Hello again. I haven’t been able to submerge myself in genealogy for over a month as I have been buried amongst the living.
My father just turned eighty-six years old. He is in overall good health for his age, but he still has a number of health issues - including, but not limited to, peripheral neuropathy, aortic stenosis, venous insufficiency, arthritis, a history of DVTs, spinal stenosis and a handful of other delightful “old age” issues. Did I mention his severe case of stubbornness. It’s a disease, trust me.
Last month, he had an episode of syncope which means he fainted. At Costco. While driving around an electric cart. But he knew he was going down, called out my husband’s name, and my husband caught him on the way down sparing him from serious injury. I can't help but to mention that a number of shoppers reached over the two of them sprawled on the floor to grab grocery items and didn't even bother to ask if they were ok. I mean, really? Really!!
Concerned about the incident, my husband took Dad to the ER. After a few days of tests to determine the cause, it was decided that his aortic stenosis was to blame and he should get a new heart valve. So he did. The procedure was remarkable! It's called TAVR, Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement. It was minimally invasive and had a speedy recovery time, even for an out-of- shape-eighty-six-year-old. Of course, as always happens with my father, and life in general, there were a few complications completely unrelated to the heart valve. As my father’s primary caregiver, and because his driving privileges were revoked for safety reasons, I ended up spending numerous weeks in the hospital, followed by weeks of driving him to all his doctor visits with, I suspect, years of those visits to come.
I've had scarcely a moment at my desk. Until now.
No surprise, during these past weeks, I’ve felt unusually overwhelmed. Stressed about Dad’s “brush with death” and the not-so-gentle reminder that life is temporary. Frustrated at how hard it was for me to tend to my well-being, focus on our remodel, log hours with my paying job or write about these old letters. Angry that there is so much beyond my control. Pissed off that every day is so short. Guilty for wanting time to myself. And so much more.
Though my father has been living with us for over a year, these last months have been the biggest transition. More then once I have felt on the verge of a panic attack. You know, that feeling like you can't breathe, you are dying or going crazy? I even asked my doctor if I should start taking Xanax. He told me to stick to my nightly glass of red wine.
But then, one day, on the way to the hospital, I picked up Dad's mail and there was a package from my cousin in Utah with a handful of old letters sent to my grandmother Hilda. I cozied up in a chair in the corner of dad's room, skimmed through them and one jumped out at me. It was from Cousin Tilly Vince Luckins. She is my favorite of the cousins that wrote to my grandmother and perhaps the only one I ever met. So I opened it up and read.
It was like a thunderbolt through my soul.
Written on November 10th, 1940 and sent from London England during World War II - it was a gentle reminder of how ridiculously lucky I am. How lucky we all are. Here I was fretting over the stupidest of things. I mean, c'mon... there are no oil bombs raining from the heavens at night. Sirens are not warning me to head to a bomb shelter. I can contact friends and relatives with a few clicks on a keyboard or taps on a phone that fits in my pocket.
We live in a time of miracles. It is so easy to forget that.
The letter is simple, but it made an impression as do all these war letters. I suddenly felt very, very grateful. And I also felt, a little bit, like my mother was sending me a message. You see, on the outside of the envelope, in what I’m pretty certain is her writing (she passed away in 2000 from early onset Alzheimer’s) were the words - “Comments on WWII Tillie“
It’s almost like mom sent it to me.
November 10, 1940
Dear Cousin Hilda,
I received your wishes for a Happy Birthday & thank you for them, the card will go to my collection of your pretty cards to me & which words I know are sincere. I had a very quiet birthday & would have been happy just to have my John with me. I still miss him very much. He came home on 24 hrs leave he arrived home at 4:30 & had to be back by 1o’clock the next day, but he hopes to have 4 days leave soon, he looks very well
But doesn’t like Army life he said it is alright if you have no home. I sent him your letter & a cartoon you sent me it was very good he thought. How is Aunt Alice these days, we all know how you must pray for our safety in England. Poor Mother has had it terrible in Wapping all her windows are out also in the shop the place is nearly in ruins there. She is now staying with my cousin Ina to get some rest & she still refuses to give up living in Wapping. The business is still closed up & Jack
Says he is not going to manage it anymore, he is going to spend the rest of his life in the country. The house next door to him was bombed recently & his wife is evacuated I bet they wish there children were safe with you in America. Grace evacuated today with her baby, her nerves have given out. Life at the moment is not worth much we get a warning from 6-30 in the evening till 8 o’clock the next morning & there is heavy gunfire that if you were
Walking the street you would get injured with our own shrapnel. Hitler seems to glory in bombing our Churches. Did you get my letter to send to Annie. I said to John we shall have to go to America when the war is over. The people in England are really wonderful they are taking it all bravely although they have lost everything which they hold dear. How is Ben is he keeping well, I should love to see you all one day. What does Bobbie say about the war as I expect he
Understands a little. I bet he tells you he is glad he is not in England. Well, Hilda, I hope as we all hope to finish this man Hitler & I am sure we shall win I have every confidence, as I am confident that I shall be kept safe for my John. He prays also that I shall be safe. I am not a bit nervous, as I do not go in a shelter but take my chance in the house mother said I am crazy directly she hears the warning she runs, you can quite understand her though as she has been through a lot.
I do worry over her as she has Bronchitis very bad. Emmie is still by her & is also brave. I haven’t heard from Ethel & John is stationed near her but doesn’t get a chance to go & see her. Weren’t you disappointed about Wilkie not getting elected, I thought of you when they have it through the wireless that Roosevelt gained the majority. Is your land quite better now. Christmas will soon be here & I am looking forward to having John home on leave, I will ask him to write to you
He writes to me every day as that is the only way to keep in touch with me another to know we are alright, unless of course a bomb is marked for us. Hitler likes dropping oil bombs, he is busy now going over this house, but I don’t think he knows 20 Bolton Rd at least I hope so. How is America going on in this war, do you think they will come in it. Give my love to Aunt Alice & tell her I will write to her soon as I don’t get much time these days but I think of you all
& hope you don’t have to experience what we are getting. It is a truth saying Britain never never shall be slaves. Good Old England & I hope she will have peace forever after this. Well Cousin Hilda I must now … & try to get some sleep & forget about war. Kiss Bobby for me & tell him I hope he is making good progress at school & Ben tell him to write to his old cousin who although has not met him, likes to hear from him sometimes.
From Your Sincere Cousin Tilly
As I get ready to post this entry, I received an email from a cousin in Auckland NZ. I have never met him. I did not know he was alive. He is Tilly’s nephew, son of her brother Charles Percival. He too survived WWII. I am overwhelmed with my good fortune! How lucky are we to live in a world where we can connect the present with the past so easily? What a gift to learn of and from our ancestors.
I can't wait to reply to him and discover more. I do hope he has more letters or insight to share. Perhaps he might even recognize a face or two in some of the old photos I have...
Happy Genealogy Hunting!