I got the news when I woke up; an email to say my father’s elder sister, the last of his siblings, had died in the early hours.
It wasn’t altogether a surprise. My cousin Helen contacted me on Sunday to say her mother was very unwell and receiving palliative care. I don’t yet know the details. At Christmas the news was that she was in great shape and the family was confident she would reach her hundredth birthday in March next year. I was thinking of going to see her. She lived these last dozen years or in Gozo where both her daughters had moved with their husbands.
So it’s a while since I saw her, and she hasn’t been able to write for some time. I am not sure she would have known who I was, but I am sure the connection would still have been there. She was the dearest and loveliest of aunts. I spent many hours in her company. We watched Diana Rigg in the Avengers on Friday evenings, walked her dogs across the common and down by the river.
She had a foray into dog breeding – wire haired Dachshunds, great little dogs with big personalities. Her Saluki, Penny, aka The Duchess, disapproved of their rough and tumble ways and how they would commandeer her bed.
In a family of animal lovers, she stood out as the one who always put animals first. A phrase you would hear her say often was “for the animals’. And they loved her. Mother used to say animals would gravitate to Aunt Kath. She had a pet swan, nursing it back to health one winter. It repaid her by guarding her home from visitors. The postman learned to lift it by the neck to achieve the front door. Her husband came home after a day’s shooting with a baby rabbit in his pocket. Robert lived with her until he grew up and was returned to the wild. A pedigree cat, a ginger Cornish Rex, turned up in her garden. No amount of advertising found his owners. She took in the waifs and strays, the pets people had acquired without thought and no longer wanted. Her last two cats in England were semi ferals, first fostered then adopted from the CPL. She was a hunt saboteur, learning to throw herself into ditches to avoid riding crops wielded by angry people in red coats. In Gozo she naturally supported the local SPCA and feral kittens, needing to be socialised, would have a temporary home in her bedroom to prepare them for their new lives.
I’ll miss her. I know I haven’t seen her for a while, but she was one of the tall trees of my childhood, and as I grew up the bond between us stayed strong. Her desire to investigate our family history fostered my interest in local history, and we had several exciting days of intensive detective work.
This picture shows her aged about ten. She’s the one on the left with the admirably straight fringe and stylish bob. Beside her is Madeleine, the baby of the family who died about four years ago; then her twin brother Sid, who died twelve years ago, and finally my father Alex, who was the first of the siblings to die in 1991. I have written about her before, and included other photos. Some of you may remember these.
I think I’ll probably be digging out her letters, finding other photos, cradling the memories. Today her name will have been read aloud in Westminster Abbey where I filled in a prayer card this morning.
I think she would have been pleased to hear this news which Friends of the Earth published today:
“When the Government threatened to put Devon’s beavers in captivity, thousands of us sent messages to the Beaver Minister and Friends of the Earth began legal proceedings to stop them. Thanks to huge national and local support, the Government has backed down and just announced that Devon’s beavers will be re-released into the wild.”
Rather than offer condolences over your aunt’s passing, it seems a celebration of her life is more in order, given the many blessings she enjoyed, witnessing the transformation of progress over the span of her long life. My mother was born in 1916, but sadly died in 1998. Your aunt’s longevity is impressive and so, too, are the times she lived in. Think of the changes your aunt saw in her lifetime. My mother told me of her early childhood, riding shotgun with the grocer, delivering groceries by horse and wagon (still a common site, back then). Computers were just beginning to become common when she died. Think of the wonders your aunt got to see in the past sixteen years alone. Now that her time on earth is done, I hope she will RIP.
I agree about celebrating her life. I think that’s right for anyone who lives into their nineties, and we feel relief that there was no long and painful illness, no admission to hospital. But I am sad. She was very special to me.
Don’t be sad. Think of the wonderful memories you shared with you aunt, and rejoice in the fact that you had so many wonderful years together. Death is inevitable, but not every one is blessed with such longevity, and as my mother one time told me, she/they lived in the greatest ‘era’ of mankind. Think of the things your aunt witnessed, first hand, and take solace. We should all be so lucky. Your Aunt will NEVER die as long as you remember her. I still talk to my mother everyday.
Your memories will stay with you. She sounds like a real character xxx
You would have loved talking to her about cats. She once had a very pretty Tabbypoint Siamese called Alice. Alice had a tabby tail and a freckly nose. Gorgeous!
I’m sorry to hear your news. What an age though.
Thanks FM. She would very much have aproved of your cat rescues.
A lovely photo and tribute to your much-loved aunt.
I love that photo of her. Next time you are here you must see the original.
So sorry to hear about your special aunt, Isobel. She was born in the same year as my father, but he died 17 years ago. Orples is right – celebrate her life and be thankful you had such a wonderful person in your life. Memories don’t die, so she will live on in your heart.
We will celebrate her life and I am thankful. That does not stop me being sad. Sad for me rather than for her, which may be rather selfish.
It might, perhaps, be a little selfish, Isobel, but I think that’s quite normal and human.
I’m sorry for your loss, was she the last of the generation Isobel?
There are cousins, some of whom I need to ‘phone tomorrow as they may not yet know. But there are far fewer than before.
Isobel, I’ll echo the sentiment about celebrating her long life because she indeed had one and no doubt it was full of a lot of love from humans AND animals alike. She sounds special…..and I know you’re glad to have letters and photos so you can if you choose make a little memory album. My parents both were both in 1916 and are both gone many years now. As your friend “orples” said above, your memories of her will keep her alive in your heart……right where we keep special people in our lives.
She will be long remembered. The fact that she has great grandchildren who are sufficiently old that they know her well means her memory will extend through people who have known her first hand for a couple more generations i suspect.
Sorry for your loss Isobel- she seems to have been a great friend and influence.
She had the ability, which is I believe quite rare especially as one ages, to accept her present and look to the future. She had simple wants and I loved her very much.
A lovely remembrance. So sorry for your family’s loss. But what an interesting, well-lived life!
You would have liked her I think, and so would your dogs. 🙂
A lovely, lovely post, Isobel. I feel I know her a little, and know your sadness a little. Thank you for this gentle and sweet reflection.
You would have a lot in common!
A sweet post Isobel. I hate to see you sad. She sounds like a compassionate and interesting woman. Good for her for being a hunt saboteur!
My cousin sent a lovely pic of her in her teens. I may have to post it.
She was pretty determined. My Aunt Madeleine became a ‘sab’ too.