Carehomes hadn’t hit the headlines; lockdown was still a strange taste on the tongue.

She giggled as we swapped the usual hug for an elbow-bump, laughed at this new social distancing craze. So why did my heart sink when I heard the door click – as though I knew I’d just straightened out her dented bedsheets for the final time?

People thought it was sweet how in the following weeks we’d stand on the roadside and wave at her third-storey window. But in my Skype calls with friends I left out her sallow, pale skin and how lifting her head seemed like a heavy effort; how somehow I could tell our final words would be not spoken aloud but in this strange street-to-armchair sign language.

How when the phone rang at three in the morning I knew before my dad’s “I’ll come right now” what they’d called to say.


I broke down writing a poem for her funeral, had tantrums on the bathroom floor every couple of days. ‘Till my mum cradled me and explained a person will never fit on a piece of paper – stop trying to cover everything she was and just jot down what you remember. The tears fizzled out like a flash storm and I wrote about the chocolate lollies she’d hide in the fridge. Helping her with missing crossword clues and dissecting last night’s Tipping Point contestants. How she’d rummage in the landfill that was her bedside drawer and quip “I haven’t had time to tidy it, I’ve had a very busy day.” Holding her hand on the way to Marks and Spencer to buy a black coat to bury her son – a quiet cup of tea in the cafe. The precise, unchanging layout of her windowsill; plant pots, face cream, plastic robin won at a fayre, the black and white picture of the husband she had for thirty years and loved for the forty after; biscuits tucked behind the curtain so she wouldn’t have to share.


And when the flowers have wilted, and my friends have moved on to bottomless brunch and wishing bars would hurry up and open, it’s difficult to bring up the fact I’m still treading water. So I calm my strokes and perfect my best selfie smile.

I haven’t moved on, but I’m buoyed along by a current of half-price coupons and sale propaganda until I look around and somehow I’ve landed in December. The easiest way to tell that time has passed is that I fancy something more filling than soup for lunch and I see the ring she left as more accessory than reminder.

More swiftly than expected I move into my new shiny flat with its lift and its laminate floors. I wander busy streets and want to laugh when I spot a suited, moustachioed man – someone who’s done well for himself and “walks with a rolled up umbrella now”, as she used to say. I realise I will always have her turns of phrase.

Her eyes used to glisten when I’d tell her my travel plans; she was delighted her grandchildren saw so much of the world.

So even though I’ve never believed in anything “after”, don’t think those who’ve left can listen – just in case, before turning off the light by my new bed I whisper:

“Grandma, I’m doing okay.”




Also by Alice