Memories of Annie
A journal by Dave Hankins
So, at long last, a full year has elapsed since my darling Annie left me and I think that the right length of time has elapsed for me to try to articulate just what her loss has meant to me and to analyse whether I have managed to start the process of coming to terms with the suffocating grief that has enveloped me since I lost the person who was the centre of my life for over 50 years and my reason for getting up each morning.
I’m aware that a primary reason that I started this journal is as a means of catharsis. However there is another reason and that is the realisation that I know little or nothing about my forbears other than some photographs, I know nothing of who they were and I want my grandchildren to understand the kind of person that their grandmother was, not just have a few photographs of her which will tell them what she looked like, but not who she was.
For me, the last couple of months of her life were the worst of mine, I wanted to save her but in my heart I think I knew right from the beginning that I was going to lose her. The last months were a blur of constant trips to GPs, hospitals, specialists in Birmingham and endless waits for scan results. But no matter how dark things became there was also joy to be found, whenever one (or maybe six) of her friends came to see her, she would open her eyes and her face would be transformed into a great beaming smile, smiles that I can see still when I close my eyes.
The weeks that we spent in Hereford hospital were not good, the nurses did everything in their power to make her life easier but they were far to busy to give her the one to one care that she needed. Once we managed to get her moved to St Michael’s Hospice things got immeasurably better. The people there were unbelievably compassionate and always had time to deal with whatever occurred. They even put a second bed into her room and locked both together so that I was able to sleep with her in my arms for the last few weeks of her life. I felt the last beat of her heart and knew that she had gone, but though that was almost too much to bear I shall always treasure the time that I spent with her and having had the great privilege of holding her as she passed away.
When I first learned how ill she was I prayed and prayed that God would take me and spare her. I have since come to terms with the knowledge that no matter how much we would like life to be that simple and accommodating it is not the way that things work. Though I was very careful not to let her see my anguish at the time, I was an emotional wreck partly because I was unable to adequately verbalise just how strongly I felt and how much her loss was going to mean to me. Sometime after she left me I went on a visit to the New Forest with my Son and his family and came across a poem that would have made my feelings crystal clear to her:
The life that I have
Is all that I have
And the life that I have
The love that I have
Of the life that I have
Is yours and yours and yours
A sleep I shall have
A rest I shall have
But death is only
For the peace that I’ll have
In the long green grass
Will be yours and your and yours,
I have no doubt of where Annie is now and know with absolute certainty that in time I will join her and we shall be together again. Reading has always been one of my greatest pleasures and inevitably I come across passages that have meaning for me and the following quote articulates precisely how I feel about her passing and how convinced I am that we shall be together again in the future.
A ship spreads white sails into the morning breeze.
I stand and watch until she hangs as a speck between sea
and sky – someone says “There, she is gone.”
At that moment, as someone at my side says “She is gone,”
there are others watching for her arrival – glad voices are raised
to shout: “Here she comes. There she is.”
Henry Van Dyke
So Ann Hankins has gone, but who was she? From the moment that we started courting I had thought of her as Mine. My girlfriend, My fiancé, My wife, My partner, My love, the mother of My children, but I realise now that she was never really mine, she was just on long-term loan from God and now she has been called back home and whilst I will always feel her loss deeply, I know that it is part of God’s plan and that the reason for it happening may become clear in time.
Ann was totally devoted to her family, her love for her children was deep, constant and unconditional and she extended the same devotion to her grandchildren, they were the very centre of her life and she lived for them. She was not prepared to be called Granny and gladly settled for the alternative of either Grandma or Ma. This photograph is one of us all during a wonderful holiday that we had in Wales.
No story about Ann would be complete without talking about her commitment as a Christian, which was total and all consuming. After her children, her faith was the most important thing in her life and though it was tested during her final hours it always remained strong and certain and I know that it gave her the courage to accept what was happening to her as she prepared to be called back home.
Everyone who knew her will agree that she was a kind, gentle soul who only ever thought of others and never of herself. No matter where we were, total strangers were drawn to her like a magnet and frequently told her all their problems and she always found some words for them which seemed to ease their pain. It drove me mad on the many occasions when I would be walking along with her telling her about my day, only to realise that I was talking to myself and that she was 50 yards behind in deep conversation with someone she had just met for the first time.
Annie loved her holidays and she considered strongly that there were four constituents that a good holiday required, namely: A flight, good Accommodation, Sunshine and the Sea. If any one of the elements were missing than the holiday would only be considered to be OK. The only significant exception to this was Tenby, which become one of our favourite places in the World, but only for weekends.
Her sense of humour was very individual. When you told her a joke she frequently failed to pick up on the punch line, which resulted in prolonged explanations following which she would complain forcefully “I can’t see what’s funny about that”. At other times she would be telling a group of family and friends a story of her childhood and she would get a fit of the giggles and a five minute story would take an hour consisting mainly of uncontrolled laughter during which she would be unable to string a sentence together and was in real danger of wetting herself, before she finally finished her tale. Also she would frequently get the wrong end of the stick and then get very embarrassed when we commented on it, but our mirth was nothing more than an expression of our love for her. On one occasion while in Spain we were driving past a building complex consisting mainly of sandstone minarets, I commented “They are very Moorish,” which caused Annie to say “Why would you want more of them”. Once my Daughter had stop a choking fit, we tried, fruitlessly, to explain. It subsequently became a family joke which always caused us to fall about laughing until she would demand, forcefully, that we were to shut up.
For some reason she was also very self-deprecating, which I found both charming and irritating in equal measure, I’m sure that this was due to a lack of self-confidence, which was odd in someone who was probably one of the most competent people I have ever known. She brought up two children on her own while I was absent in the army, she ran the house and everything to do with it for all our married life and without her meticulous record-keeping I dread to think what a mess our finances would be in now.
My name for her was Annie rather than Ann, until such time as a few of her close friends started to call her by that name as well. I didn’t mind because it showed their affection for her, but it meant that I had to find another unique name for her, which became Baby or Babe, no one else used it and it became my affectionate name for her for the last 30 or so years of our life together.
The few paragraphs above cannot come close to capturing the essence of Annie, but I hope that it gives a flavour of who she was and explains, in some small way, why she was my reason for living and why her loss has been so difficult to bear. It wasn’t until after she had gone that we came to realise just how many lives she had touched and enriched. To say that she was greatly loved by many, whilst true, doesn’t come even close to understanding the love and high esteem in which she was held and the hole that her loss has left in so many lives.
So there we are, on the 23rd July 2017 she left me and with her passing my life changed forever, all my plans of living with her into our old age were in ashes. It sounds morbid, but at the time I would gladly have just held her in my arms and joined her on her journey. But that was a selfish and self-indulgent reaction to not being able to face the prospect of life without her. I have my children and grandchildren to consider and will never let them down and they know how much I need and love them.
Though she has gone I know that this is not the end of her story and that we shall meet again. This knowledge doesn’t make the loss any easier to bear but it does give me some solace knowing, with total certainty, that we shall be reunited when I finally go to join her.