Dear Readers, it has been a melancholy couple of days. You might remember that, until a few years ago, we would regularly visit my husband’s aunt H in Somerset. I’ve done several pieces about her garden, and about the hedgerows and countryside round about her house. But a few years ago H moved into a care home, and in February this year she passed away. Between Covid and everything else, this is the first time that we’ve been to the house, and it is still so full of her spirit that I half expected her to bustle over to the doorway as she always did.
The house is cold and damp these days, and we have the responsibility to clear the house and to try to make sense of the papers that she’s left. H was a great one for history, both of the local area and of her extended family, and there is lots of painstaking work, but not in any order that we can work out. There are albums of family photographs, most of them unlabelled or cryptic. There are some silhouettes of family members, but who is who I shall have to leave up to wiser heads to work out. All in all there are lessons here for all of us: prosaic ones about writing down where and of whom a photograph was taken, and more existential ones too. H had already started to clear out her things, and many aspects of her life had already been taken care of, but we always think that we have more time, and one sad day that won’t be true. It certainly makes me think of my cupboards and drawers, and I wonder what would happen if someone had to suddenly make sense of them? I feel a whole lot of tidying and sorting coming on.
And so the house has been full of people talking about the estate, and about what has to go to the dump and what might be worth selling, but for me, it’s the napkin on the table, still in its napkin ring, that speaks. It’s the bottle of water in the bedroom, to be used to take the many tablets that H needed while she was still at home. And most poignantly of all, it’s the crumpled Do Not Resuscitate order in the pocket of her fleece. In the end, H passed away peacefully, secure in her faith. At 93 years old, she had served her community for the whole of her life, and was admired and loved by many. One of her friends described her as ‘a force of nature’, and so she was. The house is very empty without her.