My grandmother died this week. The funeral was today, and it was a tough day to get through. I was brave on the outside because my mum needed me to be, but on the inside, I cried a lot.
I really loved my Nanna Brown. She was an extraordinary woman who, at nearly 98, lived through most of the past century. I had never really stopped to think about it, but when I looked at the list of world events she’d lived through it was astonishing. I know we talk a lot about change, and the pace of change, and how important it is to deal with the changing world we live in, but in my nan’s lifetime she lived through both World Wars, as well as an assortment of other wars and a Great Depression.
She was just over 1 year old when the first transatlantic flight was made, 15 years old when Penicillin was discovered, 24 when construction started on the Golden Gate Bridge, and just a few months older when the Hindenburg disaster happened.
At 32 she saw the Atomic Bomb drop on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, she was 39 when the world’s first jet airliner went into commercial use, and 48 when the first human went into space.
At 50 years old, she watched the construction of the Berlin Wall, and at 77, she watched it come down again. When she was 80 the European Union was founded, and she was 88 when New York’s Twin Towers were attacked on 9/11.
She grew up before television, before radio, before cars, before the Internet. While she was alive, so was Gustav Eiffel, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Sigmund Freud, Walt Disney and Henry Ford. She was born before, and died after, John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Benito Mussolini.
What a remarkable period of history to have lived through!
The last few conferences I’ve been to all had keynote speakers who repeated the same basic message… the world is changing and we better get good at dealing with change. As much as we edtech types like to carry on about adaptability and the need to learn to deal with dramatic changes in our world, we sometimes tend to forget just how much the world can change in one person’s lifetime even if that person grew up before the invention of the Internet, Social Networking and the rise of China.
I was really close to my nan, and I’m glad I was with her just a few days before she died. She was a truly remarkable lady.
If you’re interested, this is the eulogy that I wrote and read at the church today…
A couple of days ago, I was asked what I remembered most about Nan. There are lots of memories of course, and although I’d not really thought about it before, I’m starting to realise that many of these memories have profoundly affected who I am as a person, the way I see the world and the way I’ve grown up.
- When I was very young – before I started school – I remember waking up one morning to be told by Nan “we’re going to Japan this morning” and finding a little low table in the middle of the dining room floor. Nan had set a Japanese breakfast on the floor and we had to sit on cushions and eat with chopsticks. Nan taught us to have a sense of the whimsical, a sense of the unexpected, a sense of curiosity about the world.
- When we were young, my cousins and I used to put on plays in Nan’s house. We were often short of a character, so Nan would volunteer to dress up as an extra character in these childhood plays. The one that I think we all remember the best – because even to this day we still talk about it – was our production of Robinson Crusoe, and we can still see Nan playing the part of the savage boy, Man Friday, dressed in a leopard skin stole, her hair all messed up and her face painted black with boot polish. Nan taught us how to have a sense of humour, a sense of fun and to never take ourselves too seriously.
- When I was quite young, I remember going with Nan to the African Lion Safari in Sydney. There was a rather long, high swinging rope bridge there and as I walked across it with Nan it started to swing dramatically. I was petrified and started to cry and scream. Nan calmed me down by explaining that it was ok, it was safe. That the people who built it obviously didn’t build it to fall down, so why would it fall down? As she unfolded the logic of why the bridge was safe, my worry started to disappear and suddenly everything seemed ok. Nan taught us how to have a sense of bravery, a sense of calm, and most of all, a sense of commonsense.
- A couple of years ago, we took Nan for a drive down to Denman and Yarrawa, where she grew up as a child. She loved going for drives, and would always be pointing things out, telling stories, admiring the Hunter Valley landscape which she loved so much. She managed to find the house in which she was born and as we drove around the area she told us lots of stores from her childhood. Nan taught us how to have a sense of history, a sense of self, a sense of heritage.
- I remember sitting down at a family dinner one day, with the whole family there, and realising that there was one too many plates set at the table. When I told Nan that she’d miscounted, she replied that, no, she just likes to set an extra place in case somebody unexpectedly dropped by… she wantedl them to feel welcome and to be able to join us without feeling like they were intruding. Nan taught us to have a sense of welcome, a sense of pride, and sense of giving.
- And that’s the thing that stands out the most about Nan to me… her love of people. In all the years I knew Nan, I never once heard her talk poorly about anybody. She always seemed to find the good side of other people, and always managed to find something nice to say about them. Nan taught us how to have a sense of goodness, a sense of the positive. A sense of humanity.
There are so many things that Nan taught us all. When we lose someone we love, it’s hard to not feel sad and upset and to grieve about the loss of what we no longer have. But I know that everyone in this room could come up with a list of their favourite “Nan moments”… those treasured times when she made you laugh, or made you think, or made you see the world a little bit differently to the way you’d seen it before. Although Nan isn’t with us anymore, if we can remember back to those special moments she created with each of us, I’m sure we’ll find that there are ways in which they’ve touched our lives that will live on for a very long time.
I’d like to think that it’s those moments that are the real legacy Nanna Brown leaves with us.
A Remarkable Life by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.