Sunday, 4 October 2009

Time - The Greatest Thief of All

Thomas Eldridge. My 5th Great-Grand-Uncle
All Saints' Church, Lubenham, Leicestershire

Few things are more deceptive than memories.
Carlos Ruiz Zafón (The Shadow of the Wind)

NOT MANY DAYS AGO, the 29 September to be exact, I noticed the date, the number 29, and there was a tintinnabulation, one that I had, apparently, missed the day before. On that day before, Monday 28 September, I had almost certainly come across the date, that number, 28. I'd have seen it on my computer screen. It was at the top of the Monday pages in the Radio Times. (I check for listings of interesting television programmes every morning as I drink my coffee, and circle them in blue ink; I never forget to do this.) On the television itself, I would have seen the date: 28 September.

I do not doubt that I saw 28 September 2009 any number of times last Monday. So what? My mother died on 28 September 1992, and this was the first year that I did not think of her passing when I saw the day and month. Seventeen years to forget? Or was it just seventeen years to not remember?

On Tuesday 29 September I thought: "Good grief! Yesterday was the anniversary of my mother's death. I missed it."

Perhaps if I lived in Bermuda where she is buried, I would have planned a visit to her grave days or weeks beforehand. Some day when she came to mind and I'd have remembered those last hot days of the summer of 1992 which my mother spent in the hospice as the cancers crawled through her body and, at about three o'clock in the afternoon on 28 September, reached her fingertips. They turned dark purple as I held onto them in the hour before she stopped breathing.

I remember that remarkably well.

The only sound, a loud gasp, from the older of my mother's brothers, also in the room. Not forgotten.

I actually have not a single photograph of my mother in my possession now. However, I can picture her in quite a few photographs that I grew up with, taken in her infancy and through the sixty-something years she lived. As I sit here, I cannot see her in my mind from general times in her life, as a person unposed, because her life, as it affected me, was a photographic plate exposed for about forty-two years (my age when she died). Except for that final moment. I can see her just dead on the bed. Eyes wide open. Back arched slightly. Her hair had been shampooed and cut by a hairdresser friend the day before (the friend refused to accept a fee for that) and my mother looked quite tidy, which was unusual for her.

James King. My 3rd Great-Grandfather
Whaddon, Buckinghamshire

I got to thinking about remembering the dead. One of my hobbies is genealogy and I know the names and some details of over 1,500 of my family members who have passed on. Because my mother's family, not too many generations back, emerges from titled lines, I have information on some of my ancestors that is in the history books. I can even visit rather ancient places where they lived, and died. Some are represented in carvings on their tombs. Quite posh, really.

My mother is in a whitewashed vault in St John's Churchyard in Pembroke, Bermuda. There is no obelisk or cross. Her name is engraved on a plaque attached to the end of the slab atop the vault. Mavis Eldridge 1926-1992.

My father is also buried in Bermuda. I'm not exactly sure of the day he died, but it was in the spring of 1996. His third wife had him buried in a shared grave, but had his name and dates engraved on a headstone. The stonemason got the dates wrong, had him born ten years after he actually was. I believe that was corrected. He is buried in St Paul's Churchyard in Paget, Bermuda. My father's second wife died in the 1980s, but I cannot recall the year, much less the date. She was buried in a parish grave, unmarked. Happens she is also in St Paul's Churchyard, but she was no longer married to my father when she died. The church building itself is between them.

I can conjure up the image of my father from certain occasions, and generally. Is this because I saw him so infrequently in my life, in his lifetime? And I can also picture his second wife, who I liked a great deal.

My various parents (and grandparents) turn up in my dreams and, sometimes, they remain in ghost form around me for a short while. Not so as to be unpleasant or unwelcome.

We've had several television programmes (here in Britain) this past fortnight on the subject of death. Documentaries on our attitudes towards death and dying over the centuries were particularly interesting.

I did not know that cremation has only really been a going concern in the UK for about 120 years, and that acceptance by some of the major churches, like the Church of England, is quite recent. Most dead folks here are cremated now. People still seem to look forward to a funeral service of some sort. Funeral homes now do most of the work. My great-grandparents would have been laid out in their coffins in the front room at home. Family and neighbours would have washed and dressed the body.

My mother's people from the 1800s onward, our closer relatives, Lancasters, Proctors, Cloughs, Heys, are buried in Haggate Cemetery in Briercliffe, Lancashire, and in Colne, Lancashire. I have seen some of their graves. My father's family can be found in Fulham, London after the 1850s. Before that, for at least a hundred years, our Eldridges were living and dying in Lubenham, Leicestershire, some rating stones in All Saints' Churchyard. The King family, my father's side again, were in Whaddon, Buckinghamshire. My father's parents are buried in Kent. He had a brother who died in Australia.

It is clearly becoming increasingly difficult to pop around to the graves of family members when the anniversaries of their deaths (and Easter Sunday) come around. I'm looking forward to being cremated, with no funeral service, and scattered off in the wild somewhere easily forgotten by a stranger.

Will anyone think of me when the anniversary date rolls around? I'm not sure that I give a hoot. I'd much rather somebody thought of me while I was alive to enjoy it. (I'm hoping for kind thoughts! Perhaps a postcard.)


suz said...

assuming you predecease me (and with all love i hope that's the case*G*) i will always remember you, although i might be sloppy on the dates! i haven't visited sam's grave in years, although i do generally spend some time on the anniversaries of his birth and death missing him.
:) khairete

sarah corbett morgan said...

Hi, Ross. How interesting. This happened to me this month, as well. Although, in my case, it was the birthday of Alan's father and not his death date that I remembered.

Someone once said that the closest we come to immortality is the length of time we are remembered by others.