During my 3rd year at university, my Granda, John, passed away. It was the first bereavement of a close family member that I had experienced, and it hit me hard.
Granda was a man of science; a trained vet, who crossed over into the field of human medicine through his pioneering work in the separation and use of blood products. During his career, he was National Scientific Director of the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service, a member of the first expert group reporting on the AIDs virus for the World Health Organisation and developed experiments for NASA, to name but a few of his prestigious roles.
Needless to say, he was highly accomplished and had uncompromising drive, ambition and integrity. These same high standards were extended to those around him. Praise was reserved for occasions when it was truly deserved.
But despite his serious demeanour, he possessed a dry sense of humour and a kind, mischievous glint in his eye. When we were young, my brother and I would enjoy long walks with him in the countryside, tasting wild raspberries and ‘divining’ for water. He always had something to teach us about – science, nature or history – though sometimes it fell on deaf ears! Thankfully, he captured many of these stories in letters, which he would write to us from time to time.
Whilst he was not the touchy-feely type, our bond with Granda was strong and I loved him very much.
This bond, coupled with an intrinsic desire to win his approval, means that even now, I strive to make him proud. He left the world a better place than when he found it and, when he died, I made a commitment to myself to do the same.
From Granda, I learned to take wonder in the world around me, and to do something that matters.
Then, during my 4th year, aged just 48, my auntie Mhairi died suddenly from liver failure. Although she had been ill for some time, we had always hoped for her recovery and her loss came as a huge shock, especially for my Mum, who had lost her Dad less than a year before.
Mhairi spent 15 years living and working in France, for Sun Microsystems. Having joined the company as a Technical Writer, she worked her way up to eventually become General Manager of 200 employees on the Grenoble site.
But Mhairi was not who you might imagine the General Manager of a computing company to be. She was a gregarious character, always the life and soul of the party. She loved to entertain, regularly hosting elaborate parties at her home; a large chalet, nestled in the Alps. She was a collector of ‘curios’ – interesting items from bygone eras – so the parties would often feature real vintage props and costumes, from medieval swords to antique gramophones.
She would come back to Scotland to visit us at Christmas, bringing with her toys, games and, later, cocktail recipes! The happiest of family times. Towards the end of school, when I acquired an obsession for pirate regalia and all things “Jack Sparrow”, she was only too happy to indulge me. I became the proud owner of a long, captain’s coat and leather, tri-cornered hat, both of which were put to good use through university and beyond.
Through her work, she travelled widely and, as I got older, I noticed how she nurtured her many friendships with people across the world, of all generations. Although she had successfully climbed the corporate ladder, she knew what was most important in life.
But when she was faced with overseeing a third round of redundancies at Sun, she decided to put herself on the list and moved back to Scotland.
With her new-found freedom, she returned to university to complete a Masters in HR, to formalise her years of corporate experience, and set about finding a new role in this field.
But sadly, the French lifestyle had taken its toll and, within a couple of years, she was diagnosed with liver disease. Despite the illness, she battled on, establishing a technical recruitment business and, latterly, training as a driving instructor, but eventually she had to concede that her body didn’t have the stamina for either.
We had one last Christmas with her, a more subdued affair than in years gone by. Then, suddenly, she was gone.
Her loss weighed heavy on my heart as I returned to university to finish my 4th year. But, with the support of my family and friends, I made it through and was delighted to receive 1st Class Honours. Of course, it was a bittersweet moment, as Mhairi and Granda weren’t there to share it with me, but I knew they would both be proud.
The impact of these bereavements, at such a pivotal moment in my life, was profound. I had a sense of my own mortality that many of my peers would not gain for years to come. Already ambitious, I became even more determined to find success and live a meaningful life.
From Mhairi, I learned to value my friendships, to live for the moment and to be myself.
A few months later, when I was planning my new business, I felt compelled to bring Granda and Mhairi on the journey with me somehow. Amongst Mhairi’s possessions were numerous old typewriters, one of which stood out to me.
It was a Corona #3, an attractive machine from circa 1920. Designed to be portable, it was cute and compact. As I embarked on my first venture as a virtual assistant, it seemed the perfect inspiration for my branding, and encapsulated so many aspects of Granda and Mhairi’s personalities.
Only recently has it struck me that, by focusing on blogging services, I am continuing the passion for writing and sharing knowledge that they both embodied throughout their lives.
For me, this is what the typewriter represents.
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