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.

Review of Channel 4’s DDay live programme – wow!

I don’t know if any of you watched the amazing programmes on Channel 4 over the last couple of days about D Day.

When hubby said he wanted to watch it, I visibly groaned. How dull. How wrong was I. Using the lovely Peter Snow, they did a documentary as if the key 24-hour period for D Day was happening now and they followed seven people through their D Day journey.

For my own children who think of WW2 in the same way I might think of the Tudors, this was a clever way of bringing the human stories to life and reminding us that these were ordinary people, doing extraordinary things in order that we could be sitting in our living rooms tonight watching that footage.

Indeed they even showed a rare voice-over from a war journalist talking to people 100 years on – 2044 – about the things he was witnessing. What was incredible is that this recording was scratched on to a vinyl disc actually in the field. It’s amazing that in those hours where there was death and fear all around, people still took photographs, filmed and recorded some of what ¬†happened.

What the old films also showed was that the power of the broadcast media was evident. For example, on Omaha beach thousands of British soldiers were killed. Written evidence shows that was the case but there is barely any footage of dead soldiers. There was clearly a strategy of minimising shots of death to keep up morale back home.

Indeed they even mentioned Operation Tiger – which was kept secret. Look it up and you’ll see what I mean. It would be very hard to do such a thing today.

And we must remember that it was the Nazis who were masters at propaganda and selection of news. Is it any surprise that in cases of war, the media are always vulnerable. It’s about control of information too.

Be careful what you say and see during a war!

Be careful what you say and see during a war!

Today I really thought about D Day, thanks to Channel 4, and I thought of those soldiers and others who faced terror to fight for our way of life. Of the seven individuals who were followed, six survived and went on to have a life in peacetime.

Thanks to them we too can enjoy that privilege.

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