*Opens page of book*
Liam and his mum went to the crematorium’s garden of remembrance to bury her ashes. The man from the crematorium had scattered pink rose petals at the bottom of the small hole in the ground. Liam and his mum scattered half the ashes each into the hole and topped them with the remaining rose petals. Liam hugged his mum and said they’d done a good job looking after Great Auntie together over the years. Liam’s mum nodded and wiped her eyes with a tissue.
Since the mid nineties Liam’s mum helped run Great Auntie’s life for her, organising for home care, installing a downstairs bathroom, repairing her house, organising for her to go twice weekly to a day centre, having her for Christmas in her house in the New Forest, or booking her a place at a church dinner.
Since 2008 Liam started to help his mum look after Great Auntie, since the suburban house they moved to was fifteen minutes from hers. Great Auntie had no children, and both Liam’s grandmas had died before he was born, so Great Auntie, his maternal grandma’s sister, was the nearest he had to a grandma. Liam visited Great Auntie every week to pick up the things that fell in the gaps between different agencies’ responsibilities:
- Co-ordinated her care with the home care agency – he was happy to ‘be the bad guy’ as his Mum described it, because Great Auntie would never complain herself
- washed her hair when she stopped going to the day centre where it had been washed. At first he walked her to the kitchen sink and then outside in the sun for it to dry while he mowed her lawn
- cleaned and trimmed her nails and put hand cream on them
- attended social care reviews to discuss how to ensure she remain in her own home safely
- argued with the local pharmacy when their ‘policy’ changed so they couldn’t deliver Great Auntie’s medication to the house using a key safe so someone had to be there to take delivery. He asked all Great Auntie’s neighbours if they could take delivery once a month and no one called him back. He asked if the pharmacy could deliver to his home, but that was too far from their catchment area. He asked if the prescription could be sent to a pharmacy near him which he could then collect, but that was outside the GP’s catchment area. Eventually he agreed that the care agency would collect the medication once a month while in the town doing Great Auntie’s shopping
- serviced or replaced her appliances – who can forget the Great Auntie’s new washing machine saga of March 2014?
- had Freeview installed so she could watch TV after the analogue aerial was disconnected
- made flat pack clothes rails – he laughed because he doesn’t even do that sort of thing in his house
- visited her every Christmas Day since 2008
- Celebrated her birthdays with cards, chocolates and photos. She asked if ‘all these flowers and cards’ were for her on her 90th birthday
- Ate fish and chips with her – plaice was her favourite and had to be requested from the chippie each time. He used to call the fish and chip shop as he left his house, so the plaice was ready to collect when he arrived
- Watched TV with her when she became unsteady on her feet so had to stay in bed – episodes of Birds of a Feather, All Creatures Great and Small, wildlife programmes
- Paid for her Daily Mirror and The People’s Friend at the newsagent, until she could no longer read them
- Took her to the local hospital for an assessment for cataracts surgery. She had the operation on one eye in 2012, greatly improving her ability to recognise who was who in the family pictures
- Brought two of her old friends from Harlow to visit her and eat with her
- Ask her who everyone was in the photos she had and talk about who they were, including the picture of her husband in his soldier’s uniform
He left her at about 6.30pm on 5 June. The carers visited her at 7pm and reported Great Auntie didn't look well, and did Liam and his mum want to call an ambulance for her to be taken to hospital? Liam discussed this with his mum and said as Great Auntie wasn't ill with anything a hospital could fix, the disturbance of moving her to hospital wasn't what they or Great Auntie wanted. The carers went back to visit Great Auntie at 8.15pm that night (an extra visit they weren't meant to do, because they were concerned about her.) Liam agreed with his mum he would visit Great Auntie later that night to see how she was. Liam waited until his boyfriend, James was home from work at 9pm and they ate dinner together. He arrived at Great Auntie’s at 10.15pm and she was in bed, her eyes closed and mouth open slightly. He held her hand, which was still slightly warm and tried to wake her. He checked her pulse and breath with a mirror and realised she had passed away. When the ambulance arrived, the paramedic woman said she had fallen asleep and not woken up. There was no evidence of her being sick or any discomfort. They said the time of death was between 8.15 and 10.15, maybe an hour or so before Liam arrived. After the ambulance then police then undertakers arrived, Liam got home at 1am. Liam felt very sad he wasn't with Great Auntie when she actually passed away.
Liam’s Mum spoke to Great Auntie’s GP who said their decision not to take her to the hospital was right. Great Auntie always said she wanted to remain in her home as long as possible, which is why they did all they could to ensure she stayed there, with support, until the end. Great Auntie didn't want to go into a nursing home if it was avoidable, and the only time she did was a few weeks' respite care in 2008 after a series of falls. She returned home. ‘I’m glad to be back here, dear,’ she said with a smile to Liam from her chair holding a mug of sweet tea as she looked around her chintzy cluttered living room.
At Great Auntie’s funeral Liam and his mum asked for donations to the local cat sanctuary where Liam had adopted his cats. Great Auntie had two cats, Whiskers and Bibby and would often talk to Liam about his cats, when he showed her pictures on his phone. Great Auntie once visited Liam’s house for afternoon tea and stroked Tigger, saying ‘hello pussy!’ as he stretched out on the table in front of her. The cat sanctuary were very pleased Liam and his mum had thought of them. They enjoyed seeing the pictures of Liam and James’ cats and Great Auntie when he dropped off the donations.
Grief is the price we pay for love.
In August Liam and his mum started to sort through Great Auntie’s house. They had the TV on loudly in the background and stopped for regular tea breaks. They found papers and photos from Great Auntie’s life including:
- Great Auntie’s diaries from 1986 – 1989
- their marriage certificate from 14 February 1942 when she married at nineteen years of age and her husband had leave from the war
- birth certificates for Great Auntie and her husband Great Uncle
- Great Uncle’s fishing trophies
- Boxes and boxes and albums and albums of mostly named and dated photos going back to the start of the twentieth century
- her twenty first birthday cards and piles and piles of photos and papers
- ambulance and hospital discharge notes and hand written notes to the home carers
Don't ever let anyone tell you how you should feel if you lose someone or something dear to you. However you feel is the right feeling for you. Anyone who asked why I was upset as she was *only* my great aunt was told to go forth and multiply but in a much more direct way.
And what will I do with all this information and emotions about Great Auntie? I'm am author, I'll write about it of course!
In my current work in progress, Kev's mum iis very house-proud, and the more I write her, the more she uses elements of Great Auntie in her speech and behaviour. Great Auntie didn't know about my writing as Liam Livings, she became so deaf it was hard to have a full conversation with her, but I hope in some small way she lives on in stories I write.
Normal happy service will be resumed next week.
Liam Livings xxx