From the archives: originally a Facebook post from 22 August 2018.
Rest In Peace, Shirley Valler, 1928 – 2018, “Nan” to me, “SuperNan” to my kids. A hilarious grandmother, full of defiant energy, and prone to moments of outrageous humour. She was relentless in her insistence that I was, de facto, brilliant, regardless of supporting evidence. I will miss her very much.
Nan was also extraordinarily resilient. I have wondered recently if that is what comes of spending her younger teenage years in Blitz-soaked London during the war. I once interviewed her for a primary school project and she told me about bombs that fell on her neighbours. The determination to survive took her, beyond all our expectations, to her 90th birthday.
I think it also nurtured her sense of humour. Nan would regularly choose to laugh her way through extraordinary pain. She combined compassion and comedy in an unusual admixture, that served for me as a hallmark. Many decades ago she walked with people towards death as a hospice volunteer. And though death took her younger son way before time, she still continued to laugh. It was defiance, she told me – what else was there to do?
Even in her late-80s she was frightening well-to-do ladies at the day-care, smuggling a parsnip up her blouse and complaining of strange side-effects to her new medication.
Nan was also a connoisseur of film. She introduced me to several classics – most memorably, The Italian Job – and would double up in stitches when my Grandad, often very quiet and reserved, unexpectedly sounded the sirens from The Guns of Navarone, as he was occasionally prone to doing. “Your Grandad and I would quote great chunks from Lawrence of Arabia,” she told me, several years after he had passed away. “I can still quote it now,” she continued. “That and the Bourne trilogy, of course.”
Of course. Who can’t quote the Bourne trilogy at 87?
I have many memories to treasure, in different ways – of childhood beach trips and adult hospital trips, Christmas crackers and summer cornettos. I still remember how normal it seemed as a child, threading streamers around garden tools for the annual Shed Party, wearing pirate hats and eye patches while singing Happy Birthday to their new garden construction.
Albert Camus once said, “I draw from the Absurd three consequences: my revolt, my liberty, my passion.” Nan taught me to be serious about never taking anything too seriously, because in the absurdity of life lie the most serious powers of all.
Her funeral is this afternoon. When she only had a few months left to live, I kissed her forehead, knowing it might be the last time I saw her. She said ‘Don’t be sad, dear’, and promised she would jump out of her coffin today to surprise everyone. I gave a guffawing belly-laugh then, and may have to restrain one later on. The sadness of her death is flecked with the great happiness her life produced, and in memory continues to live.
Goodnight, Nan. Rest now among the stars.