As children, there are some people is whose eyes you can do nothing wrong - invariably, our grandparents. I have been lucky enough to know three of mine - Nanna and Nonno (my mum's parents) and Gran (my dad's mum).
Nanna died back in 2009, about a month after my undergraduate graduation. It was her birthday on Friday and my mum and Nonno, as usually, went to mass and then to the cemetery. Today, the Sunday that traditionally was kept for wine, obscene amounts of food and many birthday wishes, was a more sedate affair. But I sat with Nonno for about an hour before the meal, and we had a chance to really sit and talk.
My grandfather is 86. He's had a pretty difficult life: born into a large but poor Italian family, he won a university scholarship that he had to give up when war broke out, and became part of the partisan resistance. After the war he left Italy, travelling Europe to make money to send home, at one point getting trapped in a mine for nearly eight hours in Belguim, until he settled in England. More recently, he had open heart surgery and a pacemaker fitted. He is diabetic, nearly blind, and still has the wickedest sense of humour.
And he loved - loves - my Nanna.
He loves her so much that he visits her grave every single week. He loves her so much that he watches every single soap on television - all the ones he used to complain about nearly every day when she was alive - because they remind him of her. He loves her so much, that he sings her favourite song to her picture every morning when he gets up and every night when he goes to sleep.
And I can hardly blame him. She was incredible. Full of life, vibrant, sassy and took no nonsense from anyone - even Nonno. Especially Nonno! She was loyal beyond belief and when I moved out properly for the first time this year, I was moved to tears when I opened my box. (She created a box when each of her grandchildren were born, filled with cutlery, crockery, linen - everything anyone could possibly need for their first place). It was so unbelievably thoughtful of her, reminding me of how she had insisted, as she got closer to the end, that we remembered our boxes. That they would remind us of her later.
My dad's mum is an incredibly strong woman too. Unwaveringly supportive to all of us, whenever we need it, she's generous unto a fault. She'd give the shirt off her back for her children and grandchildren if we asked for it, and in return we adore her! She's the best person to go shopping with (Gran manages to practically whistle up bargains out of thin air) and loves nothing better than to debate politics. I think she thinks I'm practically a bolshevik for reading The Guardian. She brought up her three kids so wonderfully well, and without much help from anyone. And I get my love of books from her. When I was tiny, she'd sing Irish nursery rhymes to me until I fell asleep. I've always been blessed with the best female role models.
I know that I'm so very lucky to have such wonderful grandparents, to have been enveloped by such love. I can only hope that they know that.