Saturday, 29 May 2010

Vera May Hirons: 30th November 1912 - 14th May 2010

Late last year, I blogged about my 97-year-old Auntie Vera ('Home is where the aunt is', posted 1st December 2009).

Towards the end, I wrote: "As I check for typos, I realise [it] reads like a fond obituary, one which, I hope, will prove substantially premature as I intend to be sitting in her back room in 2012, just as I did today, and raising a glass as she tucks into a small slice of suitable-for-diabetics birthday cake to mark her centenary."

Alas, my unintentional obit proved only mildly premature.  Vera has left us, and I returned to Birmingham this week for her funeral.

It was a lovely, simple, understated, mildly religious affair.  Very English.  Very non-London.  Only the lay preacher and I spoke.  I had laboured long and hard, attempting to capture, in a five-minute address, the essence of a long, eventful life and an independent, forward-looking, joyful personality.  Various mourners were kind enough to say, unasked, that I achieved it.

I thought I would feel only happiness on the day, as my memories of Vera are all good and she had said often during her final fortnight that she was ready go to.  And, certainly, happiness was the day's overriding emotion.  However, to my surprise, I found myself on the verge of tears numerous times.  I'm such a cry baby these days.  However did that happen?  Is it a simple consequence of age?  Do Life's knocks create a reservoir of sadness, liable to overflow whenever another unhappy event raises the saltwater level?  Or is it that Society, which once decreed that only girls cry, now tells men they may, indeed should, let it all out?  Who knows?

My first dodgy moment was in the funeral car on the way to the crematorium when one of Vera's step great grandsons, aged about eight and fascinated by every detail of his first funeral, piped up that he really loved Grandma Vera and would particularly miss the footballer pyjamas she bought him for Christmas every year.  I said he'd better make the current pair last, then, as he wouldn't be getting any more pyjamas.  The adults with us laughed at this modest joke but he took it entirely seriously and nodded in that fiercely earnest way only a youngster can.  It was that reaction, for some reason, which raised the level of the reservoir dangerously high.

Milling around outside the crematorium was a group of woman of many nationalities.  They were the carers whose work had allowed Auntie to remain in her own home until she died.  Going into a home was the greatest fear of her final years.  Even getting her into hospital for minor surgery took some doing because: "Once they get you in there, they never let you out again!"

I commented that attending elderly clients' funerals must be a fairly regular event.  "Oh, no," a grey-haired Indian lady in a sari corrected me, "we don't normally go.  We've only come because it's Vera's funeral and we all loved her so much."  The others murmured their agreement, one adding that she had never attended such an event before but wouldn't have missed Vera's for anything.  When a third explained that she would have to forgo the wake because she had had only three hours' sleep after working all night, I had to excuse myself and bite my lip very hard.   

As I negotiated the vile, 60s, pedestrian subway to the railway station for the 10-minute ride from Vera's not-very-pretty bit of Brum back to the city centre, I wondered whether, after visiting her there so many times, I would ever go to B20 again.  Now that I have a Midlands-based job, I can finally live in my fabulous flat in the Second City's iconic, cylindrical tower, The Rotunda (see same previous blog).  I move in in a fortnight and I'd imagined popping over to Perry Barr at least weekly to check on her but it seems the timing was off and it isn't to be.  I'll have to make do with a fund of lovely memories instead (oh dear, saltwater level rising dangerously....)

Finally, here's the verdict of another of Vera's impeccably behaved little step great grandsons upon his first funeral: "They're very sad things but they're good things too because you learn stuff about people."  

Photographs courtesy of Rommel Catalan


  1. Hi Bill.
    Many prayers and thought for you and yours at this time of reflection.
    Even though you won't have to take a journey to visit Auntie Vera.
    She will now be traveling with you where ever you go.
    Once she has settled in her new home, Auntie Vera will make her presence known to you.
    God Bless
    Luv Christian Dion x

  2. im missing your posts......why are you not writing anymore??????