Monday, February 21, 2011

Death of an aunt.

About 10 days ago my parents told me that they had received a telephone call from my Uncle Graham. My cousin Kathryn had been to see him and told him that her mother was very ill. Sheila was not expected to live much longer than the next 14 days. My mother wished to prepare me for the time when my Aunt Sheila passed away. My mother knows that my cousin Kathryn is a keen member on Facebook and wanted me to be aware of Aunt Sheila's failing health before I got a message informing me of her death.

I am not a fan of Facebook and with the knowledge of bad news coming down from Hartlepool, I avoided going on the website. I selfishly wanted to shy away from the live changing problems that my cousins were working through up north in Hartlepool. The days ticked by with no telephone calls or emails received and I held the naive hope that no news, was good news.

Sadly, when I logged onto the internet last night, I had an email from my cousin Kathryn in my inbox...

Subject: hi
Sorry Stephen I have not got your number, our mam died at 4 30 am this morning she went peacefully in the end with me and Paul at her side she is out of pain and with our dad we not sure if Greame has told uncle Bill my number is 01429 [redacted]

...I telephoned my parents to let them know that Dad's twin sister had died. Aunt Sheila was 78 years old. My Uncle Graham had telephoned them earlier and my mother had delayed telling me before she knew I had eaten my dinner. I passed on Kathryn's telephone number to them and had a brief chat to my father. Then I had to motivate myself to contact my cousin Kathryn. I am not a lover of telephones and prefer the medium of email. Writing this blog I find really easy, with the words flying off the keyboard. Writing to a cousin that I have not spoken to for years, on the very day of her mother's death, was a challenge and I initially had writer's block. Biting my lip I managed to post on Kathryn's Facebook wall...

Sorry for your loss. Uncle Graham had warned my father that your mother was failing and we became resigned to her future. We did not know what to say at this difficult time for you, so we avoided Facebook as we did not want to put extra stress upon you. We were dreading the day that we would receive a message that your mother had died.

Uncle Graham telephoned my father this afternoon. My mother and father are not able to come up to Hartlepool for the funeral due to the length of the journey. Sorry we can not be with you at this very sad time.

Stephen, Gail, Bill and Margaret Clynes.

...Kathryn very quickly commented on her Wall post - she must have been online at the time...

Uncle Bill will have the peace of mind that our mam went peacefully and in no pain or stress at 4.30 am she opened her eyes no fear in them and stopped breathing Paul had her in his arms i was talking to her as she went,, she is with my dad now.. xx

...That comment from my cousin Kathryn broke the ice for me and I was then comfortable making the telephone call that I had been putting off. We had a chat for around 15 minutes which gave Kathryn an opportunity to discharge her emotions. The conversation I had been dreading flowed really easily with no awkward pauses.

I remember Aunt Sheila from my childhood in Hartlepool. Aunt Sheila was her official name but among grown-ups she was known as Flatty. I believe this was because of her walk, Aunt Sheila always appeared as though she would fall over, flat on her face. I always remember her as being very warm, gentle and pastoral. Aunt Sheila was so obviously my father's twin sister, they share so many traits. When my father went away to college in 1968, I was a little terror for my mother to look after. I would walk out of our home and go walk-abouts on my own, disappearing for hours on end. To stop this my mother took away my shoes. This did not stop me, I just put on my mother's size 5 boots - far too big for a 10 year old boy - are marched off into town. My mother was at a loss what to do with her little brat. She turned to Aunt Sheila and Uncle Luke for help. Their response was instant, you can stay with us until Bill returns from college. Uncle Luke drove around Hartlepool in his car until he found little Stephen wandering around in his mother's boots. Uncle Luke to me was a kind, down-to-earth bloke - so a ride in his car was a treat, not an abduction. We stayed with Uncle Luke and Aunt Sheila until my father finished his time at college and we moved to London.

Aunt Sheila always made me feel part of the family. She was so much like my father that it seemed so natural for us all to live at 37 Haswell Avenue together. Since we left Hartlepool I never saw much of Aunt Sheila. It was only on the odd family holiday that we used to meet up. We used to have the odd trip back up north to see all our relatives in Hartlepool but as the years went on, the visits got further apart. I remember one year in the mid 70's when Uncle Luke, Aunt Sheila, cousins Kathryn and Paul came down to Bristol to visit us. Uncle Luke took us out to Wookey Hole, and being a canny man, got Kathryn and I into the tourist attraction at child price admission! Another day we went on a day trip to Bath and to save on car parking fees Uncle Luke parked his Renault 12 in a side street in Walcot. It took us hours wandering around trying to find where the car was parked. In the 1980's Aunt Sheila got up one morning and decided that she wanted to see her twin brother Bill. So off she went down south to visit my parents. Nobody knew Aunt Sheila was coming, until my parents had that knock on the door and there was Flatty standing on the doorstep. Maybe it is a genetic family trait to just put your shoes on and walk. A quick telephone call was made to Uncle Luke and he responded in his usual relaxed style, as though the family pet dog had ran out of the garden gate and gone to the local park. Uncle Luke then got into his car for the long journey down south to pick up Flatty from her latest adventure. A couple of years ago I heard a tale off my parents that made me smile. Aunt Sheila was in a nursing home and had use of a mobility scooter. So off she went with no consideration of battery capacity and guess who had to be rescued with a stranded flat battery mobile scooter? Oh yes, Flatty does it again!

Aunt Sheila and my father shared a childhood together, he always speaks affectionately of his twin sister. I have never seen Aunt Sheila mimic my father but he does a great impression of his twin sister. Seemingly without any effort my father can do Aunt Sheila's distinctive walk, her speech with that little lisp and that little look they do with those fluttering eyelids.

Aunt Sheila will be sadly missed by everyone. My heart goes out to my cousins Kathryn and Paul. They have now lost both of their parents and my wife Gail knows from her own experience, that feeling they will now develop of feeling somewhat orphaned.

Rest in peace, Aunt Sheila.

Sheila "Flatty" Lawrence, nee Clynes. Born 16th January 1933 - died 20th February 2011.
HI Stephen
I have just seen your blog and it is lovely as I was reading it, it brought back alot of happy memories you have a lovely way with words and it has brought comfort to me by reading it love Kathy xx
Thanks Kathy,

Everyone copes in different ways, I find writing a blog is a great release. I wanted to publish my thoughts so that I could remember your mother and then to selfishly be able to move on. This blog post was an efficient way for me to deal with the grief I was feeling over the sad death of your mother and my favourite auntie.

Take care and feel free to comment on any issue on my blog. You may even develop an interest in novels or the politics of the Middle East.

All my love, Stephen.
hi stephen im not sure if u will get this message but ive read ur blog and it was lovely but i came across this because i know live in 37 haswell avenue i hope u dont mind me messaging u about this and sorry to bother u if it does
thanks claire
Thanks Claire, 37 Haswell Avenue brings back many fond and happy memories. I loved the back garden, it's patio and shed. It was so much bigger than our house in Durham Street - renamed into Howe Street when the two Hartlepool's merged. My dad - Aunt Sheila's twin brother had his 82nd birthday here in Cardiff a couple of weeks ago and is fine for his age. He is now rather slow on his feet but still enjoys a pint of beer and a chat.

Hope you make the old house a great home. Regards, Stephen.
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