November the 28th
“November the 28th…..November the 28th” – that’s what little 3-year-old me used to charge around chanting whenever anyone asked me when my birthday was.
We ran a Bed and Breakfast (Chambre D’Hote to our French friends) – well, actually my mum helped my nan to run hers after her and my dad split up and my grandad had died. So, there was lots of guests asking little me that question. It’s one of my favourite childhood memories – growing up being reminded of how cute I was chanting those words, and also “pretend talking” into the old, black telephone hand set – not properly able to speak but making all the right noises.
I’ve touched on the fact before that we have a bit of a disjointed family – over the years there were some feuds which resulted in my mum and my uncle not speaking to each other for a long time. But back in August 2019 I got in touch with him (thanks to good old Facebook) – and we kept in contact since then. One of the first things he said to me that as he approached 70, realising the clock is ticking away, he regretted the missed years with me and Steve (my brother) and he hoped that we might meet up on a happier note. And, of course he said he remembered me running around Nan’s bungalow on the eve of my birthday singing November the 28th and thought it was really cute.
We clicked straight away, and had some lovely messages between each other for a few months, and then out of blue – on my birthday – November the 28th – Uncle Peter phoned me up as a surprise! It made my day – it was so lovely to speak to the Uncle that I had not seen since my late teens – and barely knew. After that first phone call we kept in touch regularly – he loved reading this blog, and of course because he had been a house builder through the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, he was always so interested in how the house building was coming on. And always very helpful and supportive.
One evening I was chatting away to him saying we had no idea how we were going to get the plaster board up on the high ceiling, and said that we had been told there was a tool you could get to help hold it up, but we had no idea what it was called, what it looked like, and didn’t have enough French to work it out. We were chatting away and suddenly he said he had searched for the tool, told me what it was in English (Plasterboard Fixers) and in French (Fixateurs de Plaques de Plater) and then I was able to find it on Amazon France.
He just knew the answers to all those little niggly questions. Time after time I would say we were worried about how long everything was taking – and he only ever said positive, supportive things – like how hard Martin is working, and how good it all looks – he loved getting photos from me about the various stages.
For a few months we were having a couple of phone calls a month, with messages in between, and we were hoping to get over to the UK in June 2020 and finally meet up with him.
But in Feb Uncle Peter went down with a nasty illness which lingered for some time, and meant that he wasn’t as able to have the long phone calls quite so often. He used to tease me that I talked so much that even just listening to me exhausted him. We went to once a month phone calls which I really looked forward to and enjoyed so much. He was so easy to talk to, always really positive and encouraging.
Of course, by now we were all going through the pandemic and travel plans became doubtful, and very sadly we missed the window of opportunity to return to the UK to visit. We used to talk about how lovely it would be when we could finally meet up, and we could see each other again, and meet his wife Linda, and his three children – my cousins – 2 of which I have never met, and the other one, not since she was a little girl.
I wrote in a previous blog about his incredible generosity in sending us out the fabulous taps, which are going to take pride of place when we finally have our kitchen in place.
I am so glad and grateful to have those taps now.
Uncle Peter was ill in March but didn’t say anything – I had a hunch something was wrong so phoned and Linda said he was in hospital. I sent him a card and a little bar of chocolate and you honestly would have thought I had sent him the Crown Jewels – he was so pleased. Another time I came across a typed transcription of a letter that my Great Grandma (his nan) had written so I sent it to him and it made him so happy. It was so lovely doing little things like that for him – he was really a lovely, lovely uncle.
We both felt sad that Martin and I were unable to make it back to his 70th birthday party in August – but accepted that the Covid-19 situation made travel too risky and hoped and believed that we would get more chances later on.
November the 28th came around again – and Uncle Peter had sent me a humorous card, which when I opened it up – out popped three packets of seeds – 2 poppies and 1 sunflowers – with a note saying we hope you might have space for a small Dorset garden. What a lovely idea!
He sent me a message on the morning of my birthday
I used to say to him that he was my favourite Uncle – to which he would laugh and say “I’m your only Uncle” – but I did actually have Uncles on my Dad’s side. To be honest though – if I’d had a million Uncles, he would still be my favourite – we just clicked!
Then on the evening of my birthday we spoke on the phone – we had a lovely chat and I told him all about my crazy lockdown birthday – and we had a laugh and a joke.
Mid December I had few messages but he had gone very quiet, which I noticed – but knowing that everyone was really feeling low about Christmas in lockdown – we were feeling that ourselves – so I was not overly concerned.
On Christmas Day morning – we took the dogs out early and as we walked past the church, I felt compelled to go in and light a candle.
At the time I was not sure why. Then further on during the walk, I said to Martin “I’m worried about Uncle Peter – I think he is ill and maybe not saying anything as he never wants to worry people”. Martin asked if I was going to phone him, but I said – not phone as it’s Christmas Day and I don’t know what plans they have – but I will send a message later on.
Which I did – that evening I sent a simple Christmas message and within seconds the phone went – I answered Happy Christmas thinking it would be him phoning rather than messaging (he was not a big fan of messages) but it was Linda – with the devastating news that Uncle Peter had died that morning!
The lovely Uncle that I had become so fond of, now I will never get to meet up with him again. All I could say was that I am so, so, sorry for all of them, and sad for me, and then sat stunned.
The last month has been a bit of an emotional roller coaster – I had to tell my mum that her brother had died, and my brother, that his uncle had died – neither of them had been in contact with him at all – so there were all the emotions that go along with that. But there have been so many positives too – getting in contact with my cousins – family that I never had in my life up until now. Me and mum have finally come to realise (I think her – certainly me) that life is too short and unpredictable to keep having falling outs between each other. I feel closer to her and my brother Steve as a result of this and that can only be a good thing.
This is the 6th death I have experienced since the start of the first lockdown. One friend’s daughter’s child (born at 24 weeks – did not survive), a friend’s partner to suicide, my Uncle George (my dad’s sister’s husband), my dad’s 92-year-old friend, my cousin in Wales, and now my Uncle. 6 funerals under the most bizarre circumstances – all causing way more suffering that necessary, and all in some way indirectly caused by COVID-19 – but only one of them had actually had COVID-19.
When will this pandemic end? I can’t help feeling angry at people who are being selfish – as surely, if people had done what was necessary at the beginning back in March 2020 then it would all be over by now? Yet all we see is people having what appear to be unnecessary trips. I suppose the trouble is, everyone thinks that their reasons for travel are important and valid. All I know is this – Martin and I made lots of sacrifices last year and it has resulted in me losing the opportunity to see my Uncle who I now will never be able to see, but also I haven’t seen my son since December 2019, or my daughter since March 2020, my mum since July 2019….the list goes on. We made those sacrifices whilst others didn’t (and still are not) and it is hard sometimes to not feel that we wish we had been a bit more self-centred.
I’m so grateful that I have some wonderful friends here in France. Usually, I reach out and lean on people when I need a bit of help, but when I am really, really upset I withdraw and go into my own little bubble and avoid people. My two lovely knit and knatter friends noticed that I was struggling and have been wonderful – it is hard to reach out to people when you are usually the one who tries to help others when they are feeling down. But they saw through the excuses and persevered and have helped me spring back.
It was my Uncle’s funeral on 20th January, and obviously I could not travel back to the UK for it. So, me and Martin followed the Order of Service as best as we could to the timings, we thought that they would be. We read the bible readings, listened to the 3 wonderful pieces of music, including one I had never heard before “Home Thoughts from Abroad” by Clifford T Ward – which I now love and will always now associate with Uncle Peter.
We also read out loud the poems and his eulogy. As always, when “at” a funeral you reflect on your own mortality and think about what your own life means and how you would like to be remembered. I know from what I remember as a child growing up, from what my mum has told me, and what Uncle Peter has told me himself – he was not an angel by any stretch of the imagination, he lived life to the full, he made and lost his fortune on more than one occasion, and he could be very stubborn – but deep down he had a very sensitive side – and I have seen that side of him over the 17 months he had been back in my life.
His death will leave a huge hole in my heart, although he was actually too young to have been a dad to me – he was a bit like a father figure, older brother, and good friend all rolled in to one. He gave out sound and sensible advice, in a no-nonsense manner. He said what he meant, and he meant what he said.
The day after he died, I chose a crystal to work with him as part of my morning Reiki practice. I was drawn to a piece of Leopard Jasper – perhaps in part because he was a Leo star sign – but also as it is a good stone for connection with animal totems. So, I attuned the Leopard Jasper to connect with Uncle Peter. So now, each morning I have a little chat with him – and ask him for advice on how to get this dammed house finished!! I think it’s working as Martin seems to making good progress. And I think our “requests” to Uncle Peter – or prayers if you like, have been answered as when our lovely Dutch friends Jan and Frieda realised how overwhelmed we have been feeling about getting started on the plaster boarding up high on the sloping ceiling they offered to help – and we are both absolutely thrilled (and very grateful) that last weekend Jan helped Martin to get the plasterboard up using some borrowed scaffolding (from a friend of Jans’s) and a really, useful machine that lifts the plasterboard up and holds it in place whilst it is screwed in place – a much, more technical version of what Uncle Peter had helped us to discover previously!!
And looking back I can see that it was nearly a year ago that we had that conversation with him – so a whole year we have been worried about how on earth we would get up so high – of course we have had other stuff to worry about and to get done first – the various lockdowns, curfews etc. have dictated the order in which we got stuff down in a manner that we could not possibly have anticipated back then. But we’ve got there – and I know he would have been the first to have congratulated us on that.
I really do believe that the Reiki helps me at so many levels. My mum sent me a little chakra necklace on my birthday and I began to use it on my heart chakra each day to connect with her and ask for healing in our relationship – and sure enough we began to re-build those bridges, and even more so since Uncle Peter has died.
My mum never fails to amaze me – she can be the sweetest person in the universe at times. One evening I was chatting to her on the phone and she said “I’ve just done a bank transfer to Sian for her new flat gift and noticed you have 2 bank accounts – which one do you use?” She is all innocent and I just start explaining how one is for “this” and one is for “that”. We carry on talking and I’m saying that we are planning to get some bits for our kitchen soon and then a few minutes later she says “oh, I’ve just popped a bit of money in your account – buy a few bits for your kitchen from me”. At this stage of the game – with us pretty much running out of budget for all but the most essential of items – this honestly meant so much!! I’m such a soppy old thing I know – but to have a few cupboards that are from my mum in our brand-new kitchen will mean so much to me – they will be called mum’s cupboards. I also want to use some of that money to buy the sink – as, with Peter having given us the taps I feel in some way that they will be reunited with her funding the sink to go with it. When I told her that she was delighted and said “yes it will be a Nunn sink as your grandad was a plumber”. So that all seems really appropriate and a lovely way to bring them into our lives together. There was 7 years between them so it is no wonder that they clashed growing up – but they did love each other at one time, and despite their differences I think it is right that they end up together in our house.
Their situation reminds me of the song “Shame” by Gary Barlow and Robbie Williams – especially the first two lines
Well, there’s three versions of this story mine and yours
And then the truth
Now we can put it down to circumstance, our childhood, then our youth
Out of some sentimental gain I wanted you to feel my pain,
But it came back return to sender
I read your mind and tried to call,
My tears could fill the Albert Hall,
Is this the sound of sweet surrender?
What a shame we never listened
I told you through the television
And all that went away was the price we paid
People spend a lifetime this way
Oh what a shame.
So, I got busy throwing everybody underneath the bus, oh
And with your poster 30 foot high at the back of Toys-R-Us
I wrote a letter in my mind,
But the words were so unkind,
About a man I can’t remember
I don’t recall the reasons why,
I must have meant them…
The final poem that was read at Uncle Peter’s funeral was
“He is Gone” by David Harkins
You can shed tears that he is gone
Or you can smile because he has lived
You can close your eyes and pray that he will come back
Or you can open your eyes and see all that he has left
Your heart can be empty because you can’t see him
Or you can be full of the love that you shared
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday
You can remember him and only that he is gone
Or you can cherish his memory and let it live on
You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back
Or you can do what he would want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.
I really like the message that this poem sends – that we all leave a legacy, a world that is different even in small ways for our having been in it (it’s up to us whether that difference is a positive or negative one) and that we all have a choice as to whether we focus on the past or live in the present.
And as Uncle Peter would say “Just keep on keeping on – even if it’s hard”