Tuesday 12 February 2019

My Grandmother, a Robin and an Angel by Mel Darbon

My Grandmother, a Robin and an Angel by Mel Darbon


My grandmother was a very special person. When she died, what people remembered her for  the most was the kindness and love that she was willing to impart to anyone she met. She was never heard to utter a bad word or negative comment about one, single person. Even animals seemed to sense her compassion and would approach her wherever we went.  She was the Mary Poppins in my life, the special lady who helped the lonely, unconfident little girl that I was to feel special. My mother told me once that she'd always had a soft-spot for me and I cherish those words to this day.

                                   My lovely Grandma selling her paintings on a stall in London

The Robin has long been Britain's favourite bird, an inquisitive and friendly presence in many gardens all year round. My love of the Robin began with my grandma - and my favourite memory is of me as a child, helping her feed the tame robin that she always had in her garden. I'd sit patiently beside her on the wooden bench by the pond, hardly doing to breath, while she clicked her tongue against her teeth to call it down. She'd put cheese in the palm of her hand and hold it out ready for the little bird to eat. In a matter of minutes, Robbie, ( the very unoriginal name my grandma gave to them all) would swoop down and sit on her finger to have his breakfast.


Then it was my turn. 'Talk to him very softly,' she'd whisper to me, 'and be gentle.' I would feel my hand trembling with excitement, my eyes wide with wonder, as I held my hand out. The little robin would cock his head to one side as if he was sizing me up, before hopping over to my finger and taking a piece of cheese. I loved the feel of his tiny, warm claws wrapped around my finger, his intelligent, round eyes taking me in, as his sharp little beak tapped my skin when he ate. I feel quite emotional thinking about it now - and to me, the child, it was magical.

One day, as we were out in the garden together my grandma turned to me and said, 'When I die I'm going to come back as a robin and watch over you, so you don't ever have to feel alone.' Although I couldn't bear the thought of her dying, this was a great comfort to me and I carried those words with me where ever I went.


I was thirty-six when my grandmother died of the cancer that had spread throughout her body; and I was heartbroken. The clock in my mother's house, which my grandma had given her, stopped working at twenty past two in the morning - the time she passed away. I know this is hard to believe, but we still talk about it now. It was the first of many strange and wonderful things that happened after she died.

After the funeral, I wondered what on earth I would do without this amazing woman in my life. A part of me felt like it had died with her - and I couldn't bear it. As we all tumbled out of the car on arriving home after the funeral, I opened the front door. Something flew past my face and sat on the mat looking at me. It was a robin. It hopped into the kitchen and stayed with us for about twenty minutes, on the edge of the sink, watching me. My grandma's words echoed in my head,  'When I die I'm going to come back as a robin and watch over you, so you don't ever have to feel alone.' She'd kept her promise to me.

Over the years, in times of difficulty or pain, she would appear when I most needed her. Once I was feeling very sad, as life was proving tough at that period of time and I hadn't seen a robin around for ages and was worried my grandmother had gone from my life; but as I was saying this to my dear friend, who I was having coffee with, we heard a tap, tap, tap on the french widows that looked out over her garden. It was a robin and it stayed at the window looking in on us for some time. My cynical, sceptical friend stills dines out on this story!


My grandma doesn't just reserve her love and care for me. I was working with a group of teenage mums who had missed out on their education, when one of them broke down and told me how lonely and worthless she felt. After talking with her for a while I jokingly said I would ask my grandma to watch over her, as she did for me. The girl laughed and told me not to be stupid, (though much less politely). The following week she came rushing into the classroom and grabbed me, 'Mel, you're never guess what! I got home from college last week and there was a robin sitting on my gate and he didn't budge - and it's been there every day since. It must be your gran!'


Another friend was struggling terribly with her brother's mental health problems, and, having just lost her mother was feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. We'd met at Agatha Christie's house, Greenway, in Kingswear, Devon, and sat together looking out over the estuary, watching the boats sail past in the sunshine. Again, I told her I would lend her my grandmother to watch over her and protect her. To this friend's astonishment, a robin flew down and sat on the wall in front of us, where it stayed until we left.

Over the years, I too have tamed robins in my garden and it has been a joy to see the look of wonder on my children's faces as they have fed from my hand. I hope it's something they might do with their own children.

                                      Me feeding my robin in my garden in Henley-on-Thames

Every time I see this tiny, red-breasted bird I think of my grandma and I know she is watching over me - and that she will always appear when I need her. They say that angels come back down to earth as robins, which is what my grandmother was on earth, so it seems very fitting that she is one now - and my guardian angel. I miss her every day, but feel blessed to have had her in my life and to know that she is still keeping an eye on me! So, wherever you are, Grandma, thank you.  If I'm half the woman you were in life I will be very proud.

                                                             Baby Robin...not so pretty!

Insta: Mel Darbon


Hilary Hawkes said...

Your grandmother was obviously a very special and compassionate person.It's wonderful that you have such lovely memories. I've always thought birds are special little souls and birdsong is my favourite sound - so comforting and pure. My own grandmother loved them, particularly robins, and tended to them in her garden too. As I've got older I've got more and more drawn to watching and listening to birds. I have cds and audios of bird song and often listen to them whilst writing/working - and even when I'm driving sometimes!! Thank you for sharing. So lovely to read.

Lynne Benton said...

What a lovely story, Mel! My husband says that every time he starts digging in the garden a robin comes to watch him, and he's right (though cynics will point out that the robin is hoping he'll dig up some worms!) Now I wonder if it could be someone watching over him - or possibly it's because his name is Robin...

Pippa Goodhart said...

Oh, my, that's wonderful! My mother-in-law was a similarly exceptionally kind and caring lady, and as she was dying in hospital with my husband, her son, by her side, I went to her house to telephone her other grown-up children. I opened the door to find a little greenfinch trapped inside, flapping against the staircase window. I made those hard phone calls to tell three people that their mother was dying, and then needed to head back to the hospital. But I paused, saying to the greenfinch, 'You'll have to come to me if you want me to let you out.' And it did. It flew down into my hands, and I set it flying free. I wasn't surprised to find when I got to the hospital that my mother-in-law had died at just the time I set that bird free, all her children holding her in their hearts.
There's more in Heaven and Earth, Horatio ...!

Anne Booth said...

What a beautiful, beautiful post. Thank you.