Yesterday morning, Sunday, a friend of the family passed away. Not surprising since he was 103 yrs old this October and had enjoyed an eventful and extremely fulfilled life. Still, it was a shock, and I still feel a bit numb with the news. You see, for the last two years I have been visiting him regularly to video him telling me the story of his life. Every month or so I have driven down the M1, along the M25 and up the A3 to Esher and Ditton Hill where he lived, and we’d while away a few hours as he shared with me each important moment of his life.
I have been formatting the manuscript myself, including photos and other apt illustrations. It has taken me an extremely long time and the odd coincidence is that I finished it on Saturday afternoon. Strange timing!
Fortunately I saw him last Thursday after spending a couple of hours in the Kingston Archives before visiting time at Kingston Hospital where, unfortunately, last Monday he was admitted.
Norman was in good spirits and excited to see me because he’d thought of a name for his memoirs, ‘The Life and Demise of Norman Campbell,’ he proclaimed enthusiastically.
‘You can’t call it that,’ I laughed, ‘after all you’re still with us.’
‘Only just,’ he replied but then one of the nurses came around and he began to shout at her. I was so taken aback that I remonstrated with him. After all, he had always been such a gentleman. He turned to me a bit crossly and said, ‘If you talk to me like that you can sod off!’ Then he closed his eyes tight shut as if to cut me off completely.
I was actually prepared for this rebuff, because his daughter in law had warned me that Norman’s mind was affected and that he could suddenly change in an instant, so I continued to sit for several minutes just holding his hand. After a period of quiet I whispered, ‘Are you still awake Norman?’
He opened one eye and peered beadily at me saying, ‘I could have shut you out you know; sent you away.’
‘I’m glad you didn’t,’ I replied smiling. ‘I’ve got something for you.’
His eyes lit up when he saw his favourite video Random Harvest returned.
‘You never know,’ he said. ‘Most people borrow things and you never see them again.’
‘Well,’ I said. ‘I thought you’d enjoy watching it when you come out of here.’
After that we chatted quite happily until it was time to for me to face the journey home and he was also beginning to look tired. I didn’t say goodbye in any final way, because I expected to see him again at Christmas, but I’m so glad I saw him again. After all, he has blessed me with trusting me with the story of his life.
The idea of writing his memoirs came at his 100th birthday party when 50 members of his adopted family came from all corners of the globe to celebrate with him. It was a very special occasion! He was larger than life that day. Lots of laughter and fun.
It was quite a shock this morning, even so. After all, he was one of those people who’ve always been there in my life. When we heard the news this morning Roger and I walked down to my parents in the sunshine, where we shared some lovely memories together. We smiled, laughed, hugged and wept. Part of the healing, I’m sure.
I have an obligation to Norman’s memory to get his story published now. At first I was saddened that I’d got so close and he wouldn’t even see it, but Norman wouldn’t see it that way. After all, he knew his own life and there was nothing he liked more than talking about his memories. He’d just be thrilled that he could pass his story on for others to enjoy. Not sure about his idea for a title though. I have a few of my own up my sleeve, so we’ll see.
Cheers Norman! Thanks for the memories!