Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my Great Aunt. She lived just along the road, never married, and had no children of her own. She spoiled me rotten. At home, my brothers would have eaten all the Penguin biscuits before I’d gotten to the kitchen, but at Aunt’s house, there was always special chocolate, just for me.
It was not just the chocolate though, or the marmite and cheese sandwiches. Nor was it the fact she let me loose with the garden hose and the soil when we planted her spring bulbs. She gave me something more valuable, more precious than all these things, she gave me her time.
Last week I said these things to her when I took her for tea, then on Friday she had a fall. Now she is in hospital.
I think of all the times I fell and she was there for me. She’d indulge my fetish for bandages and making the smallest graze a BIG DEAL. Once, when I had a sore throat, she threaded string through a note-pad, and tied on a pen, so I could wear it round my neck and write (my incessant demands) instead of talking.
As a mum of three myself, I can understand how my mum struggled to give me the gift of her time. There was always something else to do, or see to, as there is for me now. But growing up, I was my Aunt’s world, and her time was mine.
I remember trips to the shops on the bus, how she pushed me fast in my striped buggy to make me laugh. When we went for tea she would tell me, “Bring your chair closer to the table” and, “Don’t overfill the cup or you will spill it”.
When she had a knee replacement some years ago, she used to do her physio on the bed and then sit and attempt the crossword for half an hour. I used to wedge in beside her and copy each movement. It must have driven her mad, but she never said.
My aunt is the reason I love 70’s furnishings, and turn down the beds, why I don’t go out with wet hair and always send thank-you cards. My aunt is the opposite of me. She will hate that her fall is a BIG DEAL. She is independent, and proud. She is sharp and stubborn. I know how much it will be hurting her that she cannot get out of bed, that her tea will not be made in a pot.
She is part of me and I feel horribly helpless and scared of what this loss of independence means for her. She lived through a war and she nursed all her family till the end. Now she is the only one left and her body is at war with her mind. It is people like these who make us who we are.