her. My granny didn’t stand for any nonsense, but nor did she sweat the small stuff.


I’m sure she was furious that time when she and my grandfather came back from Ireland to discover two of their sons had pulled over the crockery cabinet during a wrestling match. Every cup, saucer, teapot and jug was reportedly smashed in the commotion.


However, I can’t imagine she ever spent a second worrying about whether her kitchen worktops were spotless and smear-free.


There’s a lesson for me in this, as my husband would attest.


See the funny side


I guess it’s difficult to stay angry with a family member or take a taunt to heart when you are one of seven people living in a two-storey terraced house.


In close proximity to one another at almost all times, my grandmother’s brood learned that the best form of entertainment came in relentlessly ribbing one another. They also accepted that, periodically, they’d all be the butt of someone else’s jokes.


Aside from allowing her regular relegation to the punchline with good grace, Grandma Audrey was also excellent at finding humour in the everyday.


Mishaps, mistakes and always anything pompous or pretentious were laughed at.


I think she found that the annoying, worrisome or regrettable – much like Harry Potter’s boggarts – can often be dismissed as ridiculous. Amen to that.


Be thankful


I won’t say she never complained. This isn’t a work of fiction after all.


My grandmother didn’t have an easy life and I’m sure that, from time to time, things got her down.


While she didn’t share her troubles with me, what I do remember is how thankful she always seemed for everything she had: her sons, her daughter, her home… Her collection of amber jewellery. A nice glass of red wine. A comfortable chair to watch Coronation Street from…


Her genuine gratitude for small things was powerful, allowing her to take pleasure in experiencing real life instead of wasting effort on imagining something ‘better’.


Decades ahead of the zeitgeist, she pioneered mindful living without ever realising it.


Have faith


Grandma Audrey converted to Roman Catholicism when she married my grandfather, an Irishman from Dun Laoghaire.


While I’m not a believer in god myself, I’m inspired by the faith she had in many things: family, friendship and love among them.


She seemed unshakable in her belief that, as long she was physically well and had her dearest ones close, no worry was too dark to dispel.


Challenges were transient: no match for her strong certainty that everything is always okay in the end if you trust god, the universe or yourself enough to just keep on going.


She never saw problems as all-consuming, seeming always to believe that she’d simply outlast them.


Don’t worry, be busy


My granny wasn’t one for anxiety. I wish I were more like her in many ways – but especially on this point, as my tendencies to overthink, ‘catastrophise’ and panic do me no favours.


I can remember her telling me there’s no use crying over spilt milk. I recall a birthday card she sent me while I was having a tough time at university, in which she wrote that there was no need to worry – that everything would “come up roses” someday soon.


It’s no wonder, really, that my grandmother didn’t spend time navel-gazing: she had very little time to spare.


When her children were grown up and my grandfather had passed away, she married again. She was an active member of her church. She volunteered at a charity shop, spent time with her identical twin each day and walked everywhere because she’d never learned to drive.


Grandma Audrey was formidable. I am sure she was rarely bored.


While there’s no panacea for modern mental health concerns, I certainly find that when I fight my penchant for procrastination and actually do something – even if it’s unrelated to whatever I’m worrying about – I tend to feel better.


When I’m spiralling, I try to remind myself of this truth.




She seemed invincible, and in the end my granny was the embodiment of Dylan Thomas’s Old Age. Raging against the dying of the light, she held court to the last from her hospital bed.


I’ve often heard it said that “They don’t make them like Audrey any more.” For three years after her death, I firmly believed it.


My daughter, though, now two – and proud bearer of the middle name Audrey – sometimes makes me think twice.


This wavy-haired girl with her burgeoning self-belief, stubbornness and infectious belly laugh reminds us daily of the wonderful lady she was named for.


Proof, perhaps, that the ones we love and lose can always come back to us, so long as we keep looking for them.

2 responses to “Life lessons from my grandmother”

  1. Margaret says:

    Hi Laura
    What a lovely piece about my Auntie Audrey.
    She was indeed a remarkable woman.
    She travelled with Jimmy to see my grandmother every Summer of my teens and stayed for a week or two and staying next door to us allowed me the privilege of her wise tips in those most impressionable years. Resilience laughter and a Hugh heart are my memories of her and feeling loved no matter what.
    You are so like her too from what I can tell and no doubt she is within you and yours.
    Grief is a peculiar thing and different for everyone but for me I know I have a little bit of Audrey in me just because I knew her.She is most definitely in your heart and with you always

    Much love
    Hope this hasn’t left you in tears.
    Bugs hugs

    • Laura says:

      Thanks so much Margaret. I’ve only just seen this comment… I can only blame the school summer holidays and the endless sibling squabbles I am having to break up!!! You’re right: she was, indeed, a marvellous lady – warm, kind and strong. She’s just what I hope (and struggle!) to be myself. Hope all is well with you folks across the sea. I’d love to pop over and see you all sometime xxx

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