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The kids bought me a year's subscription to Ancestry for my 70th birthday earlier this week. (I know what you're thinking; you're thinking "Surely not!").  I've spent a few happy hours researching my ancestry and I thought I'd post this poem about the night my grandma died.  Sarah Ann Hallam (1886-1970).


My mother was with her the night she died.


She’d sat a vigil in turn with her sisters

for several nights.


My grandmother had been paralysed

and bed-ridden by a stroke

of some twelve years previous.


She had lost control of her right side

and could not move her arm and leg.

She could not walk,

nor sit

nor move in bed unaided.


Her brain had been paralysed

and she could not talk

without involuntarily saying the words,

“Michael seen Flora”;


Michael was her grandson, my cousin.

Flora was her daughter, my mother.


Every utterance preceded by the words,

interrupted by the words;

for twelve years a thousand,

ten thousand times over. 

“Michael seen Flora”.


My mother was with her the night she died.


My grandmother’s bed lay by the downstairs window

giving her a view of thirty yards of the outside world

through an 8 foot by 4 foot keyhole.


The curtains were drawn, of course,

the night she died;

the room lit softly by a corner lamp.


My mother sat awake but exhausted

in an armchair,

waiting. Waiting for what?

For death; quiet, peaceful. 

The morphia would ensure that.

It had been administered in increasing amounts

over the past days

so that she had lain sleeping,


her mouth open.


My mother told me this years later,

and years ago,

and I never asked her about it since.



the lights appeared

where there had been no lights,

around the bed;

in colours so vivid and new

they were unworldly.

Colours she had never seen before.

And the whole room became bathed in a brilliant white light.


Then my grandmother sat up,


for the first time in twelve years

and said with perfect clarity,

“Don’t be afraid; I’m going now”,

and my mother wasn’t afraid. 

She smiled, lay back down and died.


My father explained that my mother

was tired beyond exhaustion,

stressed beyond endurance. 


He didn’t quite say what he meant.


My mother however

knew this to be true

with a certainty greater

than any other thing she knew.




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John Coopey

Sat 7th May 2022 13:58

That’s because he hadn’t yet got the coals hot enough for you, Graham.

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Graham Sherwood

Sat 7th May 2022 11:23

The nearest I've come to the feeling of oblivion was under a very deep anaesthetic during heart surgery. I have to say there were no signs of a white light or a beckoning figure trying to tempt me to cross over etc and they had nine hours to try their hand. Best bloody kip I've ever had!

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John Coopey

Sat 7th May 2022 09:43

Fucked if I know, Stephen.
Was she hallucinating after all? Why do most people expire fairly uneventfully?
Perhaps we just buy into the concept that there is something beyond our life, that we are not just ash or compost.
But then again..

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Stephen Gospage

Sat 7th May 2022 09:09

An extraordinary poem, John. Who knows what happens so close to death? My mother told me that my grandmother seemed to turn over and (audibly) express relief when it happened. To where does this last moment of lucidity lead?

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M.C. Newberry

Fri 6th May 2022 18:20

Curious but true that regrets come with age. But you're spot on
about keeping a record on family photos...the who, where and

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John Coopey

Fri 6th May 2022 18:04

Thanks for your thoughts, MC. Some time before she died I asked my mam if she had any photos of her parents and grandparents. She gave me half a dozen and all of them in that familiar pose for the formal photographer - old lady seated and old fella stood at her shoulder, both as poor as church mice but in their Sunday best. It’s one of my huge regrets that I didn’t write on the reverse who they all were.
Thanks for the Like, Candice.

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M.C. Newberry

Fri 6th May 2022 17:40

"The light at the end of the tunnel we all hope to see"? - to quote
the words of composer George Lloyd in his description of the
final uplifting minutes of his magisterial Eleventh Symphony.
My own mother's passing aged 90 was in the presence of my
two local sisters. I was to arrive back in South Devon a few
hours later but recall what can only be described as a look of
calm contentment on my mother's face as she lay in her death bed. As if she too had witnessed something beyond our ken at
the end. We can only hope, can't we?
As for ancestry research, some handwritten notes in my mother's belongings originated from years before her own
arrival on the Earth and included was a reference to an early
19th century ancestor who, upon returning from a great race
meeting outside London (Epsom?) had overturned his
carriage and spent the night in a ditch, the worse for drink.
The mare pulling the carriage found her own way home to
town! I often wonder if my own racing interest is genetic...
now thankfully minus the risk of ending up in any ditch!! 😊

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John Coopey

Fri 6th May 2022 09:52

Thankyou, Holden and K for the Like.

Holden Moncrieff

Fri 6th May 2022 01:55

A really moving poem, John, beautifully written! 🌷

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John Coopey

Thu 5th May 2022 23:55

Thankyou, Graham and Stephen. My digging is strictly ‘virtual’, Graham.

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Stephen Atkinson

Thu 5th May 2022 22:00

A moving, heartfelt write J.C. And who knows what we see at the end? And beware the ancestry bug, it took up all my spare time when I first started with it!

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Graham Sherwood

Thu 5th May 2022 21:42

One of eternity’s great mysteries JC. Who can say? This is a very tender write, which I like from you. I remember the so-called last words of Steve Jobs who is alleged to have said ‘it’s beautiful’ or something similar. Word of warning for the ancestry thing. Be careful what you dig up! 😇

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