During 2016 I lost my grandmother, Mary Duffy. Today would have been her 80th birthday, so I thought it was the ideal time to pay tribute to the woman and her life.
Nan was born in Birmingham, 1937 (and definitely not 1936 like I believed for years and years!). I know her mother was very stern, and loved a drink. She had two sisters, both significantly younger than Nan, and would go on to marry a man named Frank in the 1950s. It led to 8 children, although one died during pregnancy. After my Dad was born, Nan and Frank separated - and Nan faced the prospect of life as a single mum... of 7!
Soon, though, she met Michael. Although not biologically so, I consider him my grandad. He took Dad and my aunts/uncles in, and helped raised them. In the 1980s everybody moved to Manchester, but stayed close-nit.
I'd visit Nan an awful lot growing up - using once a week as a child, and fortnightly as a teen. I remember we'd go every Saturday, and all the adults would settle down to play cards... leaving me and the other kids there that day to find our own distractions! Interestingly, it was Nan who bought me my first comic books (Judgement On Gotham being the first, but afterwards it was old grab bagged mags like Detective Comics, or League of Superheroes). Though I didn't fall in love with the medium through these books, I appreciate that she made me aware of them, and in part recognise I am where I am now due to her childhood influence.
She influenced me in lots of other ways too. Nan was full of great advice. How to deal with awful customers. Recipes. Fixing things. That sort of thing. It was always nice to be handed down the information, and learn from her. She was very resourceful, making a lot from very little. I'm proud to say it's a trait I picked up on, and made my own!
For the last 10-15 years she had been ill, and steadily getting worse. In her younger days she was a smoker, and the habit had caught up with her, as she suffered from Emphysema. Often out of breath, it limited what she could do, but she continued to have a zest for life. My last few visits to see her she was bed ridden, and parts of her body looked painfully swollen. But she still smiled, and was pleased to see me. I didn't see her before she died, as it happened so suddenly. As such, I don't have a last great story to tell of me and her. I remember saying goodbye to her in June, and as I was leaving, walking down the stairs, even despite everything, she did shout "I love you" though. I shouted the same back. It was nice that we parked things there.
At her funeral a word was repeated when describing Nan - "formidable". I think that's true. She was the family matriarch, and so everybody looked to her for direction. As a result, she commanded an awful lot of respect, but exuded authority. You didn't dare cross paths with her, or deviate from what she had planned. I remember once eating a steak at her house, even though I hate steak. I was just too intimidated to say no! I ended up in hospital, as my stomach couldn't digest what I had eaten!
But she loved her family, and they mattered most to her. A mother of seven, grandmother to over 30, and great-grandmother to a dozen others... what a legacy she leaves behind in terms of people, and their footsteps on this planet. It's a shame she is not alive to see what happens to them all next. I regret that she won't see any children I may have, or meet my eventual girlfriend.
Goodbye Nan, I miss you.