Death comes too close for comfort

Dealing with death becomes a part of life for many journalists, especially those working on regional dailies or weeklies when the people involved are part of their community.

Whether it is a case of natural death, by old age or a long-term illness, or sudden death by accident or design (a house fire or fall as opposed to murder) a reporter either deals with the obituary or funeral report or will report on a sudden death, usually by attending the inquest.

I had been dealing with funeral reports since my early days as a cub reporter, and had dealt with cases of sudden death, although until my first doorstep interview in Basildon I had normally attended the inquests for information and reported what the family and other witnesses had said.

Death in your personal life is entirely different and often the first case you have to deal with is in teens or later when a grandparent dies.

By the time I became really aware of family members beyond the immediate household, other than as people who turned up now and again at birthdays or Christmas, I was fast running out of grandparents.

Both my grandmothers had died before I was born.

My paternal grandmother died when my father was still in his teens and I was told her sudden death came about a year after the shocking death of her eldest daughter, my father’s favourite sibling, his sister Dorothy who he had called Dodo from the moment he could speak.

I believe my maternal grandmother died in the late 40s or possibly very early 50s when I wasn’t even a year old. She had been very ill in her last years and had had a leg amputated.

My paternal grandfather used to visit us in Chesham but I am not sure whether my memories of him were real or conjured up by photographs especially one taken when I was about two or three.

A young curly-headed Robin looks up at his grandfather Rev. Edward Vyrnwy Pierce

He was seated on an armchair in the garden and I am stood at the side looking up at him. He died, aged 80, a year or so later, well before we moved to Rhyl.

My only remaining grandparent was my mother’s father, Harry Lloyd, a lovable man with a pink face and a wreath of white hair, or that, at least, is the way I remember him best.

My early memories involve visiting him in Wrexham, well Southsea actually which is just outside Wrexham, where he lodged with a family friend after he retired from the civil service. Sometimes we three children would stay for a few days and would go out for country walks and even go blackberry picking in season.

At other times it would be an evening trip to see a musical performed by the Wrexham Amateur Operatic Society at the local college. Grandad was a violinist in the small orchestra.

A young Harry Lloyd in the 1920s

At the time I had not known that he had actually been a semi-professional musician in the 1920s with his own string trio playing at dance hall in the evening.

I still remember many of the tunes from Oklahoma, South Pacific and similar musicals which were popular in the 1950s.

In the early 1960s Grandad came to live with us in Rhyl.

This involved a bit of an upheaval because the house, which included the shop and a flat with external access, only had three bedrooms – one for my parents, one for my brother and myself and one for my sister.

The flat, which included former upstairs rooms from when the property was a girls school, had originally connected with the house by doors from the landing which had been blocked off with plasterboard.

The tenant had moved out and before it was relet my parents opened up one of the doorways leading into the main front room and then closed off the access to the rest of the flat, which now had a kitchen, bathroom and toilet, a living room and two small bedrooms.

My brother Nigel and I were moved into the new large bedroom and Grandad had our old room.

They were happy years when he was with us, I remember him teaching me to play cribbage and later letting me join in when the elderly aunts visited from Liverpool for a Sunday afternoon card session, games such as gin rummy and Newmarket.

They bet on the games using matchsticks but I am now certain that the sticks represented real money, probably a halfpenny a time, and Grandad probably subbed me for my stake.

I do know that if I did well he often gave me threepence or sixpence which represented some of my winnings, at the same time he absorbed many of my losses.

My Grandad the gentle joker wearing my school cap and wielding my hockey stick (the eagle-eyed among you will note I prefer the Indian head hockey stick)

It was a wrench to leave my parents and Grandad when I moved to work in Basildon (my brother and sister had both married and moved out by this time, but when I said goodbye I knew I would be seeing them all again at Christmas.

Except I headed back home sooner than that and under very difficult circumstances.

It was on a Monday morning early in November that I received a call at the office from my mother.

She was ringing to tell me that my dear grandfather had died peacefully in his bed some time in the early hours of Sunday morning.

When I put the phone down I sat there stunned and I am sure tears were trickling down my face. It was certainly enough for Tony Blandford, the editor, to come over and ask what was wrong.

At first I couldn’t even get the words out until finally I said: “My Grandad’s dead.”

He suggested I go into his office to get my thoughts together and take in the news.

This was my first close death in the family. It took some time to take it in.

NEXT: Going home to say goodbye.

Published by Robin

I'm a retired journalist who still has stories to tell. This seems to be a good place to tell them.

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