She’s a few years off 90.
and increasingly lonely.
All her friends are dying around her. That’s the trouble with ageing.
My marvellous eccentric mother is ageing, she’s incredibly fortunate in that she still has her health, she’s joyful because she shares her life with her exuberant granddaughter. They’re a gang. They play tricks on me, they laugh at my expense. I walk into the room where they’re playing Snap and they both look up, look at each other in that we’ve got a secret kind of way, and then they carry on.
She’s always been a kind of ‘do anything for anyone’ kind of person, the family home was is and will always be somewhere people are welcome, the smell of baked potatoes, the welcoming cup of tea, the fridge full of wildflowers that she was sketching when the knock came on the front door.
I organised a surprise 70th birthday tea for her, it was hard deciding who not to invite. I the same for her 80th and we had around 60 people. There aren’t now so many of them left.
Since then my father’s died, and so many of the people who have formed part of the backdrop to my own life and played an integral part in hers. Each time the sadness deepens, the pain comes back and the memories seem to hurt that little bit more.
Last week a friend of hers from University days died, he was older, a World War 2 de-mob, she met him through shared fascination with rocks … they’ve been close ever since. Visited each other, with their families in tow all around the world, and just up the road. Both widowed they stood quietly by at funerals, chatted at christenings and family parties and swapped stories of offices just down the hall from each other over 60 years ago.
Now he’s died. I took Hope to see him a few days before. He was bed bound, weak, but still quick witted and aware. “She’s growing nicely”, he remarked before smiling and watching while she played on the floor at the foot of the bed. We talked, he held my hand and then it was time to go. “Give him a kiss Hope”, I said, almost without thinking, he looked a little perturbed, I flinched thinking, “oh yoikes I hope she doesn’t head butt him or poke him in the eye”. I held her, she lent forward, said his name, stroked his cheek and then lent forward and kissed him on the lips and said, “bye bye”. It was one of those incredible moments when time seems to stand still, to freeze, just for an instant. He smiled up at me with a look of absolute peace. Mother saw him that week as well, she came home very quiet but told me he’d sent her home with rhubarb from his garden and one of his wife’s red roses for her to paint.
Now he’s died.
He never got round to making the wooden sheep for Hope’s Noah’s ark. He was going to as he was irritated when he saw it that there were elephants, kangaroos and hippos but no useful animals such as cows or sheep. He lay on the floor, rather than sitting up on the sofa and leaning down, over 90 years old and played with my little girl only a few months ago.
He borrowed my William Dalrymple book the Return of the King not long ago, it turned out he had some of the original source material at home and had family connections to the farcical tragic withdrawal of English troops. He lent me a diary, dog eared and worn from that same era. He was that kind of man, anything that you were interested in, he’d have something relevant or have something fascinating to say about it. Totally unassuming, gentle and gentlemanly.
Now he’s gone.
We have the funeral to go to, to celebrate a long and wonderful life…
and I have a mother to look after as she grieves the loss of yet another friend, the closing of the chapter, the end of the story swapping and the memory of all the other people who had a room on that corridor, on the dusty University club picture or on that field trip. She’s the only one left now.
She has Hope, she has the rest of her family a bit further afield, but she’s increasingly lonely … and that makes me so very sad.
Ageing is better than the alternative as there are always new beginnings but there are so many endings to deal with too.