The Ever-dwindling Group Beside the Fire

The Ever-dwindling Group Beside the Fire

Yesterday morning my grandmother-in-law passed away. It was half 8. I found out yesterday evening, when my mum came to tell me. I was sitting here, in my room. No tears, just sadness. We all knew it was coming.

It’s funny, how I seem to be in the same place every time I discover that another one of us has gone. Us, as in my family – the ‘ever-dwindling’ group around the proverbial fire. 2007 was a year for leaving. Three of us faded into the shadows. I remember sitting in this very spot when my mum told me about dad. I had known that was coming, too. The weight of the news didn’t settle immediately. For days, even weeks I sat staring out into the darkness among the trees. I couldn’t quite yet accept that it was final, that he was gone, that he wouldn’t be coming back. He left so quietly that his shadow still roamed out there, just beyond my vision, just beyond where the flickering light could reach.

Irene came to us from another fireside. She captured my grandad’s heart and helped him to truly live again after so many years alone. She made him so happy. When he left the fire, he gently let go of her hand, put an arm around my dad’s shoulders and took him along with him. They weren’t related by blood, but it didn’t matter. They were united in my eyes, able to laugh together about old times, finally free of the pain which burdened them so. We weren’t related by blood to Irene, either; yet, love brought her into our family and made her one of us.

Once again, I’m left staring out into the trees for a ghost, for a glimpse of something which would mark her good bye; but this time, there isn’t one. The fire burns a little less brighter, but all it leaves in the darkness are dancing shadows, enlarged strangely. No figure moves in the darkness to wave farewell.

Irene left us long ago. Her laughter, her quirks, her smile. The familiar voice with which she chided my grandad – the fondness apparent in every word, no matter her frown. All long committed to memory.

The person who died yesterday was not the Irene we knew; dementia took her from us.

I knew this, and I wrote her a poem; telling myself I would keep it for the right moment. It does not feel adequate right now. Maybe it is more about my pain, expressing my own sadness at her passing; but hopefully something remains of the lady who came to our fire and became one of our own.

Mother says I’ll be sixteen today.
The sky outside’s so blue and gay;
sitting here waiting for daddy to come.
Bell ringing tells me the day is done.

Dead. He’s dead. I can see his face here.
“Jack, they won’t want feeding,
they’ll eat on the way here.” He snorted,
and made a meal anyway. He always does.
“How’s Jim?”
They look away.

Mother says I’ll be sixteen today.
Mother says, “darling it’ll be OK;
ham in the cupboard and rations to spare.”
Smelling the roses and good fresh air.

“You could be a model,” I smiled.
Where are my frames, the children? “Jack!”
It’s only the woman next-door murmuring.
The rain on the window.
Alone in my bed.
“Jack.”

Mother says I’ll be sixteen today.
They brought me a present and cards which say;
“Mother-in-law, with love from everyone.”
And before long the strangers are gone.

Why do they always get it wrong? I know what happened!
The nurse hasn’t come all week,
“I made my own dinner!” I told them,
Why do I pay my taxes?
My back aches so.

Mother says I’ll be sixteen today.
I look in the mirror; my hair is grey.

Good bye, Irene.

‘White Lily’ by Steve Greaves

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2 Comments on “The Ever-dwindling Group Beside the Fire”

  1. I’m so sorry for your loss, Marie… but beautifully done *hugs*

    You have a gift with words. And it’s growing.


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