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What’s happened to get me thinking -
My beloved grandad passed in the summer of 2016, he was the epitome of a gentle giant. The kindest of souls. He would do anything for his family, his grandkids especially. I can remember at least 5 occasions during my forgetful teenage years when he would have to make the 40-minute round trip to let me into my house because I had ‘mislaid’ (aka, left in my going out-out clutch) my keys. Yet he did it, maybe with a tiny grumble and suggestion that I get just one “sensible” bag, a notion I’m still trying to get my head around… ONE bag? SENSIBLE?! It wasn’t just acts like this that made him a hero, his true heroism came to light after his passing, as we learnt how much he did for my Nan, how much he shielded from us.
My Nana, is a reasonably young nan, at the age of 73. She likes a drink and a flirt, maybe even a dance if her knees aren’t playing up. However, instead of mourning in the months after Grandads death, we were dealing with what can only be described as a petulant child. For me to call someone a petulant child is quite a stretch as having some pretty severe mental health issues I’m not always the easiest to deal with, to put it lightly.
I can understand that she was hurting after losing the love of her life, however this was something else. She turned bitter and nasty, she basically turned into some whiskey fuelled demon on a mobility scooter, making her way round the family insulting or pissing one of us off at a time. We went through alternating months where half the family were speaking to her, the others weren’t. It’s hard to put it into words without making me sound like a complete bitch myself, but to give an example, on one occasion when I took her to MY local pub she had too much wine and called the locals (who I would say are acquaintances, as I see them when I pop in for a drink after a long dog walk etc.) a bunch of “creepy c**ts”, a word I didn’t know she’d learnt. It’s all well and good for her she doesn’t have to go back there, whereas I live in a reasonably rural area I can’t change up my local for the nearest Spoons. She also told me told me there was no point walking her to the taxi because she couldn’t bare the sound of my fat thighs slapping together as I walked.
It was an interesting time in all our lives, but at the end of the day we still loved her. She’s unique and eccentric, a lot like myself, and even during that time she would’ve done anything for you; cooked you a full roast dinner when you said ‘yes’ to just a snack. You may have just had to deal with some swearing or jibes which eating your dinner.
One thing was made abundantly clear during the dark days, my Nan NEEDED to get out on her own, get some new friends, her own local pub to terrorise so she wasn’t constantly infringing on the lives of her children and grandchildren. We love seeing her, but there’s only so much you can take. It took us ages to convince her, she had so many excuses and bizarre reasons whenever we suggested an activity. Ranging from “I don’t want people to see my ears”, to “So and so’s sister’s cousin twice removed goes there and…”. I mean prior to our conversations I didn’t realise I had so much to panic about before going out in public, I was very aware of my own ears for a while, I can honestly say they resemble a question mark and I’m not overly comfortable with having punctuation ears.
It showed us that Grandad was this truly amazing buffer, who managed to keep her calm and occupied, he could sit and enjoy a book and she would just talk at him for hours on end. Be her friend, not just her husband. Now he was gone there was no buffer and she was just exploding out of her front door all riled up about an episode of Loose Women looking for someone to bicker with/at.
It eventually started happening slow, a few trips to the local bingo hall with about 6 of us, then the group got smaller as she didn’t need her full harem around her to feel validated, then it got down to going with just one other person. This was great, we even phoned to invite her to our local for a charity night and she said “Sorry, love, I’m going to bingo with a friend I made at the bookies, this evening!” It was like our child had swanned out of the terrible twos and was off to school. There was peace, at last, she had learnt to be on her own, and not rely on her family for company. She found out other people are lonely too, looking for new friends and people to share a giggle with. I think it finally became apparent to her that other people had been widowed, and she needed to let us mourn and not just babysit her constantly, as we had our own emotional needs, not just hers.
She even went to her local Social club (what used to be known as the Conservative club) ON HER OWN, and joined up. For a few months she would go down at lunch time to have a drink, sandwich and chat with a few people of her own age, only fleeting conversations, but it was enough to put a smile of her face and it got her wanting to get out the house. Then she started going to the in-house bingo nights, and then to the charity night, it was all spiralling into quite the social life. She was so happy, especially when one of the ladies suggested she attended the ‘Turkey and Tinsel’ long weekend away. The suggestion of her going on this trip felt like an invite into the “inner circle”, especially as this woman was married to the comity leader. This woman was what we would know in school as one of the ‘Popular girls’. My nan assumed the people she saw of a lunchtime would be going too, not just the gang of comity leaders and their spouses. She assumed, quite naturally, this would be an event where new friends were made and many toasts would be made in the name and spirit of Christmas.
This is where I start to get angry. Seeing my nan last week, she was going through the same emotions as we did at school when going on a trip, she was asking me what if no one wanted to sit with her on the coach, should she bring some drinks to make friends on the coach. She was asking what to do if someone was mean to her or if she didn’t agree with the actions of another member of the trip. My mum and I sat there and smirked as I knew that I had put my mum through this exact same quiz before my school trips some 15 years earlier. We brushed over it, by saying, in so many words, that this was a trip for the more senior members of the population, and she wouldn’t be the only widow, and everyone would soon be firm friends after sharing a gossip and notions about their grandchildren on the long coach trip. Heck, we’ve all been there when your Grandma or mum has bumped into someone they barely knew in the street or at the super market, and wouldn’t stop talking. On so many occasions when my Nan was chatting away, I contemplated napping on the bottom shelf using a multi-pack of crisps as a pillow. So naturally I assumed she would be fine going on a trip surrounded by people of a similar age, I assumed they’d be doing singalongs of old songs and weeping over baby photos of grandchildren, fondly reminiscing a simpler time before “the Google”.
It was yesterday evening we got the call, we were waiting with baited breath to hear she was home and had a nice time, as we’d been nervous since we watched her leave on the coach 4 days prior, as we held back a tear. It was like she was 5 minutes passed her curfew and we wanted to call out the search helicopters. Or waiting for someone to call after a date and wrestling your friends who stop you from phoning first. We sat round the phone willing for it to ring, waiting to hear the great news, expecting her to speak of this trip as the greatest thing since sliced bread, for it to be the platform my once nervous Nan could leap from into a whole new social life. Live out her golden years as a social butterfly.
Oh, the tears. My wonderful Nana who has been through so much over the last year and a half, and everything she’d had to overcome to get to this place, was blubbling so much she was struggling to catch her breath. She had to rebuild herself and her life, turn a huge corner of accepting she was now a widow in the big scary changed world, just to get to the point where she’d go away for 3 short days. Now she was wailing down the phone, utterly devastated. We were back to square one.
It started when she boarded the coach, she saw the lady who had (in her mind) invited her on the trip, my nan asked her where she should sit. The woman sort of shrugged then ushered her into a seat away from the familiar faces of the comity members, and next to a man my Nan had never seen in the club, who 5 minutes into the 4-hour trip was already asleep and snoring. My nan looked around to find someone to talk to, everyone was sat with their S.O. or buddied up and so involved in their own conversations that they didn’t see my Nan smiling sweetly at them trying to invoke just a “Hello” or a “How are you?” any form of simple introduction. This is how it remained for the whole time. The man woke up briefly a couple of times, and told her the same short story every time, and forgetting her name each time.
The first evening in their hotel, she put on one of her well thought out outfits and headed for the bar. She found everyone had pulled up a chair and was sat in a tight circle, she had to tap people on the shoulder to ask them to move a little so she could move her chair in a join the conversation. Every tap was met with a deep sigh and hesitant shuffling to make a small space. She couldn’t join in with the chat because it was all about their lives, no room for new introductions. Lots of in jokes about politics and economic culture, very niche subjects my Nan couldn’t even try to understand.
No one asked why my Nan was taking this trip solo, no one seemed to care that she was widowed and clearly nervous. The evening ended and my nan went back up to her room, alone, and put the bottle of whiskey she’d bought to share with her new friends back into her luggage. She’d put on her best red heels that hurt her ankles for nothing, no one even looked at her enough to acknowledge her outfit, let alone compliment it.
The next day was similar, walking around a lovely Devonshire town, packed with tourists and warm smiles behind market stalls, the familiar feeling of loneliness drowned her, as she trailed round on the heels of the close knit group.
The worst part was the final evening, the event that gave its name to the whole trip. The early Christmas dinner, complete with, you guessed it, Turkey and Tinsel. I had heard all about this particular outfit, my Nan always dresses up for our family Christmas days but this was special as she was dressing to impress her new ‘friends’. She’d even borrowed a diamond ring with matching bracelet from her niece. She was so excited, she hadn’t had anyone to dress up for since my Grandad had passed, as in front of her family she didn’t feel she needed to, and she hadn’t been to a formal dinner or party since she went cruising with Grandad.
When she came down into the bar she felt that familiar smile creeping across her face, despite the first two days. That smile we all get at Christmas, seeing the lights and decorations and the smell of poultry and stuffing filling the air. She set her sights on the long table with numerous bottles of wine going down the centre, tracks of crackers surrounding the sparkly place mats – Christmas had come early, and with a long banquet style table there was no way she couldn’t be involved in a conversation, the tables were designed to bring everyone together and have everyone in sight, and it was Christmas after all! She went off to the bar with a little spring in her step, to collect her complimentary glass of fizz, when she returned the same lady, Mrs Comity, with a bitter sweet smile offered to show my Nan to her seat, the first act of kindness my Nan had felt that weekend.
My Nan’s assigned seat had lots of space, lots of elbow room for tucking into her turkey dinner. Heaps of space so there would be no elbowing of her ribs when it came to pulling crackers. There was so much space, because my Nan was sat alone. Sat alone on a separate table, vaguely accompanying the end of the banquet table. Like the kids table you were sat at when you were younger, but this table wouldn’t be hushed as screaming laughter broke out, there wouldn’t be any peas flicked off the edge of a plate followed by stifled giggles. My Nan would sit here, half a metre or more from the next person, who couldn’t be bothered to try and converse with her, as this would require a certain amount of shouting, also as they hadn’t bothered to ask her name at the beginning of a trip it would be awkward. She ate her Turkey and Tinsel dinner trying to hold back tears, listening to the laughing echoing around the room from the other end of the table.
Her first time going on a holiday without Grandad and it was the exact hell she’d imagined, the exact hell my mother and I spent time tell her wouldn’t happen as it was a ridiculous exaggeration, and that kind of social divide only played out in a noughties chick-flick. My Nan had literally lived the worst nightmare every child had before going on their first school trip. She was Cady in the lunch hall on the first day, no group to sit with, but no opportunity to take her food and eat it in a toilet stall.
I heard it again today, the bitterness returning to my Nans voice as we spoke. I invited her to lunch as I knew she’d had a rough weekend, but she didn’t want to come out. She’s returning to solitary confinement, and already the anger and sadness she was feeling was coming out whilst speaking to me. She’s so embarrassed about what happened she doesn’t even want to go back to the Social club to end her membership. My 73-year-old Grandma has been reduced to tears the same way I was in school; my Nan has been so excluded she’s felt bullied.
Currently, the focus on the elderly and their involvement in society has sometimes become front page news. Barely a winter goes by that we aren’t reminded to look out for our older neighbours, to make sure they didn’t struggle if the weather turns bitter. Then there are the times you read of those who were forgotten, and died of hypothermia alone, and weren’t found for days, maybe weeks. You have charities such as Age UK who are trying to bring our attention to the matter of loneliness in the elderly, but are often overlooked due to the other important issues such as Cancer, or famine in other areas of the world. We focus on the fact that old people can’t get to a social centre or club, we focus on their ailments and hold those accountable for the growing rate of loneliness.
In most cases, I would agree. However, having seen what my Nan has just been through has raised another issue I’d never even considered – that bullying still happens even after you’ve retired. I experienced bullying at school, at college, and the workplace. Heck – I’ve felt bullied in the street by strangers who cat called me, or someone in the club who has looked at me up and down.
Why don’t we outgrow bullies? Why are bullies around every corner? How do a group of seemingly sweet old women reduce another seemingly sweet old woman to tears? How did my loving Nan divide her own family with her behaviour?
I am at a loss as to what to do, I will continue to donate money to charities that support the elderly, the ones who can’t get out of their houses without help, or live too far away from a social club. The Grandmothers and fathers who live too far away from their family and can’t make their pension stretch far enough to go and see them, or anyone.
But what do we do about the elderly on our doorstep? We learn, in this generation, to teach children about bullying, because it’s been bought to light so many times, it’s always an issue discussed on local and national news. The heart wrenching cases when a child feels the need to take their own life after being excluded from their local social circle. We’re in an age where the younger generation are slowly being taught what constitutes as bullying, and just plainly that bullying is wrong. They’re being taught that simple things like not including someone in the game may not be a big deal to you, but to them it either means they’ll go home and cry or go home and smile. We’re learning not to take out are own anger and frustrations on those around us because we don’t know what kind of detrimental effect we’re having.
But who is there telling that to the members of my nans social club? Who was telling that to my nan after my Grandad died? She may have been the victim this past weekend but not so long ago she was the perpetrator, it’s a vicious circle of a generation who don’t know any better.
How many other elderly people have experienced this and decided to just give up? My Nan has vowed never to go back to the social club again, but my Nan has her whole family in close quarters to her, we will be there to support her and get her back out there, socialising. We are here to pick her up after that fall and tell her it’s just a blip. However, there are those who don’t have any one close enough to tell them that it will get better, tell them that this is just a blip and they should get back out there. With every house having satellite TV’s these days and access to the internet, food and drink delivered to your door, for an old person who has felt scorned or alone, or scared of the ever changing outside world, they really don’t need to leave their house. Younger generations blame themselves for the growing loneliness in the older population, we give as much money as possible to places like Age UK which is all well and good, but how do we put Mrs Comity on the metaphorical naughty step? We can’t blame ourselves entirely.
I think as our mothers and fathers, who taught us all about the anti-bullying campaigns, move into the positions of Grandparents, and we step into their shoes, we should never forget the lessons we are taught, because the importance of those lessons never gets old, even if we do.
Bullying doesn’t go away as soon as we take our uniforms off. It doesn’t go away after that defiant resignation letter has been sent, and you’re granted garden leave. It doesn’t go away when you realise it doesn’t matter what people in the club think.
My Nan was a subject of bullying this weekend, whether they knew it was bullying or not, it still happened. I want to make a promise to myself and those around me that I will never forget what I’ve been taught. I want to be the one who steps up and invites to swap seats with my Nan at the Turkey and Tinsel dinner.
I know the future is in our hands, so many giant issues are forcing us to feel terrified and overwhelmed. The growing price of houses, the threat of nuclear involvement in a conflict, global warming, the list goes on. But for me, for your Grandparents, for the old dears and chaps you see hobbling up the high street, who won’t be around when it’s your turn to hobble, never forget what you’re taught, because it won’t end unless we end it. If we let that subtle bullying and mistreatment die out with their generation we will only be replacing it with a world full of stronger and happier people, who will be more willing and able to take on Global crisis’.
I know I referenced Mean Girls earlier, using it as an example of a film with victimization and maltreatment, but there is also one part of the film which is super cheesy, but nice, and it sums up my emotional ramblings, going forward be that one person who stands up and says;
“I wish I could bake a cake, made out of rainbows and smiles, and we’d all eat it and be happy.”
Well, I maybe don’t go that far, but, you feel me. The world will only get better if we get better.