12 years ago yesterday, two planes hit the world trade towers in New York. You don’t need me to tell you that of course. Everyone knows, everyone has read multiple articles, seen multiple news reports, stories, memories, the “where were you” kinda of conversations that always happen around this time every year.
12 years ago today my Granny died, after a slow and painful few years of that lung-destroying, life-sucking disease emphysema. I was seventeen – planning where I would apply to University (my three Scottish choices were her favourites, of course), taking ever further trips away from home on my own, stretching my wings, at that awkward stage in between girlhood and womanhood.
She was my Scottish Granny. At under five foot tall, she certainly didn’t command much attention physically. But oh goodness did she always get her way. She was full of energy and spark. When her four children and twelve grandchildren descended on the big house in the Highlands, she directed us all with endless enthusiasm and a healthy dose of teacher-strictness.
I missed the annual summer trip to see her and Grandpa that year because I was away on some other trip. I knew she was very sick. The last time I’d travelled the eight hours north to sit in front of their fire playing trivial pursuit, she’d sat in her miniature armchair, the oxygen machine permanently at her side. But she sent me a card at the end of August, her writing (so like my mum’s, so like mine now) a little scratchier than usual, telling me she was feeling a bit better, was looking forward to seeing me in the October school holiday.
She died two weeks later. The minister came to give her Communion for the last time, and then she fell asleep for the last time, her husband and my mum at her side, as the world reeled in shock at another tragedy.
The funeral was an absurdly sunny September day. I remember standing on the banks of the fast Tay River, the beautiful cathedral behind me at the top of a beautiful tended lawn full of ancient tall trees. It felt wrong that it was so glorious – it surely always rains during funerals?
Later a group of us went for a walk up the familiar farm tracks behind their house, gazed down at the long Tay valley, thin white mist hanging above the rail line to Inverness, Ben Vrackie standing proud over the curve in the valley. I know this hillside better than I know my home back in England. I picked purple heather as we walked in the late afternoon sun, and I wondered that something so fundamental could shift in my life and the world would go on as always.
I miss her. I miss her energy and her bossiness. I miss that I never got to get to know her as an adult, was still transitioning from girlhood when she died. There are so many questions I would have asked her. There are recipes I want to share with her and newspaper articles I want to send to her and patterns I want her to teach me to sew. There are conversations I want to have with her which I won’t get to have in this lifetime. I feel her loss still.
She was the linchpin of our family, the compass towards whom we all gravitated. And I was nervous for a time that we would drift apart without her there. I should have had more faith in her.
This past weekend we travelled back to the UK for my cousin’s wedding. Eight of the twelve grandchildren were in attendance and if you saw the enthusiasm and the joy with which we greeted each other, you’d have seen what I know to be true now. She wasn’t just drawing us towards her, she was drawing us towards each other.