It wasn’t a grand funeral; half an hour in a crematorium chapel doesn’t really allow grandeur. But it was a good one. My cousin Tom took the service, and there was a warm and humorous tribute from two family members.
I was pleased that her beloved cat Jan got a mention, but sorry he didn’t get his picture in the order of service. I think she would have liked that. His handsome face on the back; she in her graduation gown on the front.
I knew she had studied English literature at Queen’s, but it was news to me that her degree was also in classics and philosophy. She was the only one of Mother’s siblings to be allowed to stay on at school after the age of fourteen, let alone contemplate continuing to higher education.
Small compensation perhaps for the fact that her father never bothered to see her. My grandmother died shortly after she was born. Just days old, she was taken from the hospital by a maternal aunt to be brought up with her cousins. Her father never laid eyes on her, never visited, never made contact.
The two family members who paid tribute to her today were daughters of Olga, one those cousins who I wrote about here after her funeral. Unsurprisingly she had a closer relationship with them, with their mother and aunt than she did with her own siblings, nieces and nephews.
In recent years my increasingly frequent visits to NI, our ginger cats, and mutual love of literature brought an unexpected good relationship between us. Today when I met her carer Kate for the first time there was a flash of recognition and connection when I identified myself as the calendar cat niece.
Like the rest of the family, I have heard much about Kate. She started as my aunt’s carer ten years ago, and grew to be a loved and valued friend; someone who could be relied upon to choose the right books at the library, respect her privacy, make intelligent conversation and never ever presume to know better than my aunt where her best interests lay.
It was Kate who found on Monday morning, in her bed. This was the first time in ten years that Kate had ever been in her bedroom. From my own experience of mother’s carers, I’d say that this makes her a rare woman indeed. Most of Mother’s carers seemed to think they had complete freedom in Mother’s home to move things around and to go in and out of all the rooms.
She has given me her email and address. I have promised her the calendar I had for my aunt, and to find and scan my copy of the photograph that was on the cover of the order of service.
My cousin Tom told the story of the man who told his minister he preferred his own copy of the bible. Why, asked the minister, not unnaturally. Mine says that in my father’s house there are many mansions, replied the man, yours just says there are many rooms. All these cutbacks. By the time I get there, I’ll be lucky to get a bed.
Tom reckoned a mansion would not be to our aunt’s taste; somewhere where there was amazement, modern art, wonder would be more to her tastes. I’d add a decent library to that, a plentiful supply of crosswords. And good conversation. The tribute reminded us how she would have piles of reference books piled up beside her. I recall a family meal more than a decade ago when she and Olga fished crosswords out of handbags and large magnifying glasses the better to read the clues and their answers. It looked like the start of a Sherlock Holmes convention.
She could be remote, academic, but she possessed humour and an enjoyment of the ridiculous. My Uncle Bill, now 93, and sprightlier than many a man in his 70s, visited her one day several years ago when she was in hospital. She was sitting bolt upright in her bed, a gleam in her eye, eager to share a conversation she had had with her doctor who had been talking to Bill, her senior by five years.
I was talking to your son, said the doctor.
It made my aunt’s day.
I’m glad we were related; glad to have had that chance of a relationship with her; glad she died in her sleep, at home; sorry she has gone. She didn’t have the religious gene, so if there is a heaven she’ll be more surprised than most to find herself there.
I just hope she gets a bed.