2019 has been a year to remember, with both my father, Tim, dying on 1 February, while Elaine and I were in Copenhagen, and my mother, Pat, dying this week, on 19 November. In her case, after a long illness that had her confined to bed – dependent on my three siblings and various forms of nursing and end-of-life care, including the magnificent Kate’s Home Nursing. Both died at home, with family members around, a real privilege in these days of increasingly institutionalised care.
As her younger brother, Paul, put it to me today, “Pat, my sister, your mother, was a most remarkable being – she was very close and dear to me all my life and a prop and mainstay in troubled times. She had what I can only describe as a ‘glow’ – almost an aura that even shows in photographs of her over the years, she will be most sorely missed by us all, and leaving us she has taken with her much love and many memories.” She was certainly an extraordinary story-teller.
Recalling her in happier times, and her first use of headphones, the first image is of her in the Hill House kitchen. I had recorded her talking about the poltergeist that haunted her as a child, when her parents were divorcing, and the ghost that she was convinced haunted (in a positive way) the end of Hill House where there is a 400-year-old oak staircase. We knew her as Belinda. The story goes, though we heard it long after Pat first saw a mob-capped girl sitting at the foot of her bed, that a young maid fell down the stairs and broke her neck.
The second image, below, honours the huge responsibility her generation carried, symbolised by the Soviet/Russian veterans coming up to see her in bed after Tim’s memorial service. His photo, with great-grandson Gene on his lap, is in the background. The woman in red hat a former partisan, the only person from her entire town to survive WWII. A world of ghosts.
Pat and Tim voted the wrong way on Brexit, she saying the chimney-sweep told her to do so, but we loved them nonetheless!
She would have loved the fact that I was at Buckingham Palace the day after she died, though the sacking of Prince Andrew would not have escaped her notice or comment.
Her views didn’t always follow well-worn tracks, though she would most definitely not have approved of the way in which the monarchy was being dragged through hedges backwards by the shenanigans of the Queen’s favourite son. But she would definitely have approved of the way half a dozen grey vacuum cleaners were arrayed in one space I passed en route to the Billiards room, lined up in regimental order.