A few days ago it was the twenty fourth anniversary of the passing of a great aunt of mine. She died the day after her 90th birthday. The year I left high school.
It was only when I began to do my family history that I realised that she was the only person I had known, personally, who had been born in the 1800’s.
And she would have been mortified that I knew.
It was only just 19th Century-1899. But 1899 is still 1899. She would also be mortified at how many times I am repeating it.
See she had a hang up about age. Maybe that’s a generational thing, from a time when there was a specific social etiquette that everybody adhered to.
She was the only member of her large family who managed to escape the dark skies of Manchester, trading it for the bright lights of London, where she lived for all of the time I knew her.
She was apparently a well known spiritual healer. The fact was certainly well known in our family. On the sporadic occasions that she would come to visit us up north, my younger, nervy brother would suddenly disappear with his football. I wonder if she ever thought it suspicious that our own little Braveheart would always have a match about to start whenever she walked through the door?
When my Dad was having problems with his back, she gave him a card that had a painting upon it of her spirit guide, with the instruction to keep it in his back pocket and his aunt (God forbid I almost said elderly aunt) would send him absent healing. The story goes that he did as instructed, and walked into the kitchen where our family German Shepherd dog roused himself from his habitual slumber and started to growl at him.
But everybody growled at my Dad. My Mum’s hackles were constantly up. The next morning he came downstairs to tell my Mum ” Guess what-that card worked!”
“Really?” my Mum said, all wide eyed wonder, her thoughts immediately turning to her ironing pile.
“Yes-I’ve got bleedin’ piles.”
But don’t think I am mocking this, far from it. There were many testimonies from people of all walks of life who claimed to have been helped by her, some of whom had exhausted all avenues of treatment.
The age thing reared it’s sensitive head when a journalist arranged to meet with her, and called around to her flat in Richmond. He was from a Spiritualist newspaper that had often featured articles over the years about people who had received healing from her. Now they wanted to do a feature article on her, photograph, brief biography, the works. It was all going swimmingly until, in the act of collating his information, he asked how old she was. She slung him out of the flat, with a withering ” A gentleman does not ask a lady her age!” If he had dared ask again he would no doubt have been in need of a good healer himself.
As she reached her mid-seventies (I know-I’m sorry!) she was still very independent and travelled the world. Then, out of the blue it all came crashing down. She was knocked down by an off duty police officer, speeding and over the alcohol limit. By all accounts the doctors could not believe that she survived. I do not remember the full list of injuries, which were extensive, but there was mention of a fractured skull and a punctured lung. But somehow she did survive, enduring a long stay in hospital.
Family would visit her there, and unknown to them the nurses were monitoring how much water she was drinking. That canny woman would pass the jug around, asking her visitors to water the plants.
She refused to prosecute the driver. She refused to give a witness statement. The police came to the hospital several times, trying to persuade her to press charges, but she adamantly refused. Was this because she was a spiritual woman, showing forgiveness and thereby demonstrating the faith and belief system that underpinned her whole life? Was she leaving judgement to God?
No-the reason she would not prosecute was because her age would be read out in court.
Really. The driver got off.
A few years after this I went down to London with my Mum to stay with her for a few days. Braveheart stayed at home. Quite wisely too, seeing as though she told us that her friends would come and see her when it was their anniversary or birthday. Of course she meant dear departed friends. My mum whispered to me that next time she would get her to check her calender first before arranging to visit.
It was sad to see this once independent lady now confined to her flat, moving with a struggle from room to room with the help of a walking frame. She once said “If it wasn’t for my beliefs…..,” her voice trailing off. I knew exactly what her intention would have been. She used to say that our bodies were just overcoats that we took off when we died.
She wanted to leave the cloakroom.
These memories re-surfaced as her anniversary passed-the date where she achieved the release that she craved.
I am not a Spiritualist, but I do believe there is a spiritual element to our lives, and my own particular journey is a response to that. My great aunt would encourage me to think and consider things, she would send me relevant books up with her brother, my grandfather, when he would return from staying with her. Some of them were signed to her by authors that she knew personally, under which she would sign them to me. ‘To dear Andrew, please continue to investigate.’
I wouldn’t say that I investigated, but in the long run it gave me an open mind and a way of regarding the world in a non-judgemental way.
We all have people that have pointed the way for us in our lives, who have influenced us along the way, and it is important to acknowledge them. Whether we regard our path as a spiritual path, a faith journey, or a purely secular route, we all have people who have had a significant influence on our life journey. We honour these people by the way we live our lives.
For all of us are just passing on the torch to those who follow us, handing on the baton and hoping that we have run a good race.
I still have a copy of an article, from that same Spiritualist newspaper, which reports on the death of my great aunt, and of the life that she led. It mentions her family life in Manchester, and her spiritual life lived out in London.
It doesn’t mention her age.