Saying goodbye to aged grandparents that I've barely met in my 44 years was one of the most heartbreaking things I've ever had to do.
In the blistering sun, dressed in comfy airplane attire, I hugged my Caribbean grandma and grandad and (in my best West Indian vernacular) me bawl. My three children were agog at the dribbling mess that sat between them on the taxi ride to the airport; this certainly was a waterproof mascara day.
This is an unsual experience for me as my grandparents have lived for the majority of my life in Grenada so apart from the baby years, a couple of childhood visits abroad and taking a quick trip over during my three maternity leaves, I've never considered that I had much of a relationship with them. How could I? They were three thousand miles away and technology arrived too late for us to establish a true connection.
Life moves on doesn't it? We plough the seeds and scatter and all that.
Yet in researching the Caribbean journey from home to the UK, I found myself with more questions than answers. My grandparents came were post-Windrush generation and not from Jamaica so the footage and documentation regarding their experience was always sparse. I wanted to know what it was like on the boat on the way over, what it was like to arrive, live and work in the 1960's, what made them return home when those around them were putting down roots?
A memory lane trip around Shepherds Bush with my dad, who arrived in the UK at 16, was incredibly useful in painting a picture for the life I needed to create for the character of Gracie in my novel:a young mother who follows her husband from Grenada to London. But I needed the first hand tales of my grandparents to understand how it felt to be in Britain at that time.
Having the opportunity to visit my grandparents and listening to grand-uncles and aunts regale stories of years past, I felt blessed that I was able to hear them first hand. Afternoons spent sifting through faded photo albums led to volumes of anecdotes that transformed my grandparents from the elderly people I saw before me to the young, spirited, hard-working people they used to be; people from a time that their children and grandchildren would never know.
So much is already gone and forgotten with a generation who left snippets of history from their own lives and I realise with sorrow the conversations missed with people I have not taken the time to value. The simple fact is that everyone takes a piece of their life-stories with them one day and I fear that in this selfie-life we are too preoccupied with the us and now; we are disregarding our past and losing pieces of our history puzzles.
Writing my novel led me to explore my family history which, amongst hurrah-inducing finds and foot stomping frustrating dead-ends, led me to question the who, whats, wheres and whens that contributed to little old me. Desperately trying to keep up with she who married Mr So-and-So's brother from down the hill who is also our family you know was a daily challenge and a daily reality as I was introduced to yet another cousin. But these revelations also opened up branches of a family tree I never knew existed; pieces of my missing jigsaw.
Although the goodbyes were painful I am overjoyed that I got some time with my grandparents because the bare-face truth is that I am unlikely to afford a return trip any year soon. But the time spent with four generations together have made life long memories and certainly reminded me of the importance of listening to those who came before because one day we will want our stories to be heard by those who will follow after.