When Nan burned bright.

When Nan burned bright.

At a hundred-and-a-half, Nan was ready to ease out of life. Burning her body was one thing, but bearing the heat in the room was quite another prospect.

Nan was born into shame, an illegitimate child whose mother had nothing but contempt and spite for her. She was raised to feel she ought to be ashamed of her very being, for the unspoken circumstances of her birth and the inconvenience of her life to others. She determined to defy that. She spoke to the end about it without bitterness, simply telling her story and reshaping expectations. She maintained her own dignity and stood tall.

At the funeral, others brought their own silent testimonies of shame into the room. Mourners drew on a veil of deceits, not least to themselves. They needed to control the fears and anger, and used hidden hostilities to enforce the ongoing silences and protect from inconvenient truths. They have not truly succeeded, or moved beyond being hostage to their defiance, their outrage, their shame – yet. Facing and naming the truths may seem a dreadful prospect, and threatening to the uneasy truce that’s been held for so long it seems inescapable. But liberation is there for us all if we choose to pursue it.

Nan believed that other people’s abusiveness need not keep her silent or diminish her spirit. She resolutely spoke up. She placed truth into a room and challenged the unsettled ones to accommodate it. She knew that came from a place of love. The woman who taught me how to wash my body and hang out my clothes knew what it was to bear defilement, but refuse to wear it. Her physicality is gone now, but her imprint on our lives has not. The question remains though – how will each of us honour that? She was dismayed and regretful of all that remained broken and unhealed around her, but hopeful of the possibility of changed outcomes. She modelled acceptance and gratitude, was honest and joyful, resolving always to outwit the legacies of harm by simple goodness. Her integrity remains, perhaps kindling consciences to be truth bearers too.

Shame is hard to burn off our souls, but Nan’s example in life shows us how to be burnished after its fire has ravaged. She leaves us with her brokenness in the dust, and a way of truthfulness shining brightly.