The Funeral

Of course the person I really want to talk it over with is Aunt. And in a way I am, but it is a rather one-sided conversation where I ask if she was pleased with how it went, and hope the silence is an approving one.

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the day of the funeral


The sun shone, the skies were blue, the church was full of light. Her coffin of seagrass looked lovely. Too big, but lovely. Such a little body inside. The florists had done a perfect job with the flowers; subtle pastel colours; roses, hyacinths and tulips, with bunches of dried lavender tied to the sides of the coffin and her pale blue sun hat sitting on the top.
Beautiful coffin

Beautiful coffin


The church was full. There were regular members of the congregation, neighbours, friends from further away, family. My cousin Tom gave the tribute for the family and his emotions nearly got the better of him. Tissues were being passed along rows. He remembered to give Linda a special mention, though he played fast and loose with the number of Aunt’s siblings and the age gap between Aunt and Mother.

But it was Aunt’s special friend, Margaret, who made the service so memorable. She is 93, has leukaemia, has had leukaemia for some years. A tiny frail woman with an energy that seems to belong to someone else. She and Aunt became friends the first time Aunt attended the church. Margaret was a missionary in Africa, but hails originally from Armagh. She was astounding; funny, warm, witty and full of love for Aunt and gratitude for their friendship. When she signed off, looking down at the coffin and saying “see you soon,” there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. If she had a fan club we’d all be paid up members now. She wasn’t coming to the cemetery for the burial, and couldn’t stay for the ‘substantial’ refreshments specified in Aunt’s will, so she was all but mobbed by the family outside the church, and the minister who had gone ahead must have been wondering what was keeping us. Continue reading

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Windows in Heaven

Lovely Linda sent me a link to a song on YouTube that she thought might bring me comfort.

It didn’t. It was a rather syrupy ballad of the type that makes my skin crawl. The lyrics were over sentimental, and to my mind, downright creepy. Check them out for yourselves if you can face it. The song is called Windows in Heaven and is sung by Michael English. I’d never heard of him, but if you like Daniel O’Donnell, as Mother and thousands of others quite unaccountably did and do, you’ll probably like this chap too.

I think Linda thought I’d like it as it has references to Mary, the BVM one presumes rather than my aunt, looking down at us from the aforementioned windows.

Instead it gave me the somewhat unsavoury image of the dead being involved in some mass surveillance scheme of the living on behalf of the Almighty, and, if things in heaven are in any way like here below, and according to the song there are windows so the inference is there, it could even have been outsourced to a private company, or the afterlife’s equivalent of GCHQ. A sort of celestial 1984. Continue reading

A Visit to Aunt Before Christmas

I’ll try taking a picture of her tomorrow and you’ll see her smile is just the same, but I thought I could see the skull beneath the skin before, yet when I first saw her today I was shocked.

 

Hours in her company have done their work and now I see she’s still Aunt, but I do wonder how much longer she can continue like this. She’s wrapped in layers of warm clothing, the central heating supplemented by a clever Dyson machine her friend gave her. I brought various fruit juices for her to try. The anti sickness tablets are helping her to keep food down, but as she explained, she isn’t much interested in eating or drinking. I think she’s shutting down. Certainly she is sleeping much more, and her mind is not so clear. She is forgetful, muddled. But that doesn’t stop her being independent.

 

Maybe my opinion will change tomorrow, but tonight I am wondering if this is the last time I shall see her. A good friend of hers who is also frail will spend Christmas Day with her. There will be visits from members of her church who have stayed loyal to her over these months when she has been unable to attend. She hasn’t written any cards, and she hasn’t put up the ones she has received.

Continue reading

Settling Down

The sun was setting as I drove the last miles over what passes for a road over the fens. I stopped to buy half a dozen eggs and the Egg Lady came out and introduced herself. She recognised me as the woman who handed her some twenty egg boxes at the start of the summer. I keep them in the boot of my car for when I come East.

We had a brief chat and I explained I was on my way to das Boot. She was interested in why I had it. I explained – Mother's move to sheltered housing, my need for somewhere to stay. She asked what I would be doing this weekend. I told her the main purpose of my visit was to see my aunt who has terminal cancer. Egg Lady promptly told me if I needed a shoulder to cry on and/or a glass of wine, I should be welcome.

She has a pack of wonderful dogs, so I may take her up on it. I told her I knew someone in Colorado who wants her weather vane.

At the marina I hurried to das Boot to run the engine and get sorted before MasterB came on board. A head poked out of a nearby boat. A boat that is newish here. The owner of the head, Gary, wanted to know if I knew the code to the toilet and shower block. He seemed a bit down. Maybe he has been waiting all day for someone to turn up and give him that information. He made some comment about there being quite a few cars here but no people. They're out on their boats, I said, gesturing to the riverfront which was conspicuously empty of craft. He seemed unimpressed. Maybe I would be too if I had been hoping for use of an onshore shower all day. Continue reading

Aunt

Aunt is definitely thinner. When I hugged her, I could feel every knob of her spine and her ribs were clear under my hands. Her lovely cleaner Linda, now an honourary member of the family, was there when I arrived. Linda is a huge fan of Uncle Bill. I keep reminding her he is spoken for. Linda is the person who allows Aunt to continue to live independently. She is more carer than cleaner these days. And throughout her years of working for Aunt has become a trusted companion, a confidante, a surrogate daughter. They love each other with an uncomplicated trust and respect. They are good to and for each other. Their relationship is good to see.

In the spring, when I spoke to the Specialist Nurse, I tried to find out how long Aunt might survive her cancer. The nurse, who is lovely, but worked off her feet, told me my aunt could well die of old age before the cancer tightened its grip. However, by the end of the conversation I knew it would be unlikely Aunt would see the end of the summer.

Yet today we were talking about winter, and where we can go when the weather turns cold. As we had both wanted to enjoy Linda's company, it was quite late before we set off for an outing. Our destination was a local hotel where I had been told we could enjoy tea in the garden.

The drive took about five minutes. Maybe less. Aunt usually feels the cold, so I was surprised when she said she'd like to sit in the garden, and laid her fleece across her knees. We were the only ones outside until we saw a tabby cat emerge from a flower bed. We sat and talked, and I asked her about how it felt to know that this might be her last summer. She was philosophical. At 92, death could come any day, cancer or no. Seeing the flowers, the colours, the cat. These were the things that counted. A teapot which poured well, and a more than generous jug of milk, sunshine on the plants and the peace of the garden, moments to be stored up and enjoyed over the next weeks.

Earlier I had found her mother's signature on the. Ulster Covenant. It's available on the PRONI site. Aunt was just four when her mother died. Her memories are scant. She was moved by the sight of the signature. I should see about taking a screen shot and storing it with her photographs on the tablet.

My little Olympus with its wifi wizardry is a hit when I visit Aunt. She selects the photos she wants and I load them onto her tablet. She has a lot of MasterB. When we go out, I take more pictures so she has a record of where we have been and what we have seen. Continue reading

The Pictures Unposted

When I first started blogging my strap line was Landlubber Afloat. That was in the DT days. But it underlines how I thought being on das Boot was going to be a main reason for writing. And even now, when I am afloat, my urge to record the days is far greater than when I am home. Blogging became about other things, but Mother, Cat and das Boot were by far and away the most important parts of my online journal.

Now Aunt is looking at her life to come in terms of months, and taking her to the places she wants to go, helping her to see the flowers and landscapes she wants to see has brought a new focus to my visits East and to my posts.

In time to come these pictures, these words will remind me of the strange path we tread now. I say that with some confidence, as when I reread the posts about Mother they take me back to feelings, good and bad, I now often find difficult to recall. Some people say that photographs disrupt the process of memory. I can see that that is possible, but photographs also capture a moment and can bring back a time and its attendant emotions with startling clarity.

Slow evenings like tonight (though I have little hope that there is even the slightest chance of uploading this post until I am back at home) watching the sun go down on the river, listening to the birdsong, watching MasterB, take me back to Mother dying and after.

They don't make me particularly sad, though understandably there are moments. Rather, I feel a closeness to her that is precious. Maybe driving around an East Anglia in its spring clothes will in the future bring Aunt back too.

Our memories work in strange ways.

So you may enjoy these photos, and I hope you shall, but they will doubtless have an entirely different resonance for me.

 

 

 

Raising the Bar

The elders of my family set very high standards that I fear I am unlikely to match.

Aunt received the news we did not want on Wednesday; she has oesophageal cancer.

Is she cast down; feeling sorry for herself; weeping copiously?

Not she.

I think she has hardly been off the ‘phone in forty-eight hours. I’d almost say she’s enjoying herself. Well, I have said it; she’s enjoying herself.

Two months short of her ninety-second birthday she’s taken control; said no to chemotherapy or any other invasive treatment; made clear to all concerned that she wants to be in her own home; to be nursed in her own home, if that proves necessary; to die in her own home when it happens. Continue reading

Between the Seasons

Seeing the signs of spring as I drove to and from Aunt’s was a tonic.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Drifts of snowdrops beside the road; slightly more light at the end of the afternoon; busy birds.
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From Aunt’s flat I watched blue tits and blackbirds. A male pheasant strutted by, his feathers gorgeous in the sunshine. A green woodpecker attacked the grass. Aunt and I gazed at him from the window.
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At the front of the building the river birds were noisily in charge. The geese were the most evident, but ducks snoozed on the grass, and a pair of swans paddled by. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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On the way home, I was surprised to see signs of snowfall. There had been a dusting of snow on Thursday night, but I hadn’t thought it had been enough to settle. These are the strange weeks where winter and spring seem to intermingle.Today i dried my washing on the line and walked around outside with no coat gloves or scarf. Yesterday I felt as though the cold had seeped into my bones.

Reflections on the Visit

I think it was a good visit. Aunt looked better than I had dared hope, and she ate and drank everything I put in front of her, even the Greek yoghurt and honey which she did not think she wanted, but the bowl was quite clean in a short while.

Also useful was establishing that MasterB can stay in the guest room; that I can buy my own fob to the front door; talking to the specialist nurse who Aunt saw the other day; meeting the part-time warden and being able to tell her some of my concerns.

There was no hospital appointment today after all. The specialist nurse was very helpful when I ‘phoned, and Aunt willingly gave permission for me to be told her medical details. Being at a distance, that is very reassuring. So if I don’t get the picture from Aunt, I know I can call the nurse.

The sun shone and it was a beautiful day. I left rather later than I had intended and so didn’t have time to go via the marina to check the ropes at the boat as I had hoped. Next time.

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