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funeral

In God’s waiting room – Mandela and Jean?

Today I’m writing about something very personal – something which those who are connected with me on Facebook may well have picked up already.

The truth is my godmother, who was 93 on Saturday, is dying. She’s slowly slipping away to whatever comes next. My family all knew this would happen at some point and I’m very thoughtful about it today. Maybe she’ll make her way up those golden steps in illustrious company as life seems to be pushing Nelson Mandela in the same direction.

As my family faces this moment, you may think we are all weeping at the thought of losing her – but we’re not. We are sad and reflective. But we’re glad that the end is coming for her. Is that very terrible?

When she was about 88 or so, she had a stroke which, over time, meant going into a supported nursing home. She’s a widow with no children of her own, her nieces were all over 60 themselves. I saw her several times in the home near Bath, where she has received first class care, and took the children with me, which has always delighted her.

But over the last couple of years, health episodes and further strokes have left her in a more or less vegetative state. She is unable to do anything for herself, is unable to communicate at all and it was only her eyes which gave you any clue if she actually knew you were in the room. Being there is more of a duty than a pleasure and that’s the truth of it.

From this information you might think that this is all very sad, an old lady slowly slipping away. But this ‘old lady’ was a strong, feisty woman, outspoken, sometimes ill-advisedly, and in love with her wider family. Born in 1920, she grew up in a poor family, the youngest child. She spent much of her life caring for her brother Bill, who was, what we called then, a spastic but, in today’s language, he was affected by cerebral palsy.

She married Ivan, who then went to serve in Burma during the war. Aunt Jean was, apparently well known as a well-dressed, beautifully turned out lady who lived life to the full. She had no children of her own and, when her parents died, she became a carer for Uncle Bill.

Wishing my godmother well on her final journey....

Wishing my godmother well on her final journey….

That’s what I remember from my childhood- Auntie Jean and Uncle Ivan living in a house with Uncle Bill, who was friendly but a little scary to me. She was my godmother, lived within a half mile of my grandparents, so we saw them often. She did tea and cake very well and had a very long garden with fields to the side where we could sometimes play. Her house felt dark with small rooms, a bit like a hobbit hole. It’s funny what the mind of a child remembers.

Later, after Uncle Bill and Uncle Ivan passed away, she seemed to live a quiet but happy life in her Somerset home and once a week visited my gran, her sister-in-law. They had regular spats, and I guess that was a theme of their relationship. When my gran died my Aunt Jean missed her terribly and made no bones about it.

Now she’s the last of that generation of the family – ironically she was the youngest and lived the longest. I sense she longs to be free of the prison of her body, and although I don’t see her much now, I’m aware that her leaving will widen the gap left by not having any of my grandparents or aunts or uncles from that generation. They filled my childhood to the brim as there were so many of them.

My message to her – good luck and God Bless Aunt Jean. I’d like to think I’d feel the moment when it comes, but I doubt I will. Thank you for all that you were to me and my sister, my mum and my dad, my aunts and uncles and my cousins. I hope what comes next brings you joy.

What was Margaret Thatcher’s legacy for my family?

When Margaret Thatcher died last week, I was surprised by the strength of feeling that event provoked in me. I might as well state now that I grew up in a working class family in Somerset under MT’s governance.

However I did not know her and I do feel for her family, her children and grandchildren for their loss. There will be no grave dancing or celebrations in my household. I will extend to them the same amount of sympathy and care, they would extend to my family when an elderly relative passes away.

Knowing that MT had shuffled off this mortal coil, however, took me back to my teenage years when my family was struggling with short-time working as my dad was a fabricator welder in manufacturing. But more than that, he’d been a coal miner, as had my grandfathers and my  great grandfathers. I remember nothing good about the politics of that time for my family. I also remember the stranglehold of some of the trade unions, the closed shop attitude and I wasn’t keen on that either. It was a period of division and defiance.

However, I only expressed my views on my personal Facebook page and on a couple of business groups and the reaction was stark. Some treated me as I though I was a silly woman who couldn’t possibly understand the ‘bigger picture’ and some women started barking on about what a role model ‘Thatcher’ was for women. I respect most of their views but I don’t share them, I’m afraid.

Overall though, the divisive nature of the various debates which have hung around for days,  reminded me of the strength of feeling MT could engender. Polar opposites appeared where none had existed before. It’s been very interesting and generated a feeling which existed very strongly in society during her reign.

My biggest disappointment has been hearing people suggest – as often happened in the 1980s – that because they’d been successful under MT (or any government for that matter), those who weren’t as rich or as successful must be lazy or scroungers.

The ‘I’ve got this because I’ve worked hard’ line which always suggests others aren’t working as hard. That kind of line always tells me that a person  has no clue what’s going on in wider society.

Personally I have no problems with success – good luck to those who have it and well done if they’ve worked hard for it. Some do, some don’t.

But many, many people (like my dad) work really hard, live hand to mouth and still need some extra support. Many people work hard but are in jobs which will never lead to more financial success. That doesn’t make the millionaire in the next village better – it just makes them different.

It’s this lack of compassion and empathy which staggers me. Often from people I thought were better educated than that. Better educated than me.

Thatcherism seems to give people permission to kick the homeless, the disabled, the poor when they are already down. It allows people to gloat over the misery of others. 

I had a lovely talk with my Mum about this and I felt humbled by her response. As a wife with two children and a husband working short time in the 1980s, life was a struggle. She often cried because there wasn’t enough money coming in. She said that she feels at peace about MT – for her last week contained a day when a defeated, old lady was set free.

Her reasoning was that on the day MT had to walk out of Downing Street having been thrown out by her own – that was the day justice was done for  our family.

If MT had been defeated by a new government coming in, there would have been room for maneouvre. But when you are thrown out by your own, so publicly and then replaced by someone so grey and colourless  – that’s the ultimate in humiliation. For Mum, when MT died last week, she was honestly able to say Rest In Peace.

It’s just a lovely picture…

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