Saturday, 26 November 2011

Last farewell

My sister's funeral was on Thursday. Being November it was - unsurprisingly - dull and cold, but then surely funerals are meant to be something of a grey overcast occasion anyway? Maybe.

There looked to be quite a lot of people there, especially as Leamington Parish Church is enormous - more the size of a cathedral. The priest who read the eulogy had been friends with my sister for a number of years, and had in fact phoned me the previous week for some background information on what it had been like growing up together. In fact although I'd quite readily and naturally assumed the role of the brat little brother plaguing his big sister at every opportunity, as adults we got on well together and I don't recollect that we ever fell out with each other. Listening to it, the eulogy I thought captured my sister's character very well, unlike some I've heard where I've sat there wondering if they were talking about the same person! It did strike me though that I hadn't realized the full extent of my sister's ill health, perhaps understandably as it wasn't something she'd ever really confided in me.

There followed a burial at Warwick cemetery, alongside the grave of her youngest son who died somewhat tragically five years ago. That's a little unusual these days, I think: most people are cremated, not least because of the number of graveyards that are actually full. I shed a few tears as I listened to the priest reciting the "ashes to ashes, dust to dust" prayer and I was struck by the finality of it all, throwing a handful of earth down onto the coffin.

A couple of our cousins made the trip up to the funeral, acting as a poignant reminder of how my sister had always tended to carry on our mother's tradition of keeping in touch with "the family" - though in all honesty I'm not sure she'd had that much actual contact, or at least not until fairly recently. We said goodbye at the end, promising that must stay in touch *as you do* though how the reality of that will turn out remains to be seen.

Once the grave is finished with the headstone in place, I shall perhaps go and visit it. I used to visit the cemetery at Kenilworth, where my parents' ashes are interred, quite regularly at first but over the course of the last twenty-odd years got out of the habit, basically because I suppose I ceased to feel the need to. I guess it's something that's a very personal decision: to my knowledge my sister never went there, but I shall probably go again now if only to try in a strange way to come to terms in my mind with the impact of what's happened.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

YouTube MyTube

One of YouTube's less endearing habits is the periodic and frequent removal of some of your favourite videos, generally on some spurious "violation" grounds, leaving you with a patently insincere "Sorry about that" blank screen message. While the user who uploaded a video has the perfect right to delete it if they so wish, I must say I find some of the so-called 'acceptable use' policy removals irritatingly arbitrary to say the least. So like many people I've been in the habit of copying many of my own favourites: a lot of other sites specifcally provide a download facility on payment of a subscription or membership fee and it's something of a mystery why YouTube hasn't - it seems like it could be a nice little earner for them?

The inevitable result of course is that quite a number of sites and programs have grown up out there which will let you copy streaming video - most for free. I've tried several over a period of time: the one I've tended to use most is Real Player, which has a nifty little 'Download This Video' toolbar which pops up alongside the clip thumbnail in your browser. Except that I've found it gives a fairly high failure rate in terms of unplayable clips, and it hardly ever works at all with anything on X-Tube.

But the other day I came across VideoGet, which I have on test at the moment. It boasts an impressive list of supported sites, and has a built-in file format converter. It's shareware and limits you to 20 downloads after which you have to pay: I've used it twice, and if I find it succeeds on another 18 where the others have failed, I shall probably shell out the $24.95 and buy a copy.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Last of the line

The news I'd been half-expecting all last week came this morning: my sister died during the night.  She passed away very peacefully, which I'll always be grateful for, and considering the quality of life which would otherwise have laid ahead for her, it was probably for the best.  My nephew faces the sad task of making the necessary arrangements, but I'm helping him out a bit by getting in touch with our cousins to pass on the news - or trying to.

Over the years, of course, our "extended family" has inevitably dwindled.  When I think back to all those boyhood Christmases with rows of cards from aunts and uncles including their respective offspring - and to the occasional big get-together - it rather brings it home to me that I'm one of a decreasing number of survivors.  The aunts and uncles slowly became fewer (albeit living till their nineties in a couple of cases) and while I have a couple of cousins' phone numbers, others I'd long ago lost touch with and don't recollect whether my sister had any recent contact or not although she did tell me a while back she was embarking on doing a family tree!

Of our own immediate family, it now just leaves me - my mother and father having died some twenty years ago.  I remember having distinct nightmares as quite a small boy that my mother would die suddenly and I'd be left all alone in the world!  Silly when you look back on it, and I suppose like all toddlers I really thought the end of the world had come if I suddenly found I'd lost sight of my mum in a shop or somewhere.  When in 1988 it happened for real, it did somewhat to my surprise take me quite a while to get over her death but I daresay the passage of years brings with it the realization that human lifespan is a finite quantity and I'm maybe a bit more philosophical about it all now.

So if I look behind me now there's no longer anyone there holding me, but somehow I sense their spirit is still very much alive - and I guess always will be.  

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Three score years and ten

In the couple of weeks since I wrote about how I'd learned of my sister's stroke, I wondered how she was progressing, rather optimistically hoping that no news was good news.  I did become increasingly conscious of an urge to go and visit her - not the easiest of journeys to do from where we live by public transport, although by no means out of the question.  Spurred on by an almost supernatural feeling of my late mother telling me to get off my backside and get over there (and it was Hallowe'en yesterday, after all!) - and a more rational tip-off from a friend of a friend who'd seen her recently, I made the trip over to Warwick hospital yesterday afternoon.

Thinking back, it must be almost two years since I'd last seen my sister in person.  The extent to which she'd aged made it seem more like twenty.  The stroke has evidently done an awful lot of damage.  That, coupled with her deteriorating health generally, and the frail figure looking up at me from the hospital bed I'd have guessed, had I not known, might have been in her nineties.  She recognized me and knew who I was: some of the time, as I told her about some of the things that had happened, she responded briefly but almost normally - but there were quite long periods when she seemed to retreat into a world of her own, occasionally saying something which probably made sense to her but didn't seem to relate to anything - almost as if her brain was missing a cog or two and kept slipping out of gear.

She's being really well looked after: the staff all seemed very kind and sympathetic, and she's been getting visitors.  But I learned from my nephew who as luck would have it happened to pop by and have a talk with her consultant, that short of a miracle there isn't going to be anything much they can do for her - she's on borrowed time.

I still have the mixed emotions I wrote about a fortnight ago, perhaps felt even more acutely now.  I'm glad I went, especially as it may turn out to have been the last time I shall have seen her. Exactly at what point nature will take its course I've no way of telling: seventy isn't a particularly advanced age by modern life expectancy standards, of course.  But it seems likely she may just pass away peacefully in her sleep which I guess isn't a bad way to go.