Of course, I always do. I’m lucky to be the granddaughter of two women who raised me with unconditional and fierce love, and who modeled two very different ways to show that love. One was calm and endlessly patient. The other was… not. So I learned that we can endure without losing the loving and generous core of who we are. And that we damn the consequences and stand up for what’s right.
I am profoundly privileged to come from these two families. I miss those women every day. Given that it’s been years since they died, I’m pretty sure that’ll always be the case. That’s okay.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt their absence quite as much as I do these days.
You see: I don’t know how to handle the direction of the world right now. The swing to the hard-right. Normalisation of fascism. Incredible power in the hands of despicable people. Right now, Ireland feels like a strangely normal backwater in a world that’s falling in a direction that I don’t know I can bear. I’m lucky to live in a place that is currently relatively insulated from the worst of it. I feel helpless to do a single thing about it. I’m scared from my friends and for my world. I don’t know how to respond.
I used to love my Nan’s stories of her young adulthood. We’d sit drinking endless cups of tea (drowning in milk and sugar, of course) and she’d tell me all about her time in London. She left Ireland for a few years, you see, to work there as a nurse. She’d live with her friends and they’d work hard and have so much fun in between it all.
I loved her stories. She died a half-decade ago and I wish that I’d done something- anything!- to remember the details.
Because, of course, when she was working as a nurse and living with her friends and being a young woman in the big city, that city was under attack by the Nazis.
There are things I know that she never told me. She never talked about being afraid. Or about what horrors she must have seen, working in a hospital in a city under bombardment. She never told me how it was she saw those things, got up the next day and kept on doing what she needed to do. Or how it must have felt to never know if they would win or lose. What it was like to learn about a genocide just a few hundred miles away.
I want to ask her how it felt in the years before that war. I want to know what it was like to see hateful ideologies become normal- did people know what it would lead to? Were they afraid? What did it take for people to understand what was going on? When did they feel normality sliding away and what did it feel like for the world around them to tip over into chaos and killing? How did they continue? How did they sleep, and what did they do when they couldn’t?
What do I do?
I hope I don’t have to learn these things the way that she did. I’m afraid. I wish my grandmothers were still alive.