Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a happy, safe wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One morning Benson’s mother said, “Benson, would you like to go and stay with Nanna for a few days?”
A warm feeling spread through Benson’s tummy. He loved visiting Nanna.
His mother said, “Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss are going to a barn dancing camp with Gordon and Fenella, and I have to go to a conference and give some talks on organic gardening. Nanna says that she’d love to have you.”
Nanna always loved having him, and he always loved her having him. Staying at Nanna’s meant hot chocolate and date and walnut rolls and cauliflower sandwiches, and lots and lots of drawing and telling stories, and cooking together and playing games – so many wonderful, happy things that Benson couldn’t count them all.
He packed his pyjamas and his library book and his toothbrush, and his drawing things. When he got to Nanna’s, she said, “Benson, how lovely to see you!” as she always did, and gave him a big hug. His mother kissed him goodbye and said, “Benson, make sure you help Nanna as much as you can.”
Nanna said, “What would you like to do first, have muffins and dandelion tea in the garden, or take some sandwiches and make shadow hands on the big rock?”
That was the trouble with going to Nanna’s, Benson thought. It was so hard to decide what he wanted to do most. “Umm,” he said, thinking about climbing the big rock and eating their sandwiches in the sunshine, then getting mouthfuls of paint and making shadow hand-prints on the rock. “What kind of muffins?” he asked.
“Banana, carrot and coconut,” Nanna said. “I just got them out of the oven.” Then it was easy to decide. They sat in the garden among the wildflowers, seeing who could count the most butterflies, then they made cauliflower and blueberry sandwiches and took them up to the rock. They had a wonderful day together. Nanna had a nap while Benson was making hand-prints, and some foot-prints, then they walked home together telling stories and playing, ‘Guess what animal I’m thinking of.’
The next morning, when Benson got up and went out to the kitchen, Nanna was standing there in her pyjamas. She said, “Benson, what are you doing here?”
Benson felt confused. He said, “I’m sleeping over, remember?”
She looked at him with a tiny frown on her face, until he went up and touched her hand. Then she smiled an enormous smile and said, “Benson, how lovely to see you!” She wrapped him a big, warm hug.
“Are we having pancakes for breakfast?” Benson asked.
Nanna frowned again, and said, “Pancakes?” She looked around the kitchen. Then she got out a saucepan and some pickles, and tomato sauce. “I’m not sure,” she said, uncertainly.
There was a knock at the door, and a cheery voice said, “Nanna, it’s me, Shelley. Can I come in?”
Nanna said, “Shelley, it’s so nice to see you!” Shelley put down a big bag of fruit she had brought, and gave Nanna a hug. “We’re just going to make pancakes,” Nanna said. “Would you like some?”
Shelley said, “I’d love some! What have you got the pickles and tomato sauce for?”
Nanna looked puzzled and said, “I’m not sure.”
Shelley said, “Why don’t I give you a hand?” She got out the frying pan and the flour and the eggs, and she and Benson helped Nanna make the pancakes. They were delicious.
When it was time for the washing-up, and Nanna was getting dressed, Benson said to Shelley, “Nanna was funny, before. It’s like she didn’t remember that I was here.”
Shelley stopped washing up and said quietly, “I think Nanna is having trouble remembering things, sometimes. Sometimes when we get old, our brains don’t work as well as they used to. Sometimes we don’t remember things that we used to know really well. It’s like things get lost in our memory and we don’t know where to find them.”
“Does it hurt?” Benson said. He started to get worried. “What if Nanna forgets to eat, or if she forgets to breathe?”
Shelley gave Benson a hug. “It’s not as bad as that. It doesn’t hurt, but I think Nanna gets a little bit frightened sometimes, when she can’t remember. I come over every morning now, just to see that she’s okay. She needs a little more looking after now, that’s all.”
“Can we fix it for her?” Benson said. “What should I do?”
Shelley said, “I think you should talk to her just the same as you always do. She’s still Nanna, you know. You might just need to remind her of things, now and then.”
Benson was worried after Shelley left, but Nanna seemed just the same as always. They listened to some of her favourite opera music, and she remembered all the words. She had a little nap while Benson was reading his library book, and when she woke up she couldn’t quite remember that it was Tuesday, but Benson chatted to her and she soon felt fine again.
Benson remembered that his mother had said to help Nanna as much as he could, so he helped with the cooking and the washing up, and he reminded Nanna that she still had her slippers on when they were going out for a walk. Sometimes she got confused about whether they had already had lunch, but Benson never minded having lunch twice.
When it was time for Benson to go home again, he told his mother all about Nanna forgetting things, and what Shelley had said. “Nanna’s getting holes in her brain,” Benson said, “and things she’s supposed to remember keep falling out, but you just catch them for her and remind her again and it’s okay.”
His mother was very worried. She talked to Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss.
“What are we going to do?” Aunt Moss said. She was very upset. “We can’t be with her all the time to look after her.”
“We should bring her to live here with us,” Aunt Lillibet said.
Benson’s mother said, “I think she’d be happier in her own home, with her garden and everything she loves.”
“That’s what Shelley says,” Benson said. He was busy drawing pictures of every single wombat that they knew, and writing their names underneath. He told his mother how Shelley came to see Nanna every day.
“That’s very kind of her,” Benson’s mother said. “I wonder if we could ask her to help us look after Nanna?”
So they went to see Shelley and talk to her about Nanna. Then they all went to see Nanna.
Nobody knew exactly what to say, but Benson said, “Here, Nanna, I made you a book of drawings of everyone you know, so that when you forget, you can look at the pictures and see their names underneath.”
Nanna’s face crumpled. “Oh dear, I am forgetting, aren’t I?” she said. “I thought it was just the little things, but lately I feel as if sometimes I even forget where I am, and what I’m doing.”
Shelley put her arm around Nanna and said, “How would it be if I came to look after you? We can dig an extra room or two for my loom and my spinning wheel – maybe I could even teach you how to spin!”
Nanna said, “I think that would be lovely.” She looked at the book that Benson had made, and sighed. Then she had an idea. “You know what I’d like to do? I’d like to have a big party, so I can see everyone again, while I still remember.”
“That sounds like a wonderful idea,” Benson’s mother said. So they had the most enormous party and invited everyone Nanna knew, all her family and friends, Uncle Elton and Elmer, and Lance and Wilma, Mr Fenn and Gordon and Fenella and Malcolm and Rebekah and Hazel, and Nils and Nella and their family, and all the dunnarts, and the sugar-gliders, and the turtles, and Zip and Zali and their mother Teresa, and all Benson’s friends and their families, Mick and Bonnie Lou, and Ralph, and Philip, and Rodney and his family. Even the Amazing Acrobatic Wombats came, and danced with everyone. And of course, Pascoe came. She said she wouldn’t dream of missing it.
Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss and Shelley cooked piles and piles of food, muffins and sandwiches and cakes and pies and tarts, and everyone else brought food to share, and they all sat in Nanna’s garden talking and playing music, singing and telling stories, and having a wonderful time.
When everyone had gone and Nanna was having a rest while Benson’s mother and Shelley were tidying up, Benson said, “I made you a special present, Nanna.” He had made little models of all her wombat friends out of clay from the riverbank. “They’re to remind you,” he said, “so even if your brain and your eyes forget, your hands will still remember.”
He put them in her hands, and her face lit up. “This is Zali, isn’t it?” she said, touching them all over. “And this one is Elton, and this is your mother, and this is you, isn’t it? They’re beautiful, Benson.” Then her face clouded over a little.
Benson said, “Are you okay, Nanna?”
“Benson,” she said very quietly, “I’m frightened.”
Benson took her hand and said, “What are you frightened of, Nanna?”
She held his hand tightly, and said, “I’m afraid that one day I’ll wake up and I won’t remember you, or your mother, or anyone any more. I won’t have a chance to say goodbye.”
Benson thought about how sad that would be. He said, “We’d better make sure we say goodbye now, while you still remember.”
Nanna gave him a radiant smile. “That’s a wonderful idea!” She took him in her arms and told him how much she loved him. And from then on, whenever Benson was going home or it was bedtime, he would say, “Goodbye, Nanna. I love you.”
And Nanna would said, “I love you too, Benson. Sweet dreams, little wombat.”
2 thoughts on “Nanna’s Farewell”
Thank you for this truly heart warming story and the cauliflower sandwich made me laugh. I love your imagination. Pauline.
Oh Pat,Nanna’s Farewell is so beautifully and a touching story.The understanding you have put in this is so ‘on the mark’ with the reality of the condition of Dementia and so well put too, that the kids can take it on board and figure out what’s happening to their own Nannas as they get (hopefully not!) to this stage.Congrats on all your stories.Stories that we can, everyone of us, all relate to in some way. Well Done …cuz Chris