She went by a number of names that were not her name. Mum, of course, Nanna, Nanny, Nan, Eddie, and Penelope Pitstop, or Penny for short, and for pretty much no reason other than when you’re out in public calling out “Mum” or “Nan” too many people turn around. Granddad called her Rosie O’Grady sometimes; in his cards for her birthday or anniversaries, “To my Sweet Rosie O’Grady”. Seventy seven days from now they would have celebrated their seventieth wedding anniversary. But Penny passed on today.
She had white hair. She always had white hair. She was just shy of fifty when I was born, and she had white hair. She told the story of how she died, they thought she was gone, but she came back and her hair was white. She dyed it for a while. Who wants to be seventeen and have white hair? But then she stopped. She let it be white. She had it short and permed and it was always so soft and neat. But Penny passed on.
She had beautiful nails. She had them filled and painted. Dainty little hands and variations of crimson-pink polish and her rings. Patting your hand, putting her arm around you, slipping you twenty dollars just because, knitting and crocheting without even looking, stirring casseroles and custards and stews and soups. But Penny passed on.
I felt cheated when dementia took her completely over. It had taken her ability to make the jokes she always did, to say my name like only she could, to laugh her laugh and to tell her stories, to give voice to her thoughts. To me, she was gone. Her signature hairstyle, her beautiful nails, her sweet perfumes, her laughter. Gone. Penny passed on.
But to Mum, she was still Mum, and to Granddad, she was still the love of his life. And I was inspired by that love, that unconditional love. And while I never grieved for losing Penny piece by piece over the last eight years, while I never expressed the pain I felt at looking at the stranger in the bed and wanting my Nan back how she was, while I never stopped loving her or hoping that I would see what they saw… I feel it now and it hurts. Because Penny passed on.
She was loved. She drew her terminal breath with her husband holding her hand and telling her he loved her. He loved her from before that October day in 1945 when he asked her to marry him. He loved her as they lost their virginity together on their wedding night, he loved her as they raised their seven children, he loved her as they moved from housing commission into a house of their own they worked so hard for, he loved her through the good and the bad. He’ll love her forever, we all will, even though Penny passed on.