young goddaughter who lives far
here for just one day
then my old uncle’s passing
peaceful farewells with soft tears
The nicest bit was a visit from First GodDaughter*, on her way home from a trip to the Gold Coast. First GodDaughter is now 19. I hadn’t seen her in person since she was 13, although we’ve been in touch and I’ve seen plenty of photos. Like most of my other godchildren, she lives in Melbourne – where I too once lived, but it’s far from here.
We picked her up in Tweed Heads. The poor girl had to catch two buses and travel for an hour, but we were busy with other commitments in the morning. If we‘d afterwards driven all the way to where she was staying, we’d have had little actual time together. It seemed best to meet in the middle. We brought her back to our place for lunch and she spent the afternoon with us. We’d had notions of taking her out somewhere but it was miserable weather. Instead, in the course of getting to know her, Andrew became interested in her experience of cochlear implants and asked to tape an interview with her. First GodDaughter was born profoundly deaf, and at the age of 12 was the first person in the world to be implanted with the second type of “bionic ear” ever invented. (There has been a third kind since.)
In her young life First GodDaughter has been through some major traumas not related to her deafness, and has learned to deal with them intelligently and courageously, so the interview ended up running for 90 minutes and was very inspiring. After that I gave her a Tarot reading which was similarly moving. We both ended up in tears, but in a good way.
Then she had a message to say that her mother (my dear friend), just off the plane from a holiday in Peru, had been taken to hospital suffering from gastro. Then she had another message, from a woman in her neighbourhood, to say that First GodDaughter’s kitten kept visiting her and she didn’t know what to do about it. "Well, I'm in New South Wales," said FG, "and my Mum's in hospital." She texted her boyfriend (whom she prefers to call partner) to go and take custody of the kitten until she got home later that night.
We got her to the airport in plenty of time for her check-in and were sorry to see her go. But before that I received an email from my cousin Elizabeth over in Western Australia, which made me cry. First GodDaughter, a compassionate soul, gave me a big cuddle. The email said (in part):
Uncle Tom died peacefully last night about 10.30 or 11. … The staff at the Hostel had put lots of happy photos of Tom on the walls of his room, and all have little stories to tell about him. He was well loved, and still making jokes almost to the last moments. They also made sure he had a red rose, which has been something he has always used as a special symbol.
Uncle Tommy was 91. He was my father’s youngest sibling. There were seven of them, four boys and three girls. Now they are all gone. At such an age, and going peacefully, it can hardly be considered a tragedy. But he was my favourite uncle since I was a very little girl, when he was a young soldier on leave during World War II. He and my Dad were favourite brothers, even though Dad was the second-eldest in the family.
Tommy left; Oswald aka Rob (my Dad) 4th from right
When I was 17, he and my lovely aunty took me and my little brother in when I needed a home near Melbourne University and he just needed a nice home. We were recovering from two years with an alcoholic stepmother who hated us. Their welcome was a blessed antidote. They moved to Perth (W.A.) some years later. The marriage broke up and he reconnected with his childhood sweetheart and true soulmate, who sadly died too young – but not before they had shared much happiness. He never forgot her. Yet he and the darling aunty (who has now outlived him) remained best friends.
With his lifelong love, Isobel
I last saw Uncle Tommy when I visited him in Perth in 2003, a joyous occasion for us both. He called me his “beautiful niece”. Not long ago my cousin told me that his eyes would light up whenever she mentioned me.
Here is what I wrote about him last year, which readers of my poetry may recall:
You walked on your hands
across the floor, up on a chair,
along the dining table
and down at the other end.
And you could whistle
and play a comb and tissue
just like a mouth organ.
You called me Mary Rose,
my Dad’s name for me.
You were his youngest brother.
At 70, grey-bearded,
you rode a motorbike.
90 this year, you requested a party
“small but memorable".
With another dear niece, my cousin Elizabeth
* Note: “First” is not a ranking, but a chronological reference. Her mother was the first to do me the honour of asking me to be her child’s spiritual mentor. There are seven other godchildren now, two of them godsons. I can’t call First GodDaughter "Oldest GodDaughter" because she isn’t. The oldest, though I’d known her all her life, didn’t become a goddaughter until she was a young adult, when all concerned recognised the nature of the relationship. She is Fifth GodDaughter and is years older than any of my other godchildren, including First GodDaughter.