People who have lived in my house, or close to it, keep on dying. My Mum and Dad in 2009, at ages 87 and 88 respectively. The neighbour across the road, a much younger woman, last year. And now, only a week ago, my next-door neighbour, an 84 year old man.
I liked him, even though really I knew very little about his personal life. He lived very quietly. He used to work in London, in the newspaper industry - as a printer, I believe - and retired 19 years ago at age 65. He then bought the house next door, presumably with the help of his mother, whom he then looked after till she died. He never married. He once had a brother, but that brother died long ago, and never married either. There were therefore no grandchildren. There was in fact no family left at all. He had only a few friends who came to see him now and then, and his neighbours.
He was a very keen gardener. Until last year he always had an immaculate display of bedding plants in his front garden. But he suddenly couldn't manage all the work involved, and had to do less than before. I knew he regretted that. It was only last year that he stopped doing his own mowing, and started to use the man I had. I saw glimpses of his house, his hall and kitchen anyway, when I sometimes knocked on his door to discuss something, or to see how he was. It was neat and clean and tidy, but a trifle plain. A bachelor's house.
He knew my Mum and Dad of course, and when Dad died he came to the reception I organised at Dad's house after the funeral - it's my house now, of course. He obviously held my Mum and Dad in high regard.
And he knew me when I was still J---, when I would be a frequent visitor at Mum and Dad's. He thought I was a pretty decent sort. When, from June 2009, I took up residence in the village, in the house next door to him, and started to appear in female garb, and to call myself Lucy, this elderly man was surprised, but not fazed. His manner did not change. He had a lot of trouble remembering to call me Lucy, rather than J---, but eventually he did succeed. I couldn't help admiring the way he tried so hard not to misgender me. He always knew when he'd done it, and instantly apologised to me. I forgave him every slip without question. I knew what he'd meant to say. At no point did he roll his eyes at my clothes, or my shoes, or my hair, or my voice, or anything that some other persons in my life seemed to find so hard to cope with. I invited him to my 60th birthday garden-party last year. He was glad to come, and I was glad to see him chat away and enjoy himself. He stayed to the very end.
We would always speak quite often during the spring, summer and autumn, each year, right up until last year. Whenever I was out in the front garden. He always seemed much the same as usual, but last year he started to mention a slight dizziness at times. He was getting wobbly on his legs too, and almost fell over one autumn day last year, when talking to the neighbours on the other side of me. They caught him just in time. But it wasn't the only fall, I now hear.
The last time I saw him was in the week before last Christmas. I hadn't seen him around, nor coming and going in his car, and so I knocked on his door to find out if he was all right. And to ask him what he was doing on Christmas Day - I was going to offer him a home-cooked Christmas Dinner if he was all on his own, and had no meal arranged. But he was hale and cheerful on the doorstep, and told me he was well-organised for Christmas Day. I didn't press to know more.
I never saw him again. The awful weather in January, February and March kept us all indoors, and I thought nothing of his non-appearance. So it was a shock when I got the news from my mower man last week.
The local solicitors are handling the estate, and his best London friend is seeing to the funeral. I have had three visits from neighbours seeking information. This has let me get to know them better. One of the nicer side-effects of death is the way it breaks the ice, brings people closer. And they see the serious, concerned side of you, and not the silly flippant one.
We still haven't got a final date for the funeral, only where it will take place, but we all know the London friend's outline plans for it, and the church service, and the after-service drinks and buffet he intends to arrange for us, the neighbours.
Who's next? There are some in our local road who are getting old themselves, and must be wondering. Actually, age is almost irrelevant. Any person can be struck down by accident or sudden illness at any time. I learned that truth long ago, in 1978, when living in my very first flat in London. The single, forty-something lady whose front door faced mine across the hallway died while walking with a friend in Snowdonia one spring weekend, when it was sunny and warm in London itself. She was an experienced rambler, she would have been properly dressed and booted, with a backpack, map and compass. But she got overwhelmed by a sudden snowy gale, and froze to death. Her friend too. It could have happened to anyone.
Should one live each day as if it were one's last, just in case something snuffs one out like a candle? And not bother with any forward intentions? There's something to be said for it, but that isn't how I want to live the rest of my life. I want to make plans, and create events to look forward to, even if I never live to enjoy them.