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.

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Of Aunt and Angela; Two Remarkable Women

Aunt has gone from thin to gaunt. Her eyes look too large for her face. Her shoulders are blade sharp. Weariness is etched in every movement she makes. Her voice reveals the effort speaking costs her. “I know we don’t get to choose,” she said, “but I don’t want to linger.” I told her about A, and that I have to go home tomorrow as it is A’s funeral on Friday, and her memorial on Saturday. I shared memories of A that made Aunt laugh and then look sad.


Aunt’s in bed now, and I am downstairs in the guest room, a reluctant witness to the woman upstairs television tastes. Or a stupid witness. I have my ‘phone, I have my Kitsound pocket boom. Let’s Rock!


That’s better. Good old Snow Patrol.


I have told her I shall take a photograph tomorrow to send to Uncle Bill who has just had a few days in hospital. Offered the chance of early parole, he opted for house arrest. As a family we don’t make great patients. Anyway, it’s his ninety-fourth birthday on a Friday, of course he wants to be at home.

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Shiraz or No Shiraz?

Bake Off over, Go Nadiya! My she’s doing well. If I knew how to place bets, I might put a tenner on her each way. I think that’s a betting term.

Soup that I didn’t get ready in time cooking on the hob, glass of extremely nice South Australian Shiraz on the book table just out of reach. Angove Heavyweight for those of you who know about these things. Which would not include me.

Fitting it’s Australian, because that, as far as I can make out, is where Ocsober began. In fact, there seem an extraordinary number of months in Australia where my Antipodean cousins are encouraged to forswear the demon alcohol. I can’t imagine why.
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Death is Overrated

I’ve not seen A for a while. I’m trying to remember the last time, and if the conversation I recall having some time ago was face to face or over the ‘phone.

But late last night I got a text from Nicola telling me A is in hospital and giving me the directions should I wish to see her. Nic said A had been very unwell, so I sent off another text saying I’d like to come and visit and when would suit.

Further texts from Nic made me realise the extent of very unwell. Dying. Cancer, though what type I do not know. Maybe that does not matter.

No reply from A to my text, but today a flurry of exchanged messages with Nic who had been to see her and found it hard. Near the end was a phrase she used in one of these messages. I brought forward my plans from Wednesday to tomorrow. Continue reading


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

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

Bad News

The phone rang. It was a colleague calling about some work. Then she asked me if I had heard about another colleague, a woman for whom I have a great deal of respect and affection. She is in hospital and not expected to come out. An investigation into suspected gallstones revealed cancer. It cannot be treated. This vibrant, intelligent woman, a more than sprightly seventy plus, is on palliative care. She is not afraid. She says we all have to die sometime. Apparently, it won’t be long. Her family are proceeding with the planned champagne tea today to mark Mothering Sunday, but she will not be there.
Fittingly, the bright sunny morning has suddenly changed and the sky is full of clouds.