By Sun and Candlelight

The last four years of my Grandma's life were good ones, as she recovered from many stresses and lived in peace. She found it a struggle to keep up with new information about younger family members but a great happiness to relive the memory of the family who she had lost years before. I worked out our family tree in order to become acquainted with those people who had loved her so much and whom she still loved. We talked about them. We looked at photos. Although the picture of events was still fragmented from my point of view - for my Grandma had an amazing facility to say nothing she would regret in those last four years - it was enough to increase my respect for her. She had faced terrible obstacles with courage. She had endured a very difficult start in life, through no fault of her own.

In By Sun and Candlelight I wrote her life, as best I could and printed one copy as a keepsake to show her. I chose the title as a remembrance of one lovely day in Grandma's care home. I had sat with her for over an hour and resorted to a poetry book for amusement. I read and she listened. We got through quite a few before she found one particularly pleasing, the description of a wife's love in the famous poem that begins "By sun and candlelight ..." She liked it so much that I offered to write her out a copy. I only had a watercolour pad with me and I had to borrow a pen from Sylvia (who was doing the crossword with another resident), but I wrote it out as I would have done at school in my best handwriting.

We were joined by T., my sprightly old lady friend, who used to run the catering in a military canteen. And V., my lovely endearing friend who was part-time kleptomaniac and part-time flatterer. Then J., a recent admission to the home and still feeling a bit lost. So there I sat, with four delightful widows, admiring my handwriting, reading the poem and looking at some old postcards. They each one had a diagnosis of some sort - usually dementia. And I felt completely honoured to be in their inner circle. All their experience as wives and mothers had come to this - a room in a care home. The widows showed one another uninhibited affection and care. They cast sidelong glances, supported each other and were as sweet as a baby bird sitting on a branch. 

Since that day I have been in cities and towns. I have talked to people who looked normal and people who were bizarre. I have passed ten people in the street without anyone looking up to say hello. I have endured the cold shoulder and the disdain that flows from disinterest. In short, there was more genuine love, warmth and compassion from those ladies between themselves than I have observed in any other sphere outside the kindness of my own family members.

It was the only day quite like that in the care home. And I don't mind telling it. But I cannot publish By Sun and Candlelight because to make it public would take away a little of its sweetness. When we put something into public view, we invite people to judge it for themselves. And if they should judge the events differently? Or if they should bring their own baggage and project it into the tale? What if the writing does not adequately protect something from misinterpretation? No. Some things need to be said sometimes, by someone. But not everything. We have lost the habit of casting a veil over private things and that is a shame.

I have compositions that I write which other people will never hear, unless they happen to be in the garden of my home while I am singing. They are not composed for sale or published to make the world a better place - whichever way you like to look at it. It is enough that they are there, that I can sing them to the Lord and no one else. And the same with this story. We have grown so accustomed to the way things are. Creative skills are for money or for art. In either case they are public and showy. But here is a little appeal for doing things for the sheer pleasure they can bring in the doing and, once finished, in the achievement of having done.

Unless sentiment cloud the view, I ought to add that by the time I took the book to show my Grandma the fine dedication to her and perhaps read her a little, she was too tired to take an interest. The lady who once wrote down every grade I achieved at school could no longer be impressed by such show-and-tell but she could be overjoyed with a hand pressed in hers or, even better, a comfortable shoulder to lean against. And that was enough for both of us. 

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