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Three very grateful cheers for family ties

My paternal great grandmother lived until I was 16. Throughout my childhood I watched my grandparents carefully and lovingly looking after his mother even when she was difficult (which was often). A few years later, her son, my grandfather succumbed to throat cancer. Cue for us all to rally round and be there for him and for his widow, my beloved Grandma, who lived on into her 90s and my 40s.

Although we weren’t quite so local by then I used to visit Grandma every couple of weeks and spoke to her on the phone weekly. And she would come to stay with us regularly. Meanwhile our own boys were growing up and willing and able to be involved. In fact, with strange generational symmetry, our eldest son was 16 when his great grandmother died, exactly as I had been.

Since them, inevitably, all four of our parents have died (most recently, Father-in-law in 2014) and again as a family we have all – in our different ways – been there to support each other though illness, sadness, loss and loneliness quite often tempered, of course, with jokes and laughter. My father used to tease his grandmother rotten – no one else could have got away with it – but by golly he loved and looked after her. And I saw exactly the same pattern in our sons as their own grandparents gradually ailed.

It’s like a baton in a relay race. One generation observes how the previous one does it and then takes it forward.  Or at least that’s how it seems to have worked for us – over and over again.

And now that Ms Alzheimer’s has staked her claim on My Loved One, it is our turn to be supported and looked after. I’m sure our sons, partners and children (our oldest granddaughter is 19) have talked about it quietly amongst themselves because I see kindness and astonishing acts of support all the time despite the fact no one lives particularly close. “Pay-back time” I suspect they call it.

The “boys” who have, between them, enough practical professional skills to staff an entire building company, have each done an enormous amount of work in the house we downsized into 16 months ago. And they’re been on hand to advise almost continuously. I’d never have got it sorted out and created the lovely home it now is without the pair of them.

So I want to go on a music course in May. “Just send me the dates” says our elder son who means he will come and stay with MLO and Ms A while I’m off duty. When the arrangement I’d made collapsed, he has willingly agreed to do likewise next month while I visit a friend in Yorkshire too

Then there’s the week in April when MLO and I are on holiday for a week. No sooner had I booked than I discovered that I couldn’t get Catus Domesticus into the cattery which had the effrontery to be fully booked. “Oh don’t worry” says elder son immediately. “I’ll base myself in your house and work from there”. That’s yet another week away from his own family although I hope his wife will join him for a London weekend with shows and so on. It also means we get a house sitter as well as a cat minder. And, I expect, odd jobs will be done in our absence. Hero! I shall make sure there’s plenty of beer in the fridge.

We have decorators in at present. “I’ll pop up in the morning between jobs and take that radiator off the wall” said younger son last week, casually referring to a 60 mile Brighton/London trip. “I don’t want the decorators messing about with it.” And he and his partner (who have a very young family) cheerfully put up with us taking over their house every time I review a concert in Brighton which happens frequently. His long suffering partner never complains if he comes to us to do a job which overruns so he ends up staying the night either.

In short, life is not always easy these days, but we are blessed in our fantastic children and their families and that’s an inestimable bonus. People in the know often say “I hope you’re getting the support you need”. They mean from health services, voluntary organisations, social services and so on and I know that such things will be there when we need them. At present yes, we are getting a terrific level of support – all home grown. And I am learning to feel deeply grateful and accept it with grace while never taking any of it for granted.

Thinking about the past and watching the patterns repeating themselves over the generations I’ve come to the conclusion it’s a case of reaping what you sow. Or doing as you would be done by. I’m not sure, though, that cantankerous old Great Grandma ever said thank you. I do. Often. And my goodness, I mean it.

Lots of Elkins, soon-to-be Elkins and close-to-Elkins at Margate in summer 2016.

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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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