1 March 2018

The end of a generation

Death is a mysterious beast in the western world. We don't like to think about it, plan for it, and by no means can we be honest with our children about it.

But the fact is, death is a fact of life. We don't know whether we are going to live until we are 101 or die tomorrow. No matter what we do to look after ourselves, no matter how well we eat or how often we exercise, there is nothing that protects us from the random events that take people we love away in an instant.

And then there is old age.  That stage of life where people can appear to be a homogenous blend of high pants, white hair and wrinkles. Where in fact, there are people that have lived these extraordinary lives through wars and spouses and innovation and change that has been unparalleled in the centuries before. 

Yesterday we went to the funeral of my favourite great-aunt. The last of her generation. Her name was Betty and in my life time she was a fierce, sassy, no bullshit broad. And I understand that she was like that long before my lifetime. She smoked way longer than she should of, she'd driven trucks during the war, been a nurse, played golf, was part of the RSL, and the Red Cross, outlived two husbands, raised a strong and open minded daughter and she loved her family openly and vocally.  She could be curmudgeonly when the mood took her, but having known her siblings (my grandfather included), I'm pretty sure that was genetics. 

But the side of Aunty Betty that we got to see most as her grand-nieces and nephews was her mischievous side. She was the Aunt that would let you have ginger beer and lemon squash every time you visited. Or ice-cream before dinner. She would encourage us in small acts of defiance and she gave the kind of hugs that only people who didn't give a shit what other people thought could give.

Source: AIPP Reflections Project 2015
She enjoyed having a natter and a good argument. I still remember a spirited discussion between her and my mother when I was quite young, in which she told my mother she was 'just plain wrong' - a concept so alien to me at that age that I was convinced she'd disappear in a puff of smoke. Despite realising in later years that she and I were at opposite ends of the political spectrum, she was the one that told me that if I believed in something I should say it out loud even if nobody else agreed with me. She said a lot of things quite emphatically. I liked that about her.

I was pleased my daughters got to meet her. Their great-great-Aunt. In the way of small people, they understood that she enjoyed their company even as her mind wandered.  It was only a few short years ago that she played tag with Tully even though she couldn't move that fast and was going blind. She just loved the simplicity of seeing a small person shoot past her giggling. I remember it from visiting her when I was small, and I remember seeing her like that with her own beloved grandchildren. I want to be that kind of old - the kind that actively enjoyed the company of people of all ages. 

A post is not enough to capture all of the feelings I have about Aunty Betty. At the very least she lived a life which deserves a book in which I am nought but an extremely peripheral player. But I know this for sure - like all of us, Aunty Betty was a complex, imperfect individual. Like all masterpieces, her beauty was in the layers and the extraordinary strokes that marked her. Like all masterpieces, everybody that looked at her or knew her, saw her value in different ways.

But I think all of us agree, she was priceless, she was loved and she is irreplaceable. 

Go well Aunty Betty.


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