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the lone tulip at uncle lionel's last spring

the lone tulip at uncle lionel’s last spring

My 90 year old next door neighbour, Uncle Lionel, passed away suddenly last Wednesday. It came as a shock to us all, namely his few relatives who cared for his daily well-being and us, his immediate neighbour. Uncle Lionel was never married, he lived alone in his house since his younger brother died 8 years ago (also a bachelor) at 79 years of age (of illness). Uncle Lionel had lived in the house next door since he was 12 years old. When we first moved to our house 3.5 years ago, we didn’t have much interaction with him. He kept to himself, we hardly saw him. Some even said he was rather unfriendly. But my hubby and children knocked on his door from time to time to chat with him. Little by little, they broke the ice. Although he lived alone, we didn’t worry too much about him as he had a few relatives (niece and grand nephews/grand nieces) who visited and phoned him regularly. Now and then I would ask my son to pop round his house with a box of chocolates, cakes or biscuits. In Summer/Autumn we would pluck his fruits in the allotment for him. He never went out much at all, unless his relatives took him away on Christmas or other special occasions. I have only spoken to him a couple of times, during the rare moments when he was stood in his driveway saying goodbye to his relatives or when in the garden with another relative who helped maintain his derelict property.

To be honest, I wasn’t quite certain how to treat him. He seemed aloof, a private person, yet I knew he must be rather lonely. I started giving him cards and chocolates at Christmas, I tried to reach out to him further. There were many times when he wouldn’t answer the door, even though he was in. My hubby and my son would knock repeatedly but would fail to speak to him. It would frustrate us at times. But we put it down to his slight hearing loss, of having fallen asleep with the TV on or simply too slow to move about particularly if he had been upstairs. It could also be because he was afraid to open the door sometimes, after all he was a vulnerable old man living alone. I remember how my hubby helped call the police and comforted him one night when a drunken man tried to smash down his front door. We couldn’t blame him for not answering his door at all as much as we would have liked him too. Recently, however, Uncle Lionel seemed to reach out to us. We couldn’t deliver his Christmas card and chocolates personally as he didn’t answer the door as usual despite many attempts. We slipped the card through his door and left it at that. We were surprised to hear a couple of phone messages from him when we returned from my in-laws at New Year’s. He mumbled something about missing our visit and the children. We didn’t think much of it, though we were quite surprised that he actually called us (first time). Weather then went downhill; cold, wet, windy and it got dark by 4pm. My family also came down with colds and coughs one by one this Winter. But I could still hear Uncle Lionel next door, as I’ve done for the past 3.5 years. I’ve always listened out for him. His TV would be on, his favourite songs would be playing, his voice could be heard on the phone.

Until that persistent knock that came late last wintry Wednesday night, with the voice of his grand nephew who told me Uncle Lionel had passed away in his living room with the TV on, possibly due to a heart attack. I woke my hubby up from sleep (still recovering from fever) and he rushed next door to be with Uncle Lionel’s relatives. He came home a while later and we made tea for them. He stayed with them till past midnight, after the undertaker’s been and gone. I looked through my bedroom window with silent tears and said goodbye to Uncle Lionel as I watched him being driven away. For the past week I’ve been really down; I feel so sad and guilty. I know I wouldn’t have been able to prevent his death, he was meant to go at the appointed time as ordained by God. But how I wish I could have put a smile on his face one last time before he died. His relatives told us how he had actually bought some fruits for my children when he called us at New Year’s. We never went round to pick them up. His relatives also told us how he often spoke fondly of us as a family, I believe he was actually warming up to us finally after being neighbours for a few years. We’re from different cultures and backgrounds, I suppose it took some time for us to get close to one another. I can’t turn back the clock, nor can I wish for more time to be an extra attentive neighbour to Uncle Lionel. But I shall always remember this episode in my life, I’ll never forget the sweet old Englishman next door who has taught me several of life’s valuable lessons. Farewell Uncle Lionel, you shall remain in our hearts for many years to come. I’m playing your song now, the one I hear blaring from your CD player every afternoon without fail, the song I myself sang with all my heart during music lessons at boarding school 3 decades ago…

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5 responses

  1. Salam bahagia rosa noor,

    Ini kali pertama saya singgah di blog puan. Sangat sayu membaca catatan tentang Uncle Lionel, semua yang terjadi telah ditentukan olehNya, semoga puan sentiasa tabah dan tenang ya.

    • Salam, thank you so much for visiting my blog, truly appreciate it. Masih teramat sedih atas kehilangan Uncle Lionel, the house next door is so cold, empty and silent without him…seems like a dream. Yes, semuanya ketentuan Allah…

  2. What a beautiful tribute. I think you and your family were so sweet to have taken the initiative to talk to him and get to know him as best as you could. A testament that as long as we treat people kindly, that will eventually be recognized and even reciprocated.

    • Thank you so much Lillian, that means a lot. I’m slowly coming to terms with his death, somehow it feels worse than my own uncle’s passing last November. I realised that nothing can prepare you for the loss of a dear one, regardless of age and background.

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