Choices and decisions I have made in 2018 have not been popular with everyone. But there comes a time to cease trying to please everyone, all of the time, and focus on personal sanity and well being. Blood being thicker than water, family comes first, it really does – and it’s been a tough time for family this year. Blood relatives and in-laws, cousins, nieces and nephews – we’ve all lost someone. Whenever under pressure from others, who could have been more thoughtful, empathic or even just sympathetic – I recall sitting next to my dad when he was close to the end, he had dementia along with many other health issues. He was heavily sedated and ‘sleeping’ most of the time. When visiting I would hold his hand and talk to him so that he knew I was there. On one occasion, he opened his eyes, stared at me, said my name and then, in the most lucid I’d heard him speak for a long time, his voice strong and clear, ‘I know you will do the right thing.’
After he passed away, it seemed as if I was on a very steep gradient struggle, where the people who are supposed to be helping and supporting you, suddenly appear as the antagonists. Legal professionals only focused on the financial outcome and not my father’s wishes (his will) or my mother’s emotional well being. I can’t understand how one public servant can hold so much power to make decisions over the lives of people she has never met. Words that stick in my mind, in relation to family properties, my childhood home from the age of 3, and my grandparents’ home; having arranged a loan to pay for my parents’ care home fees with one of the properties as security – a loan for a fraction of it’s value, a temporary arrangement until the properties could be refurbished / redecorated to rent out – the probate officer haughtily told me, ‘relatives have irrational attachment to family properties and given the high cost of care, it is inappropriate.’ We could have fought the decision through the courts, but with legal fees already mounting, we had to let them go. Houses my father and grandfather took on 2nd and 3rd jobs to pay for – they worked all day and then waited on tables or bar tended at local hotels – gone with a flourish of a stranger’s pen on a document. Onwards and upwards, thinking about it only creates turmoil – Focus now is on the care of my mother, and hope that she will be able to come and live with us.
The saddest passing this year was niece Ellie at the age of 31 – her mum is my late ex-husband’s sister, Sally. Although I hadn’t seen her since she was a little girl – being close in age to my elder son Jacob, they saw a lot of each other when they were young cousins. Through social media, I’d watched her little family grow, always life and soul of everything! so many interests and talented at many things, a love of football, fund raising fun runs. With an enormous family and huge circle of friends – they all rallied around during her fight with cancer of the womb and cervix. I followed her courageous battle: warrior beyond compare. She thought she had beaten it, but it came back in bladder and bowel. Further surgery followed, chemotherapy, small step recoveries and then another diagnosis, also sepsis – but she refused to give up for the sake of having more time with her family, especially her young children. Ellie – you put up such a fight, my heart goes out to your partner Chris, children, your mum and dad, Sally and Roger, and brothers Lewis and Rhys. If love and positivity could have kept you alive, you would have lived forever.
My mum’s eldest sister Joyce died in September at the age of 95, another sister passed away in May 2017 and then my father in the December. I had only just been to visit my mother – which requires a 2 hour drive, 4.5 hour ferry crossing – or an all night one, when I received the news. I felt I should have been there to tell her rather than her reading it in a letter. What to do? it’s impossible to talk to mum on the telephone, she is quite deaf, relies on lip reading. I contacted the care home where she lives and asked the manager if she could break the news to mum. She misunderstood, and about an hour later, phoned me back on my mobile, while I was in a queue at the local post office, ‘I’m just going to hand the phone to your mum now,’ and before I could say, ‘no, don’t,’ she did. Pauline, the manager, having said loudly to my mum, ‘Madge, it’s your daughter,’ at least she knew it was me on the phone, but the conversation went something like this (remember – I was in a queue at the post office,)
‘mum, I’m sorry to have to tell you your sister has died,’
‘Mr who?’ said mum,
‘What about my sister?’ said mum,
‘SHE HAS DIED,’ I said, raising my voice, not wanting to have to repeat it, sighs and ahhs, coming from people in the queue,
‘oh,’ said mum, ‘which one? Pam?’
‘No,’ I said, ‘she died last year,’ more sympathy from the queue,
‘Claudia?’ asked mum,
‘No, she’s fine as far as I know,’
‘Well who then?’
‘Joy, your eldest sister Joyce,’ I said, known as Joy to everyone except on official letters and documents.
‘oh,’ said mum again, she says it a lot when she’s trying to think of something else to say, ‘I thought she was already dead! are you sure? if she were still alive, she’d be in her nineties,’
‘Yes, she was mum, she was 95, she passed away in hospital yesterday, I’ll send you a letter to let you know what happened.’
The most poignant thing about going to Joyce’s home after she had died, was removing the lid of an old biscuit tin on the dining table and the first photograph in the contents being of her with my mum, probably taken about 75 years ago – mum would have been about 8 and Joyce 20. This would have been just before Joyce disappeared for many years: a family argument, I’ve heard two versions of what happened, but headstrong Joyce left home one day and didn’t return for about 30 years. I think this is why she and I had such a close connection during my childhood and teenage years, that when she got back in touch with family, I would have been the same age as my mum, when Joyce left home. Mum remembered Joyce being very generous to her as a child, taking her shopping to chose her own clothes and shoes, when as the youngest of the 7 siblings, my mother usually ended up with the hand-me-downs. Joyce also took mum on holidays to Blackpool.
I loved the holidays I spent with Joyce when she had corner shops and laundrettes in Wimbledon. I used to travel on my own as an ‘UM’ (unaccompanied minor) flying from Jersey to Southampton or Gatwick. She was always on the go, hardly seemed to sleep. Although I had a dog as a child, staying with Joyce is probably where my love of dogs originated from. She had dynasties of Alsations, or GSDs as they are more popularly known now. When locking up at night, we would drop off a dog at each shop or laundrette to guard the premises and first thing in the morning, we would collect them all and take them for a run on Wimbledon Common. Days were spent at the wholesaler, pricing up goods and delivering them to the shops, collecting the cash from the laundrette machines and filling up the soap dispensers. Joyce had a regular Monday night box at the Wimbledon Theatre – every Monday afternoon we would have our hair done, dress up, go out for supper and then to the Theatre.
She found love late in life: there can be only so many things a man can pop into a corner shop for, before you realise he’s not really interested in buying anything at all! Uncle Bob – prolific letter writer (to me) older than Joyce and retired, he took on the role of tour guide when I visited Wimbledon. We walked the walls of old Londinium, the palaces, parks, museums and galleries, concerts and theatres. Realising much of this has stayed with me and been formative in my adult interests.
And just before Christmas, a year and a day after the death of my father, his eldest sister, Mavis passed away. How sad – the vast army of aunts is diminishing. This is Mavis and her late husband Uncle Phil at my Christening in 1960. Many evenings were spent at their first home in Garden Lane, St Helier and then at Jardin a Pommiers.
Following my recent house move, I’ve been trying to re-organise the vast collection of family photographs, from a time when the roll of film used to be handed in to be developed – I have four large crates from my parents’ house and just collected 2 more boxes from Joyce’s home.
Large family gatherings, birthday parties, weddings, weekends on the beach or sand dunes.
My parents had a large social circle and were out to dinner at local restaurants most weekends. Aunts and uncles met up regularly in each other’s homes – the women watching TV, knitting and chatting in one room and the men playing cards, beneath a cloud of cigarette and cigar smoke in another room. How things have changed.
I love the photograph above of Aunty Eileen’s (dad’s younger sister) wedding to Uncle Idwal (Eddie), left to right, Granny, my dad, aunty Mavis, Aunty Eileen & Uncle Eddie, Aunties Muriel and Rozelle and Popa. Look at the bean / pea strings neatly strung up the wall behind them.
After a long adventurous action packed life – we also said goodbye to gorgeous boy Whisp. 14.5 years is a good age for any dog, but especially a very large one – one who has wrestled badgers and deer and escaped from the garden over high fences. He was frequent Condor Ferries traveller, Jersey, Guernsey & Sark and as far north as Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews. Gentle giant – I was his 4th home in 7 months when I took him on a trial weekend from Guernsey Animal Rescue when he was about a year old. He’d been living in a high rise block of flats in Manchester and was destructive, hyperactive and uncontrollable. The day after he arrived, he ate Emil’s Marks & Spencer football pitch birthday cake – the whole lot, cake, box, cellophane and 5 x 101 Dalmation candles, the only clue left was a thumb sized piece of the box and the ‘green icing poos’ the following day. He also survived eating a whole pan of hot chilli: hot as it was chilli and hot as it was still cooking in the pan on the hob! I slept on the kitchen floor with him that night, convinced his stomach was going to explode … but it didn’t. Always gracious in accepting other dogs into his home – long or short stay fosters – he had a special bond with long term foster Midge – being used as a pillow in one of the above photos – she also went to doggy heaven last year.
Night night Whisp – I miss you and am still seeing your shadow around the house and in reflections in the windows.
Along with the lows, came the highs – a wonderful week with fellow writers in Sark (see previous blog) – enjoyed so much, we are planning on doing it all again this year! And just before Christmas – a three day stay in Vienna with fellow writer Lisa, to visit the ‘Once in a lifetime’ exhibition of Bruegel paintings at The Kunsthistorisches Museum. Learned so much! Champagne reception and private tour.
The museum building itself is fabulous, domed, marble columns and floors, the most spectacular café, with delicious cakes, decent coffee and a pretzel tree – murals by very well known artists including Klimt – at the start of his career.
Our stay coincided with Christmas markets, oooh, so many lovely things!
Just searching for another cultural break – Aha! it’s the 58th Venice Biennale this year …