“Granny, Granny, I need you! I want you!” said Ricky from his comfortable position on my knee.

“But I’m here. We can’t get any closer,” I argued, feeling the warmth of his little body near mine. I had been in hospital for a few days and upstairs for a few more.

He continued: “I need Granny Porridge!”

“You get the porridge while I finish my tea and we’ll make it together,” I said.

Off Ricky went to the kitchen press while I gathered myself off the couch.

Granny porridge ritual

Kate, my niece, arrived to help us out with a few jobs. There is a “Granny Porridge” ritual and I never really thought about it until we had a witness to the process.

My granny, the only one I knew, was a very serious lady. I loved her dearly and I know she loved me, but I was a little afraid of her, especially when I was small. I’ve determined from the day Ricky was born that I’m going to be a granny that’s a little mad, even impulsive, and able to drop all tools for a bit of fun! I hope my love for my grandchildren will be visible to them always.

I’ve been making porridge for Ricky since he was about a year old. The ritual developed over time. He sits on the high stool. We get a white cereal bowl for me and a plastic bowl for Ricky, one of Ricky’s spoons and a big spoon for me. Ricky scoops out the porridge oats and we add milk and stir. I put it in the microwave and Ricky presses the button. The time is a minute and a half. When he was about 18 months, he couldn’t wait for the porridge and would have a mini meltdown. So, I taught him the sign for “wait” (both arms bent at the elbows across the body with the top hand pressing downward).

Off I go across the kitchen and living room skipping and dancing about while we wait. My grandson loves it. We follow each other and when one turns, we nearly crash into each other. We laugh and so on until the microwave beeps to herald that the porridge is ready.

There is a further ritual until the porridge is apportioned appropriately by Ricky and we are seated side by side at the kitchen table. Kate had to join in the ritual and she giggled all the way believing that her aunt had absolutely lost the plot.

Tough time

During my chemotherapy months, I could barely make the porridge. I struggled to walk slowly around the living room as part of our usual waiting game. Ricky was not impressed. He’d say, “Granny, what is wrong with you? Why won’t you run?”

I’d answer that I was tired and he needed to be the leader. I added in walking on the spot to allow me to get my breath back. I was so weak. Day by day, I got a little stronger. Even that little bit of exercise helped me to get my energy back. The porridge making ritual is now back on track until the next hurdle of surgery! Bring it on; it needs to get done.

Even if Ricky and Granny are not together, we are still connected.

It is important to focus on the little children in our lives when trauma hits the house. I know that when I was first diagnosed, there was a lot of tension, sporadic tears and stress when us adults were talking and making plans. I was very conscious of Ricky’s mind and how he might be processing things. Julie talked and explained things to him.

Practical help

Early on, one of my friends, Geraldine Moran, senior speech and language therapist with the Brothers of Charity, got to work. She made a social story book about me having to go to hospital using our own photographs. She also made a chart of the days for each month. She laminated them and prepared small pictures of hospital and home. The pictures could stick on with Velcro on the dates that I was in hospital or at home. It was a visual schedule of my treatment plan. She also made a weekly one. It was a way for Ricky to understand the days that I was at home and the days I was in hospital. It was also accessible to Diarmuid and he liked to go through it with Ricky.

Simple things can make a huge difference to the peace of mind of the vulnerable people in our families. Geraldine also found a book called The Invisible String. It is an ideal book for any family’s little children who are dealing with separation, anxiety or grief. The story is about an invisible string made of love. Even though you can’t see it with your eyes, you can feel it deep in your heart, and know that you are always connected to the ones you love.

Even if Ricky and Granny are not together, we are still connected. I found myself thinking about the little book often and the invisible string that connects us to all the people we love and have loved.