Opening the door in response to the bell yesterday revealed a friendly woman asking if we knew Jean H, whose house is directly opposite.
Only by occasional sight we said, despite having lived across the road for 20 years. I would notice when the increasingly elderly (aren’t we all?) lady reversed her Rover carefully out of the drive, if I happened to be looking out of the right window. I was always pleased to see the Virginia Creeper make its way over the front fence each year as a harbinger of Spring and I admired its crimson tones every autumn. My husband had offered an occasional hello if they were putting out the rubbish bins at the same time, but her reply would be cool-ish, as being someone who valued privacy over idle chatter.
Apparently she had been due to help at a charity farm open day on Sunday, and hadn’t turned up. The woman on the doorstep had popped round to see if Miss H was OK and got no reply, and noticed the day’s milk delivery still outside. But we couldn’t help much, and Sue, Miss H’s actual neighbour wasn’t around either.
We Googled Miss H’s name, because everyone has an online presence these days and it was easy to find a mention – the surname had an unusual spelling. Someone’s family history research included her in a long chart of Birth Marriages and Deaths – born in 1932, here, daughter of George and Marjorie. By the look of it, no siblings and still known by her maiden name so presumably not married, no children. No one to nag her get one of those emergency buttons to summon help if you fall.
It was troubling, but hard to know what to do. She could be away, and forgotten to cancel the milk. Or just out for the day. In the evening a single light went on downstairs, but I had a sense that it could be on a timer. One of those situations where it’s really hard to tell if there’s anyone in or not. Am I being a nosy busybody, or a neglectful neighbour?
This morning I went to the GP surgery down the road, not knowing where else to take the concern. The receptionist said: ‘It’s alright, we know all about it, though of course we can’t share any information with you.’ Of course. But I went away reassured.
I passed Sue ‘Over-the-Road’ (as we call her) standing at her gate, and then with a flash of a red uniform the postman appeared, for whom she had been waiting. Waiting to tell him that Miss H had died. The woman who’d knocked at our door had eventually found Sue in, and Sue had a key. Reluctantly they had let themselves in yesterday evening and there was Miss H lying by her bed, well beyond resuscitation. The light we’d seen was them, with police and paramedics.
Miss H hated any fuss or intrusion. Sue said she would never have worn an emergency button. I can only hope that death came suddenly and I would guess that’s what she would have wanted. She was an only child, and not married. There’s perhaps a cousin in Hertfordshire, and maybe he had a couple of sons. Her father was killed by the Japanese in 1944 – later we found his name on the Singapore memorial. She was at pains to avoid anything Japanese entering the house – that’s why she always had a British car, even when their quality was questionable.
I suppose going to the funeral now would be a bit pointless – rather more useful would have been to get to know her in life. But I hope you’re resting in peace Miss H, re-united at last with your father, the Staff Sargeant in the Royal Engineers who never returned from Singapore.