The following article was first published on the helium.com writers website.
You can view some of my other articles here.
(New) Life and (Old) Death
This past year has been a strange time for our family and friends. My sister-in-law’s mother dies and my boss has a daughter. A colleague’s mother and wife both die within a month while another sister-in-law announces she is expecting a child.
Quite apart from the fact that all these arrivals and departures have involved women I am struck by our own mortality and wonder what the point of life is.
To try and make some sense of it I am writing a letter to myself about where I came from to try and define who I am as a person and why do things I do.
Back in November we had Remembrance day for all those who died during conflict. While I do not know of a relative to die in battle it has made me think about the lives of my parents and my grandparents before them.
My mother and father are in their mid-seventies with arthritis and a heart condition respectively. It sounds incredible to think this way that I hope my mother goes before my father because he is in generally better shape and my mother needs a lot of care.
I think about the times that seem so recent where they were off here, there and everywhere doing stuff but now it’s clear they are slowing down almost getting ready for when the receive the final ‘call’. It’s hard to get your head round.
All my grandparents were idols of mine.
My paternal grandfather died in 1980 and I adored him without ever really knowing why. I was 11 when he passed away and by then he could barely speak. I can’t remember his voice but only his croaky grunts and while that sounds harsh that was the truth of the matter.
Dad used to tell some great stories about him and he was clearly a real character. Little eccentricities like opening his front door with his hat on because he was self-conscious of his baldness.
Grandma died two years later and this was the first death to really hit me hard. She was a wonderful, WONDERFUL woman. A true lady who would do absolutely anything for her family.
My Nanna and Grandpop lived opposite our place in a huge gabled house which was perfectly framed by our living room window. They had it built once they were married in 1933 for 650 but after they’d passed away a developer bought it and three months later sold it again having done nothing to it making an extra 20,000 profit or $40,000 today in US Dollars. That really hurt.
I guess this was largely due to both my mother and aunt being born in that house and having other people living there feels like trespass. Life goes on but after 30 years I couldn’t imagine the place in anyone elses hands.
Nanna died in 1992 in hospital just three days before her 84th birthday. I will never forget her fighting for breath and the hotness of her skin as I kissed her goodbye. I can sense the clamminess on my right hand even now as I touched her on the shoulder for the final time.
Nanna was a saint. She was head of the family and almost like royalty – there was a real presence whenever she was around. If she was in the room you couldn’t help but take notice. She had that incredible balance of morals and fun, strictness and kindness. Another wonderful woman and I miss her dearly.
Grandpop lived until the age of 95 and died just 10 days before the millennium. Always incredibly fit with a full head of hair I always felt that he’d live forever. He had a habit of jangling his change in his pocket, something that amused me and irritated my father but I was amazingly fond of him.
I loved talking with him about the old days of being out and about in his sugar beet lorry and all the cars he drove. It was a simple life but it always fascinated me. One memory I will always treasure is of visiting him in hospital the week before he died and watching him and my 8-month old daughter Hannah smiling at each other. Another change over in the generations.
When he passed on the family name died but my cousin gave his surname ‘Starr’ to their daughter who was born a few months later. A lovely touch I felt.
I guess my grandparents were fortunate to be of a certain age, being at what I can only describe as their ‘peak’ in between the wars. Their roles during those years were still important of course but they didn’t see front line action.
My grandad was in the home guard during WWII and my dad told me once that he asked him: “Dad, if a German came into our garden would you shoot him?” and he replied, “No, I’d invite him for a cup of tea.”
Being such a lovely man it’s hard to tell if that was the truth or not!
Grandpop was a fireman in the village where we lived. Typically, there was only one big fire during the entire war and he was out driving his sugar beet lorry and missed it.
The thing that gets me thinking most though was the time when a German aircraft crashed into a house just 50 yards from my grandparent’s home. My mother was playing with a ball outside at the time.
The site is now a car park and just two doors from the village hall. That’s relevant because my parents had their wedding reception there as did my sister. My cub scout troop met there too.
If that plane crashed on the hall MY life would’ve been different and if it had landed on my grandparents house I wouldn’t have existed at all.
Why am I telling you all this? I dunno really. Maybe it’s because my parents are getting older and still feeling I have something to prove. Maybe it’s the births and deaths this past year. Maybe it’s because I’m turning 40 in a few months. Maybe it’s all of these things – I just wanted to say them.
We are all here but for a short time. I only hope that my children and grandchildren (if blessed) will have as happy memories as I have of my family and childhood.