Jack & Beth
When I was a little girl, my grandparents lived very far away. I saw one pair of them twice a year and the other surviving one once every two years or less because she lived abroad.
My mum migrated to England just a few years before I was born, and was not part of a community in the local area. She found that it was quite difficult to make friends in the area because people can be afraid of one another.
Over the years, though, she befriended an elderly couple that lived two doors up the road from us. They had been living in the same house since the 1950s and knew a great deal about the area, and had lots of stories to tell. As children, my brother and I used to knock on their door when we got home from school sometimes and we’d go and play in their garden, helping them water their plants, or pretending to be fairies. Jack, the elderly man, would even give us piggy back rides when we were small, even though he was 85!
Over time, we became as close to them as if they were our real grandparents. Mum brought them a big slice of cake whenever she made one at home, and she helped them with various errands.
By the time I was 10, Beth, the lady, was quite senile and repeated her stories. Just visiting them provided some relief for Jack. I remember being fascinated by her wrinklyskin – there wasn’t anyone else I saw frequently who was old, so I liked looking at her face. Jack would still give us lifts back from school, but apart from that they could only give a limited amount back to us in practical terms.
Beth died when I was 12 at the grand old age of 93. From then, we looked after Jack more than his own family did. Whenever there was a social event at home, he would always be invited too. Jack died three years after Beth when I was 15, and by this time I was old enough to understand what death meant. I was deeply upset and was in grieving. His death was my first conscious experience of loss, and I think it was a good experience. It has prepared me in a way for my own family’s deaths.