Hi, it’s Ivan here. I’m sorry we haven’t been around for a while but, after you read this, you’ll probably understand why. You’ll probably also forgive the fact that this is perhaps not as lucid as other posts we have made.
Yesterday, someone who has known me and cared about me all my life died.
My auntie Liz was beautiful, even glamorous and, together with her husband, my uncle Frank, always outrageous fun to be with. She was my mother’s older sister and the last survivor of 5 Searson children – and I guess I just thought she would always be there.
I remember growing up in Derbyshire and always loving to go to their home – a 10-minute drive away – and play with my cousins. And I remember being devastated when they moved over a hundred miles to the south. That was an unimaginable distance to a small boy and, before the motorways had reached Derbyshire, a drive there was a major undertaking for my dad.
It meant that I got to see Liz, Frank and my cousins perhaps only a couple of times a year and led to my parents being subjected for the first time to a phrase that was soon to become familiar, “are we nearly there yet”.
Their move away only served to add to the glamour and romance I saw in the entire family. To my mind, my aunt, uncle and cousins were having new and exciting experiences – in fact, my cousins even began to change the way they spoke, picking up the accent and intonations of their new friends – while I remained stuck where I was. Our trips south were soon to become a highlight of the year for me.
Tales of their adventures and scrapes are legion and, often, hilarious – at least, to family members. To ‘non-insiders’, they may fall under the categories of ‘you had to be there’ or ‘you had to know them’, so I won’t relate them here – though I may test the waters in a future post.
All I’ll say is think back to a time when you laughed so hard that tears were rolling down your cheek, your stomach hurt more than you could stand and you feared, if you laughed any more, you’d throw up. That’s what it was like at least once a day when the families got together.
Roll the clock forward a few years and I also moved away, initially to London and then further south. Our visits became less frequent and I’d see Liz, Frank and my cousins at family events – weddings, milestone birthdays, and retirement parties. At all of these, people would naturally gravitate towards them – they were such fun to be with.
Roll the clock forward many more years to 2010 and Liz’s sister, Helen – my mother – became ill. I’ve written elsewhere about that and won’t go into it here but, throughout the month my mother was in hospital leading up to her death, Liz and Frank, occasionally supported by their daughter (also named Helen), were almost ever present. Despite the long journey for them – and you should know they were both, by then, in their 80s – they were an amazing support to my mum and, increasingly, to my sister Jane and me.
You may have read elsewhere on our site how a decision we made while on holiday in Italy was pivotal in the direction our lives have taken. Well, after my mother died, we invited Liz and Frank to join us on that holiday. After a while, they decided that it would be too much at their age – a decision we were sad about at the time but, on reflection, I’m pretty certain we’d have laughed so much I’d have spent most of my time nursing torn stomach muscles had they come.
We did, though, start to spend more time with Liz and Frank. Their home is a couple of hours or so from ours, so it wasn’t as often as we’d have liked but we made sure we packed as much fun into the day as possible when we did go.
On one such occasion, we took with us a box of photographs we had found when we cleared my mother’s house. Carole and I sat in amazement as they identified without any hesitation so many people in photographs taken during their childhoods and even earlier – their memories of the names of these now long-dead folk (and what they had got up to) still razor-sharp.
It was over the course of these visits that something rather special happened. And it’s something that Carole and I only recognized very recently. Liz and Frank stopped being just my aunt and uncle. They became something much more valuable to us. They became our friends. And that is what is making this post so much harder to write.
Earlier this year, Liz told us she had become ill and would soon begin treatment. The treatment would be intense and not at all pleasant, making her feel worse than the illness itself. However, she faced up to this with immense courage, enduring weeks of daily visits to the hospital.
About a month ago, though, she had a fall and was admitted to hospital. Initially, things seemed to be progressing ok and when Carole and I visited her, she seemed very positive about moving home. She talked of the adaptations that would be needed to the home but Liz seemed to accept this as just the next stage in her life.
On Monday morning of this week, I received a call from Helen – the sort of call we all dread.
Liz’s health had deteriorated markedly and maybe we should get up to visit her soon. We drove up that same day and it was clear that Liz was now very ill indeed. She was barely conscious and only able to give a hint of a response to questions asked of her.
We travelled home that night with heavy hearts – we knew the end was near but Carole had commitments the following day. I drove up again on Tuesday and was privileged to spend the next two days and nights with Liz, Frank and their children and grandchildren round Liz’s bed.
Even at this sad time, we laughed so hard it hurt. And not just once – many times. Frank kept me massively entertained with his stories, many I recognized as stories I’d heard years ago but which, in the intervening period, had picked up layer upon layer of new and intricate embroidery. It helped me enormously to listen to him – I only hope keeping me entertained helped him, too.
I sat with Frank and Liz through Tuesday night into Wednesday morning. I think it’s fair to say, we were all surprised that Liz was still with us by the morning. She battled on throughout the day, too. I managed to grab a couple of hours sleep in the afternoon and, as we prepared for another night, it was obvious Liz was now very weak indeed.
At around 4 am yesterday, I had the very sad duty of waking the family as it was now obvious Liz was entering her final few minutes. We gathered around her bed and at ten past four, surrounded by children and grandchildren and with Frank holding her hand as he had been doing for the previous two days and nights, Liz slipped quietly and peacefully away.
We are all enormously saddened that Liz is no longer with us but I’m also left with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude that I had such a beautiful, glamorous and funny aunt, that I found rather late two wonderful friends and that I was privileged enough to be with her and her family at the very end.
I’m sorry, then, if this post is a little rambling, incoherent or just not very good but, when you lose an aunt, it’s bad enough, but when you lose a friend too, it hurts.