Eleanor Daniels, my beloved Godmother, died last night in an NHS hospice in Cambridge. Three weeks ago she was admitted to Addenbrooke's Hospital. No one at the time could have believed that she would have been taken from us in such a short time.
Eleanor was born in 1933. From the age of two years old she became my mother's lifelong best friend. They attended the same school at Haverhill in Suffolk and their friendship endured when my mother moved to Norfolk. She trained to become a teacher and spent more than thirty years teaching Domestic Science at my old school, the County High in Saffron Walden.
From the day I was born she became the most important person to me outside my immediate family. She stayed at our house every Tuesday night and during the school holidays we'd all troop off in her Morris Minor for countless day trips to the coast or a visitor attraction. She was a second mother to my two sisters and me and we all worshipped her. She never married and we were the children she never had, I suppose.
She lived with her parents in a small village outside Saffron Walden, Little Chesterford. She was on the village hall committee, on the parish council and a leading light in the local Garden Club. It must have been her that John Major was referring to when he talked about old maids, cycling along the country lanes to church. She took her village duties incredibly seriously and it is a matter of huge regret that she never got to see the card which 30 villagers sent to her in hospital, each writing their own message of love and support.
Eleanor was a rock in my life. I could tell her things I could tell no one else. She bailed me out on several occasions in my younger years when I was on my financial uppers. She gave me wise advice which was always appreciated. In short, she was the perfect Godmother.
When I went too see her on Monday to say good-bye I admit I didn't want to go. I was warned that she didn't look like the Eleanor we all knew and loved. I admit I was a coward, and just wanted to remember her as she always was - vibrant, laughing, funny, caring. I got to the door and didn't want to go into the room. My sister Tracey went in before me and as I was about to enter the room she gave me a look which said "you will be shocked by what you see". She was stronger than me.
Eleanor lay there and looked exactly like her mother, who died 25 years ago. She could barely talk. I hugged her, almost howling my eyes out. "Stop it, stop it," I thought to myself. "For goodness sake, be strong". Eleanor whispered in my ear "Don't upset yourself, don't upset yourself," as ever caring for others before herself. I sat there for three hours holding her hand until my hand was almost numb. She drifted in and out of consciousness. From time to time my grief overwhelmed me and I would cry. My sisters cried too as we comforted each other. How could this world be so cruel, to make someone so good suffer like this? Tracey told her how much we loved her and how grateful we were for everything she had done for us. She played a huge part in making the three of us who we are today. It was then time to go. I hugged her, kissed her, told her how much I loved her. I got to the door, looked back and then did it all over again. I will remember that moment for ever. I got out into the corridor and howled my eyes out.
I never saw her again. But I did speak to her. On Thursday afternoon Tracey phoned to say they thought she was about to slip away. Sheena put the phone to Eleanor's ear and I said good-bye again. But she wasn't quite ready to go and hung on for two more days.
Sheena and Tracey both went to see Eleanor yesterday morning. They knew the end was near, but because they knew I was doing News 24 last night they didn't want to tell me how bad Eleanor's condition had become. I went to see Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's theatre show in Brentford on the way to the BBC. At 8.30 I saw I had a missed call from my parent's phone. I just knew.
It turned out that my sisters had taken their kids to the village fireworks. The call came from the hospice just as the first rocket whizzed into the sky. The symbolism was striking. Yes, there were tears last night, but they were tears of relief as much as tears of grief. None of us wanted Eleanor to suffer any longer. We wanted her to take her place among the angels. And as the rocket soared into the night sky, that's just what she did.
My sister Sheena has been an absolute heroine over the last three weeks. She still lives near my parents and has been with Eleanor every step of the way, sometimes for twelve hours at a time. Tracey and I know what she's had to take on and we love her all the more for it. And it's heartbreaking that she now has to cope with the fact that her partner's mother had a major stroke on Wednesday and may also have a very short time to live.
I know this blog is for political discussion, but it is also a diary. Some may regard this post as pure self indulgence on my part. But you are my community. There are some things I feel the need to share. Most of you have never even met me. But because you read me most days we have some sort of bond. The messages on the thread earlier in the week, and your private emails, were of great comfort to me and my family. We all thank you for your kind words and good wishes.
As we now all prepare for Eleanor's funeral we take today to remember this fine woman.