I’ve had mortality on my mind this week. Sorry if this is a morbid subject but death is the one certain aspect of our lives and we don’t like to talk about it.
We nearly lost lovely Giuseppina a couple of weeks ago. She is my mother-in-law and celebrated her ninety-second birthday on January 1st. Since my own mother passed away far too young, Giuseppina has been like my mother. Unfortunately, she is now suffering from Alzheimer’s. We hear the same stories over and over again, but I don’t mind that. I love stories – I’m a writer, after all. It’s as if her stories – and her identity – are being reinforced through repetition, so we don’t forget about her. I came across some poignant lines by Carolyn Haynali:
“Pray for me. I was once like you.
Be kind and loving to me, that’s how I would have treated you.
Remember I was once someone’s parent or spouse. I had a life and a dream for the future.
Speak to me, I can hear you even if I don’t understand what you are saying. Speak to me of things in my past of which I can still relate.”
Mamma, as I call her, speaks about her time in the Second World War when she courted a handsome British army captain whom she married. She speaks about how a partisan was hidden in the family’s home, of the hunt for food in the countryside during a terrifying air raid – how she dived into a farmhouse to escape the bombs and came across a young German soldier strafing British planes. She speaks of her early bewildering years as a foreign bride on the edge of the Fens and how she feared non-acceptance. Of course, she speaks about happier times too and we love to listen to all these incidents that shaped her life. And I’ve included many in my first novel, “Tuscan Roots”. Who cares if she repeats herself? We will miss her stories when she’s gone, and it is important we know about her history.
The legacy of words is vital. Stories passed down orally can be distorted or exaggerated whilst the written word is a valuable testament. Look at this 1,800 year-old fragment of a recently deciphered letter from an Egyptian soldier while he served as a volunteer as a Roman legion in Europe. The letter is addressed to his mother and reflects his concern that six of his letters written home remain unanswered. These are emotions that any modern soldier would experience and a comforting piece of history, of common themes that transcend time.
When I was at school, we used to learn poetry by heart and the lines of Walter de la Mare’s poem, “Farewell”, have somehow resurfaced in my brain
When I lie where shades of darkness
Shall no more assail mine eyes,
Nor the rain make lamentation
When the wind sighs;
How will fare the world whose wonder
Was the very proof of me?
Memory fades, must the remembered
Oh, when this my dust surrenders
Hand, foot, lip, to dust again,
May these loved and loving faces
Please other men!
May the rusting harvest hedgerow
Still the Traveller’s Joy entwine,
And as happy children gather
Posies once mine.
Look thy last on all things lovely,
Every hour. Let no night
Seal thy sense in deathly slumber
Till to delight
Thou have paid thy utmost blessing;
Since that all things thou wouldst praise
Beauty took from those who loved them
In other days.
Walter de la Mare.
So, life comes it comes full circle. Yesterday we were allowed to share the wonderful news of a new grandchild to be born in early August. I hope this baby will one day be patient with me as I repeat my stories and I’ll leave you with that positive, happy thought.