Funerals in the movies tend to have rain in them as a metaphor of grief and sorrow. At Nanna’s funeral, the day was just, well, a nice spring day. My brother and sister stood beside me in the front row; our mother and her sister sharing tissues and sorrow.
I’ve come to think of memory as a photo album. You know those little rectangular ones where you can flip through a hundred or so photos. In my version I see my Nanna, the high coiffed hair held together by a film of hairspray. I’m surprised her cigarettes didn’t set her hair alight with all that product.
You hold onto the little things about someone, whether it’s an event, a situation or a scent. For me, it was something she said.
“You can never blow bubbles when you are angry,” my grandmother intoned. The word changed depending on the situation: sad or scared or upset, but the intent was always the same.
At the know-it-all age of five and full of boyish exuberance, I was trying to blow bubbles through a home made loop of wire dipped into bright pink dish washing-up detergent.
“This stuff is far better than any of that store-bought rubbish,” was her standard refrain. And I must admit that even to this day I still swear by the bright pink sticky liquid. It made awesome bubbles.
Try as I might, I could not get the bubbles to form a consistent stream like my grandmother made. The more I tried, the less successful I was and the frustrations of a young child verged on tearful. Nanna calmly took the loop of wire from my hand and dipped it. She raised it to her lips and I watched the quiet exhalation of breath. The bubbles streamed away, caught by the breeze.
“Slowly and carefully,” she instructed.
I dipped the loop and drew it towards my mouth. The frustration was simmering but I paused while I took a deep breath. With controlled focus I released the captured air and it raced towards the skin of detergent. It bulged and suddenly burst.
“Try again,” was her reassurance. It was hard to be calm when all you wanted to do was hurl the wretched thing across the yard. The second attempt proved as futile.
“Slowly and consistently,” she repeated.
On the third try a small stream of bubbles stuttered then stopped.
“There you are. That’s it.”
Reassured I tried again and watched the swirl of bubbles get pushed along by the wind. We laughed trying to fill the air with as many bubbles as we could. Little spheres popped noiselessly.
It became her sage advice for every occasion, should something go wrong. She kept a bottle of solution and a wand on the kitchen windowsill. Sometimes it was better than any headache tablet or cough medicine.
Nanna’s coffin slid through the curtain to the crematorium. My father led my mother by the arm outside the chapel. The mourners congregated in sombre two’s and three’s. I stood aside in the shade of the alcove. From my jacket pocket I removed a small plastic bottle of bright pink washing up liquid and a loop of wire. A libation in honour of the dead.
Grief disrupted the rhythm of my breathing. A short, sharp inhalation held to stem the tears. I drew the wand to my lips then methodically, deliberately exhaled. A steady stream of bubbles rushed forward settling in the hands of the breeze. I watched them rise and dance, fade and disappear.