Family time

On Sunday, we headed off to Essex to visit some of my relatives. It was a trip of about 90 miles, and as the weather was good, we looked forward to our day out. Ollie was delighted to be accompanying us, and jumped excitedly into his spot at the back of the car.

The specific reason for the trip was to attend a barbecue, arranged as a surprise for my cousin’s 58th birthday. Her family managed to get her out of the house to visit a garden centre, and she was blissfully unaware of the frantic preparations that went on in her absence. I was very happy to be going to see so many of my cousins all in one place, and as their children range in age from four years old, to twenty-six, it was also going to be good to catch up with them after a three-year gap. Many years ago, my mother’s side of the family all lived very near to each other. We could walk to each others houses, and regularly congregated at my grandmother’s house, for weekly catch-ups, or large family parties. Time has moved on, and the family is scattered around the London area, the county of Essex, and now as far away as Norfolk. The chance to all be in one place is a welcome treat.

On the way to my cousin’s house, I decided to stop off a few miles away, and visit my elderly aunt. She was 92 this year, and has survived the passing of all four of her younger siblings, and her husband. She manages well-enough, with help from my cousins, and a fiercely independent spirit. I had not seen her for two years, though we had spoken on the telephone. She doesn’t like to go out much these days, and rarely socialises with the other residents in the retirement community where she has a small flat. She welcomed our visit, and was pleased to see us. She made tea, and offered cakes and biscuits, fussing over Ollie, as she had not seen him since he was a pup. I was shocked to see how frail she had become. Despite the constant care and attention of her immediate family, she hardly eats anything, and although she has no major medical problems, she was certainly depressed.

Soon after we arrived, she told us that she had had enough of life, and could see little point in carrying on. The fact that many of her close family are nearby was of little interest to her, and she declined our invitation to accompany us to the birthday party. She was also obviously confused to some degree, asking the same questions over and over, and she rapidly became tired. When her daughter turned up at the flat, she saw this as a sign that we would soon be heading off, but we stayed on for a while. I was reluctant to leave. My aunt is only a year older than my Mum would have been, and she is very much like her in appearance and mannerisms. In many ways, it was reminiscent of visiting her, minus the illnesses. When someone has reached the grand old age of 92, it is also at the back of your mind how much longer they will go on, and whether or not this might be the last time you see them.
The pleasure of the meeting was tinged with the sadness of the realisation of this fact.

Farewells said, we made the short journey to the barbecue. It was in full swing, with only a few guests yet to arrive. In glorious weather, everyone was sitting in the garden, surrounded by the smoke from the coals. My cousin was delighted to see us, and loved her gift of Dahlias, as she is a keen gardener. We saw her father, who is now in his 80s, and still very active. Her children, both a credit to her, (and themselves) had worked so hard to get everything ready, and keep it hidden too. Her brother and his small son, playing happily with the older children, and news of another on the way, due in February. When it is a family occasion as this was, even with the presence of some local friends and their children, the atmosphere is always relaxed and enjoyable. Catching up on some snippets of news, talking about jobs, hobbies, and extended family members who couldn’t make it. Far too much food cooked, and everyone having to leave too early, as the next day means work or school for most of those attending.

When it was time to go, clutching cake pressed on me for ‘later’, we said our goodbyes to everyone, thanking them for the invitation, and their hard work getting everything just right. It was also time to feel a little sad that we no longer live so close to each other, and that daily familiarity is sadly only a fond memory.

Driving home into a blindingly bright sunset, I looked at the swirling cloud formations, the Norfolk skies providing their summer bounty; the scenery above, if not on the ground. The colours of sunset, always slightly different, never the same two days running. I thought of my aunt, tired of life, and welcoming release from this world. The circle of family life, almost full-turned.

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27 thoughts on “Family time

  1. It is very good that you went to see your aunt, even if it left you worried. I agree with the comments and it’s true that lack of independence and also losing many loved ones might have a big impact, especially at a certain age. Nice to meet all the family. I’m hoping to meet quite a few family members I haven’t seen for a long while in a few weeks. 🙂

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  2. A bitter sweet post Pete, which I enjoyed reading.
    It’s seems odd and a shame to me how quickly society has changed in a relatively short period of time. Is it simply that we can get around so much easier now? And them become reluctant to make the journey because we no longer have the time as we are busy earning money so that we can have a car 🙂

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    1. Much of it here seems to stem from house prices. Young couples want to buy their own home, so have to move further out, to be able to afford it. Sometimes, companies relocate, and if you want to keep the job, you have to move. Once that scattering becomes established over a few years, cousins never even meet, and it all becomes a lot of effort to keep in touch.
      It is apparent that family units are much stronger, where there is less money, and no opportunity to travel. Or in cultures like British Asians, who all tend to still live in the same area, and even the same house sometimes, regardless of wealth and situation.
      I think the boffins refer to it as a ‘Cultural Shift.’
      Cheers Eddy, best wishes to you all. Pete.

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  3. Pete, I think it’s great that a 58th birthday was cause for a family reunion of sorts. Your description of the trip was both sad (visit with your 92-year-old aunt) and joyful (barbecue with the cousins), and I suppose that is indicative of the emotions that are always associated with family relationships. The distances here in the States are far greater. I live 1400 miles (2250 km) from each of my two sisters, and they live 750 miles (1200 km) apart. My parents are no closer, and neither are my other relatives. There hasn’t been a family reunion since I was young adult. Most of the older relatives are no longer alive, and the younger ones are busy with their lives. Most of us don’t even know each other, and so there is no chance of a family reunion—not even on a small scale. I therefore envy the fact that your family members live within a relatively short distance of each other, that a desire to congregate persists, and that you follow up on that desire. I think you have a great family, and thoroughly enjoyed your account of family time.

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    1. Very true David. The distances in the US necessitate flying, and a lot more time invested too. It is a shame that you are out of touch with a lot of your family because of this, but understandable.
      The nice thing about last weekend’s trip, was that it was organised by one of the younger family members. This bodes well for her keeping up the tradition, long after we are gone.
      Best wishes as always, Pete.

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  4. Your aunt sounds like my MiL. She is 91 and also says she is tired of life, but then she never goes anywhere. She won’t even walk across the lawn to the community hall on her sheltered residence site. We used to take her out until a couple of years ago when she started making excuses. She too eats very little despite our encouragement and is becoming more and more frail. She also has slight dementia and repeatedly tells the same old stories as though they happened yesterday. And often makes up history! In fact she can’t remember what happened yesterday. it is all very sad, and my OH finds it so hard as he isn’t a young man and gets very tired himself. The stress makes him depressed. It is a shame.

    But on a happier note, the BBQ sounds good. I never see any of my extended family now, haven’t for many years, but we used to meet up at weddings quite regularly. Spread all over the country now which makes it difficult. I think my brother keeps in touch with our cousins, but I don’t. Families are not what they once were. And maybe a long life is not necessarily a better life.

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    1. Family life has to be worked at now, where once it was just there, second nature, unconsidered.
      It does seem that not every old age is a good one. For every spritely 100-year old on TV, driving herself to one of her many activities, there are another fifty who never go out, and dread waking up the next day.
      Regards as always, Pete. x

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  5. The story of your aunt evokes for me the last six months of my mum’s life. She was less physically capable than Vi’s sister but had, similarly, lost the desire to carry on and consequently was quite miserable.
    I think the loss of independence instigates the loss of vitality and there is no tangible solution . . perhaps driving into the sunset . .

    It sounds like you enjoyed a fine family reunion but these events can also hold a tinge of sadness as they seem to last so short a time, however, glass half full eh?

    All the best xx

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      1. I know the place very well! Have you ever been to the Tiptree Jam tea rooms? I recommend for afternoon tea!!!

        A lot of my family live in Maldon and I work in Maldon during the week (I’m sitting in Maldon right now in actual fact lol) x

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        1. Been to the Tiptree jam factory tea rooms many times, a few years back, and always buy some jam to take home. My cousin lives in Heybridge (Goldhanger Road). My aunt lives off the main street in Tiptree, just past Asda. Another cousin is in Maldon, near the park, and yet another lives in Birch village, not far away. My uncle came across from Burnham-on-Crouch, and another cousin from Rochford.
          It all started in the early 60s, when my Nan bought a caravan at Heybridge Basin. We went there most weekends in the season, and one part of the family started to buy houses there, as they got older. They are now transplanted from south London to Essex, but they are still Londoners at heart.

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          1. I love this! What a small world 🙂

            I mean I’ve always known you live in East Anglia but WordPress is all around the world – what are the odds really!!

            I know Goldhanger Road lol. I’m not entirely sure about your Aunt’s house near Asda Tiptree (I know Maldon and Heybridge better! I actually work more Heybridge side than Maldon).

            My mum lives in Maldon near the park (meaning the prom?) so maybe they know each other to say hello to! 😀

            I lived in Burnham-On-Crouch for a long time too, ten years or so. I lived in Maldon for a while too but moved to Chelmsford about nine years ago and now I live in South Woodham Ferrers.

            Phew! Exhausted from typing all that!!! Haha.

            x

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        2. The world gets smaller, as we find out more. I live 90-odd miles away, but only two hours by car, so an easy day trip. I recently found out that another blogger I follow lives in Beetley too. Even smaller world.
          That Maldon/Heybridge connection has been around my family since I was very young. Another uncle (now deceased) lived not far from the roundabout at Heybridge shops, and we spent summers playing in the mudflats at Mill Beach. x

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