By Tim Porteus

JESSICA was struggling. Christmas time had been difficult because it was the first Christmas without her granny, who had died earlier in the year. But now she was back at school and into the routine with her friends.

Her parents had hoped this would help, but her sense of loss was still overwhelming for her. Perhaps at her age she didn’t understand exactly what was going on inside, but all she knew was that her granny she’d loved was gone and she missed her.

Then one evening during a bedtime story, Jessica started to cry and told her dad that her granny was melting like a snowman. At first he wasn’t sure what she meant, but then he understood.

Jessica’s memory of her granny was fading. This was a second loss for her. The first loss was of her granny’s physical presence, her actual hugs, her voice and care and love, even the smell of her perfume. Now Jessica was losing her memory of all this and she knew it. So she felt that something inside her was melting too, something that had been so much of her was vanishing.

And this made Jessica fear that others in her life could disappear and then melt away as well, even her dad or mum. It was a terrifying thought and it made her not just sad but scared and insecure inside.

Her dad tried to reassure her that he or her mum weren’t going to die, but despite being only six years old, Jessica now knew that such promises couldn’t be kept forever.

“Nana didn’t want to die either, but she did. And now she’s melting.”

The next day at school was another difficult one for Jessica, and home time often didn’t make it better because in the past it had usually been her granny who’d picked her up.

Her dad was waiting for her.

“We are not going straight home today,” he told her.

“Where are we going?”

“To Nana’s seat.”

A cloud suddenly came over Jessica. She didn’t say anything and just looked at the ground. This was a seat that overlooked the sea, where her gran had often taken her. They would sit together and look out to the Firth, spotting boats and looking for whales, while eating sweeties.

Her dad had realised that Jessica hadn’t been there since the death of her grandmother.

“Only if you want to,” he said.

Jessica was silent and looked at the ground. Inside, her emotions were spinning. Then she looked up.

“I don’t want to, it will just make me sad,” she said to her dad. So they didn’t go.

But later that day, Jessica began to talk about Nana’s seat. “She always gave me sweeties and we’d look for whales and pirates. She told me a story about how a pirate once landed here at Prestonpans, but he didn’t leave treasure, he just built the town.”

“Great story,” said her dad.

The next day, Jessica agreed to go to her nana’s seat. When they arrived, she hesitated to sit and had a wave of emotion.

“I miss Nana,” she said

“So do I. Shall we sit on her seat and miss her together.”

“But we have to eat sweeties.”

“Just so happens I’ve got some in my pocket,” said the dad with a smile. His daughter smiled back and sat on the seat. Her dad joined her.

“No, dad, that was Nana’s place, you sit this side instead.”

And so they sat, missing Nana together, being sad together, but also remembering her together.

“Can you tell me the story about the pirate?” asked the dad.

“Don’t want to.”

“OK, maybe next time.”

The next day, they returned to Nana’s seat. This time, Jessica told a bit of the pirate story. The dad remembered it from his childhood and realised that his own grief in losing his mother had closed him down to talking about her. It had felt too painful.

He began to sit on ‘Nana’s seat’ by himself when Jessica was at school, even though he had never done it with his mother when she was alive; he had always been ‘too busy; to watch the sea with her. But his daughter’s anecdotes and stories about the seat made it feel like a place of remembrance for him too.

The power of stories, to rekindle memory and ease the sense of loss, became very real for both Jessica and her dad. At home, they made a special box with drawings and photos of memories, and things that reminded Jessica of her gran. They’d take them out and tell stories and share memories. Her dad even began to tell funny stories about his mum from when before Jessica was born, when he was a boy.

‘Nana’s box’ was put in a safe place, but where Jessica could take it if she wanted to. As time passed, she opened it less, but it was always in her room. Sometimes she would put things in it, such as shells from the beach, because her granny had loved beautiful shells.

The loss of a loved one can never be completely moved on from, so there were always going to be times of sadness. But the seat, the box and most of all the stories, stopped Jessica’s nana from melting.