irene, life of devotion

Driving a 1995 ford fiesta up the hill is a challenge. The difference in noise between first and second gear is so obvious and loud that I feel so bad I want to press hard on the non-existent clutch and change gear manually. The automatic little red dragon is showing signs of age and climbs slowly, albeit graciously, stopping traffic behind me and making me worried if we are ever going to make it to the top. Ascending, I kill time enjoying the creative sign language generously displayed through the steamed-up window by passing drivers in their flash cars. In between fingers, open mouths and loud car beeps I see her, Irene, the old lady that shares a house with Margaret, how gently, under the weight of bags, sliding down the hill. As it’s cold and rainy day I turn the car around and brake suddenly, as it’s the only way, on the pavement of the main road, irritating drivers but this time in a different direction. I open the passenger door and call Irene. She suspiciously steps back, bend a little bit more and looks at me like she has never seen me before. Then she smiles. Gently and generously. I ask how she has been and she replies with a twinkle in her eye “So, so.” I take her to Margaret’s house.

Two weeks later I am anxiously waiting at the traffic lights to drive onto my “hill of worries” but I do not have another option expect buying a new car which is not an option at all. Through the steamed-up windows, I see the striking red coat in my rear-view mirror joyfully crossing the road behind me. If I hadn’t seen the face I would guess it’s some youngish women going to collect kids from the local school but I recognise the profile and that hand bag and walk. Again, I stop the traffic to do u turn and again I park the car in front of Irene. This time I come out of the car hoping to avoid embarrassment but instead of a smile she asks if I am following her. Then she smiles.

She was on the way to the church which was behind us. Then she was planning to feed the birds but the field was on the left and she didn’t have any seeds on her. I suggested taking her to Margaret’s house and she said yes. On the way I commented on the weather and how cold it was with her only response being “So, so.”

That winter we celebrated her 90th birthday at the local church after the service. We had homemade cake, cucumber sandwiches, some music and dance. She was sitting quietly in the corner kindly offering a piece of cake to anyone who come to wish her Happy Birthday.  At the end she helped with cleaning the room, slowly but with military precision. I managed to ask her if she enjoyed her birthday and she replied “So, so.”

The last time I saw Irene was in the hospital lift. She was on a stretcher being brought in for an infection which must have been taking its toll as she had a high temperature and was disoriented. I don’t think she recognised me but she managed to tell me that she was feeling “So, so” with a big smile on her face.

Yesterday during the eulogy at the local church, I learned Irene was born in Germany and before Hitler come to the power her parents moved to England. She went to Edinburgh University to study medicine which was very unusual for that time, and after successfully completing the course she went to India where she stayed until her retirement.  She established a hospital which still exists today. She was also a devoted Christian. For her selfless and enduring work in India she was awarded an MBE by the Queen. When asked by the Queen how did she managed to stay for such a long time she simply said: “My faith keeps me going.”

I also learned Irene had dementia.

An unassuming, gentle, generous lady, RIP.



About the author: Tara


The travel professional with years of experience in the travel industry – in guiding, reservations, operations, contracting, customer service and product development – and have travelled extensively in Asia and Eastern Europe not just on holiday but also for work, inspecting hotels, visiting attractions and seeing exactly what each destination has to offer. The only way I could do this properly was with my own guide, car and driver and this inspired me to create my own range of customised private day tours for other people to be able to explore in-depth and learn to love their destination as much as I do.