I knew as soon as I saw the letter on the porch floor that it was not good. I thought at first that it was a hospital letter, then I realised it was hand written.
It was from my little cousin to say his mother had died. It was only a few weeks since I got the letter to say she had been moved into the care home.
I read it, then I went back to making a longbow cover.
Then I rang my cousin’s sister whose contact details had been given twice in the letter. She was full of cold, coughing. Interrupting, chattering over me, listing all the things she had to do, not listening. Bereaved.
I rang the cousin who sent the letter, I reminded him he was now a full orphan instead of just half an orphan and to look after himself. He laughed.
And I got on with making a longbow cover.
In time the OH surfaced. I told him.
I did warn you (and me) that as soon as Miniatura hoves into view, something will steal my time. You wouldn’t think a longbow would need a cover, would you? When the OH went off on his course to make a longbow, part of which was his Christmas present from the S&H and me, I told him he would need something to wrap it up in, coming home in the car. When you have spent three days making something long, thin and breakable, you don’t want to just chuck it in loose and let it ping about. What about sudden braking and roundabouts, would it cause breaking at roundabouts? The OH was very laid back about it. He was just going to chuck it in loose. I thought, after he had made it, his attitude might change. He rang me after the first afternoon of the course saying he had dreadful back ache. He rang after the first full day to say everything else was aching.
You don’t fling a thing that has cost you more pain than pounds to make, into a car to rattle round loose. It was obvious when he returned and demonstrated it, that he was very proud of it. It is archery this morning, Sunday, and he has not taken the bow to show it off. No, he has taken it to see if it works. On Friday night he was of the opinion that if I could quickly show him how to operate a sewing machine he could just borrow mine that cost several hundred pounds and run up a bow case, as you do, did I have any material? It would have to be quite a long bit; a longbow is so called because it is quite long enough to break the shade on the living room light, easily, and nearly did so.
Friday night we examined my stash and found a brown woven fabric, a long thin bit that wouldn’t be quite long enough without joins and looks like the end of a roll of very expensive hacking jacket material. It frays if you look at it squinty.
On Saturday I put my sewing machine, which I do not allow the untutored to touch, on the table, prior to collecting the post from the porch.
My aunt was, in some respects, very lucky and very unlucky. She was my aunt twice over. She was my father’s sister and she married my mother’s brother. As you know I am adopted; I am like no one in this tale. My aunt and uncle had four children. The second, a girl, is only a few weeks younger than me. We should maybe have been good friends but she was as unlike me as could be. Perhaps she was like two spinsters on his side of the family who lived together before anyone remarked on that being a strange arrangement.
So the second child was the unmarried one who lived near her mother when all the others had moved away, one across the pond to the States, the third currently visiting a daughter in Australia.
Who stays in the same street, or lives in the same house as their parents anymore, other than the growing band who will have to work until their eighties to afford the mortgage they start in their forties?
The aunt’s bad luck came when her husband died in his early fifties, he was the funny uncle, I remember crying at his funeral. The youngest child was a student still.
Some years ago my aunt told my mother that she had been a widow longer than she had been married. She was fortunate in having been left sufficiently well provided for to finish bring up the children and not be reliant on anyone or have to go to work to pay the bills. She trained and became a magistrate. This suited her well, she was fairly thoughtful, quite judgemental and not the sort of person to lie awake wondering if she had made the right decision. She sent me letters if she thought I had done something wrong. She was eventually a very senior magistrate and got an MBE from the Queen.
As she aged her daughter living nearby became her mainstay, she took her mother round the town with her, did the shopping and arranged for carers to look in. But it was decided, as the year turned, to move her into ‘respite care’, though her son told me, when they assessed her and told her she could go home, that she told them she knew she couldn’t live alone anymore.
She had a TIA, her health declined rapidly and she died on Tuesday. Her house is empty and on the market.
With her death I have become the older generation.
I should have been close to my aunt twice over, but I was not. The funeral is far away, I have been sent a video link. I will not embroider the lavender bags that I was making for her 99th birthday, in just a few weeks.
I remember a TV programme called Tomorrow’s World that was aired in the late 1960s. The presenter joyfully announced that we would be living much longer in the future, maybe as old as a hundred. We would all have many years of retirement, how would we fill it? The programme never touched on the statistics that were in the newspaper on Friday. On average every female in the UK can look forward to twenty years of ill health at the end of life, males seven to ten (because they die younger.)
When I was child my grandmother was generally acknowledged as the family fount of wisdom. Her opinion was sought, her family all lived near. She was asked about things that could happen because she had a lifetime of experience and nobody had a Smartphone. Nobody knew how to put their finger on a screen and, sliding it around, announce themselves as an expert on almost everything.
When she became old there was no problem of care; someone was in her house every day for shopping, coffee, a chat. All the external care she required was the presence of a nurse for two days before she died, at home in her own bed, cherished, loved, admired.
How did we get from there to here? Here we are, in Tomorrow’s World. We can’t afford to turn the heating on. We can’t look after our elders for the whole of their lives.
I think I may be bereaved after all.
Let’s go back to the longbow; back to the future isn’t doing me much good at all. Making the cover was like sewing an anaconda, I had to do French seams, when I turned it through the first time, it just came to bits. Making it took all day.
I am the senior generation, I have had an awful decade caring for my mother, trying to be back up for various friends and relatives at a distance. It was 2017 when I broke my arm so badly, I have been ill, on and off, but mostly on, for five and a half years now, though I realise I had the symptoms of intestinal blockage for about twelve years.
Will the S&H shove me in a home when the wine finally gets the better of the OH? Will having installed a lift save me? Should we remortgage the house now and get someone in once a week to see if we are still breathing? And. remember, I’m the woman who has been working out every day for twenty two years now. I keep my brain active, my hands are only still if I am asleep, I have a long list of things I plan to accomplish.
I am trying to take my own advice and enjoy every day but right now the wheel has come off a bit.