"A birth is not really a beginning. Our lives at the start are not really our own but only the continuation of someone else’s story."
- The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield
I have been giving this quote a lot of thought lately. It's something that I had never really considered before but now I cannot get it out of my mind.
I was given my middle name, Valerie, after my Nana, my mum's mother. When I was young, I found it embarrassing. I thought that it was such an old-fashioned name. When people would ask me what it was, I would refuse to tell them. Once, in a conversation with my mum, I mentioned how much I hated it. She was upset, of course. She pointed out that, firstly, it was a beautiful name and, secondly, I should be proud of being named after such a remarkable woman. Since then, I have flaunted it with pride, and it's become part of my pen-name. I had always assumed that my Nana had no impact on my life, since I barely knew her. Of course, I was wrong. I've learned that people don't really leave this world, upon their death. Their essence lives through the people they influenced during their lifetime.
I have don't have many memories of her. It is something that has always saddened me, since I know that we would have been close. I have learned so much about her from my family that I feel as though we are connected, somehow.
I have little glimpses of memory of my Nana, in the recesses of my mind. Her running after me in her backyard, telling me stories about her childhood. Us swimming in the pool together, watching Play School on the couch, going for walks together with my doll's pram. Me having a tantrum because she wouldn't let me sit in the front seat of the car. My mother and I waiting for her at the playground when she had forgotten to come. My mum and her dad searching for her all over the suburb after she had escaped the house and gotten lost. Visiting her in the nursing home when she kept calling my Pop "Paul", the name of their son with the greatest likeness to his dad. I think that was the last time I saw her.
Those memories are precious to me and I hold them dear to my heart. I've realised that what is even more special, though, is the insight into my Nana that I can gain though observing the people who knew her, who are still in my life. The fact that my Pop visited her in the nursing home every single day until she died. Even though he is happily remarried, he still tears up every Christmas, at the thought of her. My mum's best friend is, by her own admission, almost an incarnation of her mother, who she misses dearly. My mum, her sister and her five brothers are still incredibly close. They are all shy like their Dad, but, when they come together, the openness and wittiness they inherited from their mother surfaces. Almost all of them have been in only one significant relationship, just like their parents', whose love story set a standard for their children.
I can even see parts of Valerie in me. We both fall asleep in the cinema during boring movies, for example. She also loved to read. When she started losing her memory, she would jot down all the plot points of the story on her bookmark so that she wouldn't have to go over what she'd forgotten. She also studied arts at university, although she did it in her forties, not her twenties. She believed that being happy was more important than anything else, and didn't bother worrying over, what she considered to be, the "small stuff". Something that I can definitely relate to, but don't always abide by. She loved her husband Steve with all her heart, just as I love Andy.
So this is what has been on my mind lately. That, even though I barely knew my grandmother, she has impacted my life in a profound way. Her spirit lives on through her children and the grandchildren who never met her, and will continue to live on through our children and our grandchildren, and so on. These thoughts have made me appreciate that being significant is not dependent on how much money we make or how high we climb on the career ladder; it's about the way we effect the people we come across during our lives. Just as Chuck Palahnuik says, "the goal isn't to live forever, the goal is to create something that will". That something doesn't need to be a beautiful piece of art, a musical masterpiece or an incredible novel; it is as simple, and as effortless, as sharing your love and yourself with others.