Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Explaining myself

An old friend of my Mum's, who I don't remember seeing since leaving Barry in South Wales in 1963 at the age of eleven, has sent a Christmas card addressed to Dad, myself (as Julian, the old me) and family. She did the same thing last year, and I meant to write. I now have. A difficult letter to a widowed lady of nearly 90. How do I break the news that Dad died in 2009? And how do I explain my own situation?

This (with some things blanked out, to conceal personal details, and omitting the first and last paragraphs) is what I said in my letter:

I’m afraid I have bad news. Both Mum and Dad died in the first half of 2009. Both were in their late 80s. I think you must know about Mum’s death from cancer on 3 February 2009. Dad followed her on 25 May 2009.

He was missing Mum, and I might almost say pining away for her (because they had been very close), but he didn’t actually die of grief. It was a sudden and unexpected cardiac arrest. It was late in the evening, and he had had a good meal, his usual hot shower, his usual whisky and tonic, and he was reading a cowboy novel before going off to bed.

All this was obvious when I saw the scene (minus Dad, of course) next morning. I knew his routines. I was living elsewhere, but I visited him two or three times a week, and we went out together for pub lunches, and then back to play cards, which he greatly enjoyed. We had a good rapport. On the fateful night, I think he had got to his feet to go to bed, but the effort placed a strain on his heart, and he slumped to the floor. He had time to press the button on the device around his neck, which summoned the emergency people, but when they arrived he was already dead. It must have been a very quick end for him. Later that night, I had two glum policemen knocking on the door of my house at one o’clock in the morning, and, with a heavy heart, I took it from there.

I inherited the house at [my address in the village], where I still live. Mum and Dad’s ashes were scattered at the bottom of the garden. After Dad’s funeral, I was urged to stay on and not sell the house, and I have listened. I dare say that sometime in the next ten years, if I can afford to, I will make one last move to somewhere in the West Country, maybe Devon. But meanwhile I have all I need here at [the village], including fantastic friends and neighbours.

There is one other piece of news - about myself - that may surprise you.

I was diagnosed with gender dysphoria in 2008, meaning that all along I had been looking like a man and living the life of one - quite successfully too - but in fact had always been female. So at the age of 56 my life turned upside-down. In several ways it could not have happened at a worse time, although thankfully I had already retired, so the complications of presenting a new face at work did not arise. Three years on, I’ve settled very nicely into my new role, or rather the role I should always have had. And looking and sounding pretty good, I assure you. To save my parents embarrassment in the early days, I completely changed my name. So it’s now Miss Lucy Melford, and not Mr [my old name] - that’s official, on my passport and driving licence, and everything.

I hope this isn’t too much of a shock. It was a huge shock for a whole lot of people at the beginning, and they distanced themselves from me very quickly, and most have stayed away. I suppose they didn’t know what to say or do. But three years after the initial announcement, one or two are beginning to make contact again, which shows that you must give these things time. But of course the old Julian has disappeared. It would be a brave person who knew the old me and attempted to form a fresh friendship with Lucy - although new friends, who never knew Julian, find me rather good company! It all depends on your point of view.

I didn't want to sentimentalise the sad news about Dad, nor launch into a complicated discussion of what being transsexual has meant. I remembered Mum's old friend as a pleasant, youngish woman in 1963 (Mum was only 42 then) and it was very hard to visualise what she could be like now, or what her views might be. But I wasn't going to shirk telling her.

I wonder how she will react?


  1. Christmas is a funny time of year as the post arrives and forensic examination and code breaking sessions ensue.

    My partners mother used to play a game of standoff saying she was not going to send cards to people who were surely dead already. When asked why she thought they would be dead she said it was because they were her age!

    Some cards arrived from these "dead" people and the next year she would send one but they would not, no doubt because they thought she was dead!

    The squiggled signature combined with the seasonally bad post markings have us fooled the longest, why send these things without any real communication. As expected word has spread about me far and wide but nobody has passed on much information about names so the poor postie must think about a dozen people live here now...

    I wrote a similar letter to the branch of the family who only communicate with a signed card whilst I write a long letter to accompany my card. I think you probably handled it better than I did, my sister wonders if I killed my poor old aunt!

  2. From what you've written I think you have been straightforward and to the point Lucy. I was going to suggest you not tell her by not responding to the card but after reading what you wrote I thought you did the right thing. How she takes it is another matter but that is down to the individual of course. I think older people are generally more accepting though.

    Shirley Anne xxx

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  4. A very well-written letter, Lucy. Sad though your news is, people approaching 90 are used to hearing that their friends have died. In my experience they are often more accepting too, so hopefully she will just be happy to hear that you're alive and well, and enjoying life.

    Angie x


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