Jim and Betty Fisher pictured outside Rose Cottage in the sunshine in 2009Lotte Brundle

CW: Mentions of grief and mourning.

Grief is a strange and callous creature.

This year both of my grandparents on my mum’s side of the family passed away. My grandparents, Jim and Bem, lived a full and long life and were well into their 90’s; it is needless to say that losing them was devastating, nonetheless. To lose people I had known my entire life was alienating and strange. For several months I felt completely detached from it all, I guess sometimes our brains do this to us when we experience grief, as a survival tactic. The pain is simply too much to bear so your brain chooses, momentarily, not to.

In a year when many of us have lost loved ones it seems that grief has become a shared experience. There are days when I’m doing fine and I don’t think about my grandparents much at all, except maybe to smile fondly when, at university, we study a poem by Robbie Burns, or Hilaire Belloc — favourite poets of my granddad Jim’s, or equally if I come across a quilt in a charity shop — sewing was always a talent of my grandma Bem’s.

Being at University, occasionally I can convince myself that it has all been a bad dream. Just before I drift off to sleep, I imagine life as it was, as if when I go home and visit my grandparents house they will be there again, the smell of home cooking drifting tantalisingly from the open kitchen door of Rose Cottage, the sound of my Grandad peacefully listening to the radio in the sunshine.

It is a strange beast, grief. Sometimes it is simply not there; other times it is omnipresent and heart-breaking. Tears, and words, can’t do it justice.

I cry often when I see a reminder of Jim and Bem; the chocolate teacakes that my grandma used to buy especially for when I would visit, made me tear up in Sainsbury’s, the poem Jabberwocky made me reminisce tearfully about how much Jim loved the made up phrase ‘frabjous day!’ — how he’d make the word ‘frabjous’ sound ridiculous, savouring it’s peculiarity and rolling the ‘f’ sound ever so comically off his tongue with a twinkle in his eyes and a wry smile to make me laugh.

And yet, I’m glad — glad because for 90 years the world had these two wonderful people in it, and for 21 years I was lucky enough to have them in mine. It was hard returning to university after losing my grandparents, particularly my Grandad Jim who I was lucky enough to spend many hours with towards the end of his life. And yet, I am pleased to be here. My Grandma Bem completed her degree from the Open University part-time over several years, all whilst raising four boisterous children and working. Jim read poems like there was no tomorrow and had a talent for remembering odd bits of limericks, bad jokes, and strange Latin phrases. They were so pleased by my going to university, especially in a city that they had visited many times in their youth. So, when I walk the streets of Cambridge, I am a sort of sad-happy, knowing that they too, young and in love, walked these streets and saw these sights.

Wherever I go now I try to take with me a semblance of Jim’s wit, his gentleness, and his fantastic mind. I try too to take with me some qualities of Bem’s, her grit and determination, her loyalty and the sheer tenacity she took with her throughout her life in her many careers and roles: student, mother, grandmother, policewomen, and even ’Nitty Nora the Bug Explorer’, when she worked as a headlice inspector at the local school.

At funerals often a poem is read, a common choice is based on a short verse by David Harkins, it goes something along the lines of:

’You can shed tears that she is gone, or you can smile because she has lived.’

It is not always easy to smile when you have lost a loved one. But there is a comfort of sorts to be found in poetry, old trinkets of theirs, and lessons they taught you.

As I pace on with my life, I will try to be fierce and loving like Bem, and patient and kind like Jim, and I will treasure time spent with my mum and aunties, who have qualities of them both. When looking at old photos of Jim and Bem it is clear to see that they both had lives that were, as they might say, ‘Jolly well lived’. I will try to be pleased that now I get to take photos of my own, maybe even some that my grandchildren might look at once I’m gone; I am comforted by the thought that maybe one day, after many years have passed, the baton will be passed down to my parents, and they will get to discover what it means to be ‘Grandma’ and ‘Grandad’. I will try to focus on being thankful that I got to know Jim and Bem and spent hours in the sun, talking, laughing, reading poetry and doing crosswords. I will try to do all these things because I am thankful: thankful that I had the privilege of knowing and loving them.


Mountain View

A State of Mourning

In memoriam of Jim and Betty Fisher – two people that showed me that love truly can last a lifetime.