Learning

Two days ago I at last managed to remember and get to a session of a seminar I signed on for, and paid (!), on the gloomy sounding subject of ‘Practical Preparation for my last years and my death’. I managed to miss the first four of the six sessions (which perhaps says something about my subconscious?)  I think I really joined because the syllabus set out in the blurb didn’t appear to say anything at all about preparations for death, as opposed to dying. This session was led by the doctor in charge of palliative care at the Hospice where 90% of their patients are dying from cancer; and she was very consoling about the process of dying, but brought a nun along with her as she was no expert, she said, on the spiritual needs of patients.

I think as far as algorithms are concerned my mental age is about 3. When my study notes gave us the one for finding a number out of 100, it seemed to me that I had never been taught the heuristic method (that is a lovely word, which I have never before come across; I was quite surprised to find it in my dictionary at all!)  It didn’t help that the study notes kept on talking about larger, when it meant smaller, and vice versa. That particular set must have been prepared in a hurry: it had several similar mistakes in it, making the whole subject all the more confusing.

What’s the number?

We were led by a German professor of the most phenomenal and terrifying eruditeness. It was really quite a strain listening to him for more than half an hour at a time – though in fact he had a pleasant light touch and remarkably good colloquial English (thanks to living in Glasgow for 8 years and New York for 12 – without a trace of either accent, would you believe?)

After qualifying for one profession and trying others, he’s now half way through studying to become a doctor whilst the wife is the main provider – quite a thing with 4 children with the eldest 13.

Loss and condolences

[With news of a friend’s death] She got such pleasure from your visits, your friendship and your wonderful letters and, on her behalf, I thank you for that. She was very fond of you.

I know you will be shattered by the news that X has gone – and I send you much love and sympathy.

I seem to have had a catalogue of misfortune in my Christmas mail. I heard from X this week. His wife recovered from her stroke a year ago, but the Alzheimer’s is worse than ever and she just doesn’t know him. Poor man. And Y – old colleague – lost his wife just before Christmas. There is no understanding how the good Lord arranges these things! The moral seems to be to keep one’s possessions and affairs tidier than I generally manage to do.

I am afraid you are going to miss X terribly and I am so sorry. I do think strokes are the absolutely worst thing that can happen to a person – but if it does happen, it’s best to go quickly, don’t you think?

I feel it is like a sort of club when we have lost someone very close and when it is someone in the family: father/sister. A bit of life has gone that no one else can possibly know about us. That sounds v. muddled but you know what I mean. She was my sister and he your father.

Do you recall that nice and long-suffering woman X who prepared the salmon lunch at my cousin’s house? I heard from her a few days ago, returning my Christmas letter to my cousin, and reporting that she had died quite suddenly when she had been planning a party for her 90th birthday. She wrote very kindly of her patience etc. in ‘the many years of physical pain allotted to her’ and described her as ‘a great woman’ but it seems to me that X herself deserved the accolade as much.

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returning your letter

Ghosts / supernatural

At last I’ve collected and unpacked the boxes of stuff you sorted out from [her house]. When I opened the lid of the long box with the dowsing stuff in it, it was such a strange and happy feeling, as though she came out of the box!

I’ve been thinking of you so much – and I was when you had your heart/eye upset – it must have come on the waves.

I started on the clay head and after 3 days it was beginning to take a likeness; I covered it with wet cloths each night and 2 days ago when I took them off – lo and behold the whole face had fallen off. I’ve given up and written to Dame X telling her what had happened and decided I needed her to give it her blessing before starting – so now I wait and shall see. She’s 98. [And in a later letter] I must start another head first – I’ve got some Raku clay and will try her once more – the last one was a flop too. She died just after I’d written asking her permission.

Her face fell

Did I tell you I had distinct feeling X [partner who recently died] came and asked if I’d found the little red leather prayer book he bought for my confirmation and then decided to buy a jersey instead. Altho’ he’s written in it, a lot of the pages are still stuck together and I never remember seeing it before – isn’t it odd? – it’s a delightful collection of old prayers.

X has threatened the workers on one estate with a touch of obia (very strong black magic worked by several women in most villages) if they light him any more cane fires and it has worked almost miraculously so far. They won’t tell definitely on the ones they know are doing it because of obia and most exacting punishments like having their houses burned down.

Church/religion (2)

I do still play Bridge on Monday mornings, so I am mixing with some non-church folk. Not getting far yet with them on the spiritual side – but I chip away at it. And next week I start ‘wife sitting’ with a woman in our church who does not dare stay alone when her husband is away. (It is not really a problem since my dog had cancer and I had to have her put down recently.)

Met also one of his daughters who has 6 boys (very Catholic family); we sang grace at the table.

He built his own house and was very proud of it – with first class materials, solid enough to last many centuries. I can’t compete with that, but I can go to church and pray, as he suggested also!

I found the article and subsequent letters about the man with the gift of tongues very interesting. The magazine showed a nice balance between supportive and sceptical letter! It all accorded very well with such experience as I have had. I must confess that I have always been a bit sceptical about the gift of interpretation of tongues, and have regarded the gift itself as much more for encouraging and bringing joy to the person who has it than for the enlightenment of other people. I have occasionally been at meetings where someone has spoken in tongues and someone else has interpreted – but have been disappointed by the rather platitudinous nature of the interpretation, which did not seem worthy of the Holy Spirit (though maybe the Spirit did not think we were ready to accept anything more startling?)

I have just joined a new Church – OXYGEN LIFE! Very lively, described as a New Testament Church, bursting with young families with children. I think I am the only person over 70! No church doctrine to worry about – only the Bible.

We had lunch and then a video of the enthronement of the Archbishop of Canterbury – or at least of bits of it: about 40 minutes worth out of a couple of hours. The atmosphere was not altogether improved by the tape being put into fast forward at intervals, to speed up some of the interminable processions with which the affair started, which invariably caused the clergy widows to burst out laughing.

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the clergy are not amused!

X is on a course with Mahikari – which she has gone overboard about. I fear for her a little and am in the middle of a huge book about it, but have warned her if money is involved be suspicious, there have been so many rip offs with various so called Divine Calls.

It was a stupid meeting, really. We had been asked by the powers that be in the diocese to examine the problem of ‘Sexual Harassment’ – about which I found I had nothing to say, except that it appeared to be another name for temptation which we have known for a long long time. So producing ‘Guide lines’ (not for it, but to counter it) seemed rather a waste of time.

We have had a jolly two days tidying up our wills and tomorrow we’re going to see the funeral people and choose what we’ll have and I hope pay for it – and then we can get on living!!!

Ageing

My father died early in the year. It was a sad event, but a release in one way. He didn’t really know what was going on any more… My mother did seem to realise he had died, although she cannot communicate. She just cried and looked very depressed on the day of the funeral. She seems to have recovered her spirits: with dementia it is just impossible to tell what they are thinking.

Did you know that mum’s two brothers died this summer? I’m afraid we are in those years when people who seemed immortal suddenly are not!

Here not much happens so it becomes increasingly difficult to make it happen – staff shortage but no shortage of confused residents. They are now building on in order to take day centre people thus adding to still more confusion!

X has had a minor stroke I think, so shuffles along like a 90-year-old and gets lost for words and gets so annoyed when I can’t guess what he means – I am getting better at it, I think! He still drives to the local shop when I don’t go out – he must have his daily paper! He takes the dog round the garden and worries where the cat is all day and at night too! It is rather trying!

a bit doddery

I got an unexpected phone call from a writer. He’s written a biography of Mary Wesley who was among many things in MI5. Apparently I’m one of the few – in fact only person – old enough to remember her when she was married to her first husband. Having discovered that I’m ninety he was in a great hurry to see me!

I’m getting so dotty that I shall soon have to get a Carer which is depressing – all my old friends seem to be either dead or in nursing homes and not liking the intense loneliness which goes with most old age.

I was so sorry to hear of your mother’s sickness and dying, it’s a hard time to through, the best comfort is to be thankful she has no more suffering and problems. I sometimes wish my mother could see something then I realise she is far better off and happier where she is anyhow!

Time flies by

This year I have been prescribed my first set of reading glasses. I can read quite well without them, however at the end of the day I have to say the world did have very fuzzy edges. So, off I went, and was told that many people required glasses by middle age. How very cheerful. My eldest sister is 60 tomorrow. I have to say that the realisation of this made me pull up with a real jolt. I never thought it when she turned 50: even though I am somewhat younger, that didn’t sound anything like 60 sounds – sort of aged. So there, you have another 10 years of being young.

I am glad that you are doing new things.

new ventures

 

I have to say that as one gets older ones group of friends seems to dwindle, or you see them less often, or something. I too have felt the need to do something different and meet new people.

 

I must admit I also worry a little about how quickly the years seem to be going, the birthdays coming around much more quickly than they used to and the realisation that middle age is not so far off! However I always think of X who bought and started a sheep farm at the age of 50. She is in her mid-70s now, with the farm quite successful… How one avoids or copes with the bodily ills rather than those of the mind I don’t know.

…a year since we set off from Southampton. It is amazing that time can go so quickly. I keep thinking of what we were doing a year ago – getting up and having rolls on deck, having dinner with that dreadful man (remember the sardine appetiser?), charging up and down B deck.

I surprised everyone, and not least of all myself, by having a stroke in middle of June. At least I was sensible and was able to rest and recover lounging in the garden – I felt like the last of the Colonial Empire – laying back under the trees for hours on end. Don’t be shocked at being 50. I was 70 this year – whatever next!

X’s surviving brother, 89, came over from Spain in the summer and while here did two stints on television – one in ‘The Bill’ and one for a new series of ‘As Time Goes By’ with Judi Dench – great for his morale but stressful.

I thought I felt old when the children of friends started getting married, but it’s even worse when people my age announce that they’ve retired or are thinking of retiring. Where have the last fifty-two years gone to? X’s father died just two days after his eighty-seventh birthday. Although he’d been suffering from Alzheimer’s for several years, and his death was, in fact, a happy release from his torment, X and I were suddenly acutely aware of having moved up a generation, as it were. It’s not that we feel any older (or wiser!), just nearer to the other end of our lives.

 

Entertaining

As usual at 7.15 with us arriving and getting organised we started worrying that no one would come – but then half an hour later we worried if we had enough food/drinks.

It’s the village party tonight… As the noise is so terrific it doesn’t matter much who is there – conversation is all but impossible.

tiddly speaker

The old boy patron of the society (who opened the Exhibition) had obviously been wined and dined too well by X – was so embarrassing – really quite tiddly.

 

 

If you want to come you can have the camp bed here but I know that only a night or two is possible without me suddenly going mad. Such a creature of habit am I too.

… and then we had afternoon tea at the Vicarage for a select few – ugh – but it wasn’t too ghastly and I just survived. ‘Being social’ is just NOT my strong point – but then you know that.

She made a super rich cake and put it where the dog can’t reach it. X moved it to a place that was a gift to the dog who ate about 1/8 of it but wait – after nearly giving up with rage – she made another and filled it with layers of cream and put cherries soaked in brandy on top and put a throw-over over and SHUT doors … sudden scream from X – the dog got in and had pulled cover off bring the cake to edge of table – spoiling top cream only…

She would be very happy for X to come and stay there – she is quite firm that he would be more comfortable and better fed there and I rather agree! She has ‘turning out of her room’ down to a fine art… she is worried about putting Y out of his routine of sitting in the armchair in the kitchen and watching TV… He finds it hard to admit that he is older. Oh dear, what a mouldy old lot I make us out, but we really are rather dull and set in our ways and I do feel two or three days would tell X all he needs to know about our insular views. Old memories are all very well but when the names are all missing the conversation tends to be ‘Oh, of course you know who I mean – dear old so-and-so with the wife’ and the audience has to guess until we get the right person or all give up in disgust!

[After a memorial service] X had got a bun fight ready at the house which was for the family, relations, friends and village people who remembered him. So it was all a bit mixed as the village method of having a tea is to take their cup and plate and pile the latter with all the grub it will hold and then retreat to the available chairs and bad luck to those who come later – which inevitably would be the relations and friends!

After death

I pulled up my socks and set off on a day trip last week to rescue some possessions that X had ‘wished’ to us. .. After a drink my distaste for the whole day had melted a bit, but I still felt it was wrong to be peering at her possessions. However the others had done far more of it, and had much more to do so I swallowed my dislike and ended up with a bag full of china, an anorak and a skirt. … sent me home with a determination to throw out more junk (not yet quite fulfilled, but I have started several times!)

I feel none of us paid enough attention to X but that is absurd as she was wrapped up in her friends there and all their doings! She was so very good to us all and did so much for all her friends – we have heard so many examples of the kindnesses she did to all sorts of unexpected people.

the round bed

I had a lovely time during the week when I was rather specially remembering X as I was alone in her beloved garden and could feel very close to her. I even braved the little round bed that contains the ashes and gave it a good dig and some peat to help drown the ashes, which don’t seem to have mingled quite as expected!

As you say, it is amazing how things pile up. X’s neighbour of 90 died recently after having lived alone in the same house for over 40 years. It took a woman who was I think designated as Executor of her Will over four months of daily grind to get it all cleared out and the house sold… She used to tell me that she was going right home to clear out her own house before it was too late! But one never does of course, and the moment you do throw something out you find that you need it!

Just a note with some sad news I’m afraid. Mum died quite suddenly a few days ago… She died at home in her own comfy bed, which is what we all hoped would be the case, as she hated hospitals… After attending the Catholic church for many years, she decided to make it “official” and was baptised a Catholic three days before she died… So it is to be a Catholic funeral which really seems not much different in any case.

Going, going, gone

“I hope your parents are as well as age allows – it is hard to see loved ones fall apart.”

“I can appreciate how you miss your parents, I have had two husbands, but my mother meant more to me, and it is so natural to wish we had done better for them.”

Dead & buried

“… I miss X a great deal – in a very strange way. And this year I have found more letters which she had written to me. I do not know why I kept them because I am not a ‘keeper’ at all. But of course I know that you must miss her in a very different way and that it cannot be easy for you. It all seemed to happen so suddenly. I think that she found it difficult to cope without X as she had always been dependent on him. And of course all the time she was seriously unwell – a matter she never mentioned and which I sort of forgot about I am ashamed to say.”

“We are going to have to try to talk to my father about selling his house, which won’t be a very pleasant task. He is permanently hospitalised…”

“Yes, I understand how you feel having lost both parents. I also have regrets of not appreciating them fully and of things left unsaid and undone which should have been expressed and put into practice. But that is life.” [And death!]

Partner is getting old and a bit senile, but in a beautiful setting!”

“We’re kept pretty busy, partner endlessly repairing the house and me trying to keep the garden under control. We love the house, and so here we stay, despite the family thinking we should move to something more convenient. In fact they’ve given up, and we have more help, particularly in the garden.

Nothing is certain but…

“… about a year ago I wrote saying (more or less), ‘nice to have known you, goodbye’. He wrote back, having recovered from his latest bout of rigor mortis, saying he was bird watching and going off to Italy!”

“It was such a sudden and tragic loss that I suffered when partner passed away.”

“She was happy at his ‘easy’ end, and I can attest to that as husband was in and out of Hospital Emergency for 17 years before he died – and it was awful to watch it all – and of course more awful for him.”

[re bout of rhinitis] “…and those pills were the ones I didn’t bring. I reluctantly bought some quick relievers – which did work praise be. Horror story of X’s about a visitor who did the same and they didn’t go with some other medicine he took and he died within hours made me a little apprehensive!!”

“I was to and fro all the time and mother died last month just before I arrived back in X. It has all been too depressing for words. I know it was all for the best but it still knocks you for six.”

“Unfortunately X’s grandfather was hit by a car recently and he died a few days later. He was 80 years old so would not have been around much longer anyway but it was not a nice way to go.”

[re X’s garden after her death] “X had lovely iris stylosa – they are gorgeous but I haven’t been out to croon over them for about a fortnight. They made me burst into tears anyhow so perhaps it is as well to leave them uncrooned over.”