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Listen and Learn

Aunty Elsie was 99 years and one month when she died. She was a lady in every sense of the word and had dedicated her working life to teaching children of all ages in primary and secondary schools. She was of the generation when teaching; like nursing, was a vocation and she remained a spinster until the age of 68 when she married 72 year old Les, who had been a friend of Aunty Elsie from her teens. Sadly, they were only together for four years before Les passed away and in the years since, Aunty Elsie had lived contentedly on her own with regular visits from close family for company.

In the last few years of her life we watched as she went through the physical, mental and emotional decline of old age. Some might say she began hallucinating because Aunty Elsie often mentioned that she had been visited by her grandparents, who had passed away many years before, as well as various children and animals, such as birds and cats. Our conversations were often three way with Aunty Elsie passing on my great-grandmas comments! She sometimes mentioned how she had talked to a little girl who regularly visited her. On one occasion when I was with Aunty Elsie, she said that the little girl was there and wanted to hold my hand. When I put out my left hand, my Aunty corrected me saying, “Lynne she’s on the other side of you!”

It didn’t feel like I was humouring her and I never judged or dismissed what was happening because I felt that these experiences were real to her and were preparing her for transition from her life on earth. I believe that when we approach the completion of our life we are helped by those on the other side of life that we hold a strong connection to and these often include close family members who have already died.

During our conversations during those final months, there were also times when her wisdom and experience shone through the confusion. She told me how she had known from the age of four that she wanted to be a teacher. She described how she would line up her dolls and teddy bears on the stairs for their lessons whilst she taught them using the cardboard ‘blackboard’, chalk and piece of rag which her granddad had given her.

One of these conversations will stay with me for the rest of my life. We had been sitting together quietly for a few minutes when suddenly Aunty Elsie said, “Lynne, who will look after the children when I’m gone?” I could hear the concern in her voice and automatically responded with, “Thomas will Aunty Elsie”. Thomas is my step son and a primary school teacher. “Will he?”, she said. “Yes” I replied adding, “Can you tell me what he needs to know?”

She went on to say, “There are three things”.  She sat and looked straight into my eyes and held up her fingers as she counted the three things.

One: Hope. The children must have hope.

Two: Acknowledge their gifts. They all have gifts but they need us to help them find them.

Three: Help each other. You must teach them to be kind to each other and help each other.

“I’ll tell him Aunty Elsie”, I said. She looked so relieved and had tears in her eyes and said, “I’ll still watch over them”. We just sat silently holding each other’s hand. We both knew that she was near the end. She said, “I will miss them Lynne”.

At Aunty Elsie’s funeral I stood up and told this story because the wisdom in her words spoke to my heart. I promised her I would pass on her message which is the reason for writing this blog.

This message encapsulates the wisdom of someone who devoted her life and career to teaching children and is more relevant than ever today, at a time when teachers are under constant pressure to achieve the best possible exam performance. Aunty Elsie believed in the importance of nourishing the souls as well as the minds of children so let’s remember to give them hope, to help them find their gifts so they can shine and to be the demonstration of kindness, an example for them to follow.

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