Avoiding endings

Feb 26th, 2006 | By | Category: Personal Columns

A week of lectures in Bristol starts tomorrow.

Being in the West Country provides me with an opportunity to go to visit my grandmother on Thursday.

She is 93 now and is visibly frailer each time I see her. Sometimes it is hard to reconcile the figure of the aged lady sitting in the corner with the indestructible woman I remember from the past.

When she was diagnosed with bowel cancer fourteen years ago and had to undergo major surgery, I was affronted to find her in a geriatric ward when I went to visit her. 79 she may have been, geriatric she was not.

She has come back from more recent scares, included a broken leg sustained a couple of years ago when vacuum cleaning. But the inexorable process of human decline continues and the prospect must be faced that one day visiting her will not be part of any agenda when I’m back in England.

She was always diminutive, no more than five feet tall. But she has been the matriarch of our family for generations, a unifying figure for the disparate relatives. There were seven children and twenty grandchildren (the oldest of whom will be 50 this year) and I’m not sure how many great grandchildren. She kept the farmhouse and worked on the farm and was always there for grandchildren coming to stay. She could accommodate a dozen around the kitchen table, which was always weighed down with food, and maintained order with a wave of the wooden spoon

She has been the one who held us together, the reason for gathering from time to time in a tiny little backwater of England. Our final gathering will not just be about bidding farewell to her, it will be about bidding farewell to each other, there will be no reason to meet again.

My grandfather, who was eleven months younger than her, died fifteen years ago. The last time I saw him was six months previously. The last words he said to me at the back door of the farmhouse were, “I’ve had a good life and when my time comes I’m ready to goâ€?. They seemed strange words from a man who wasn’t even ill.

I fear such words will be repeated each time I visit. Like one of the great men of the Old Testament, she will be gathered to her people.

It’s just that I don’t want it to be yet.

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