Hamstead, London

What’s It All About, Angels?

I had a very significant dream last night. In fact, I was quite shaken when Della, my younger cat jumped on the bed and walked across my pillow.  She rarely wakens me and this time she was persistent. I didn’t want her to, as there was no ending, no conclusion, finale, whatever the word is and I wanted to know.

Someone was leaving on a British Airways plane. I wasn’t told who it was but I was sure I knew. I didn’t see him.  He said he would wait for me as I had meetings and couldn’t get there on time to board with him. I finished the meetings early and managed to get to the airport by 2 p.m. The flight was to take off at 4 p.m. so I was in good time. I found where the desk was to check in and joined the queue that moved very swiftly. When it got to me, the check-in clerk told me to stand aside and she would take care of me soon. I did so. Then she took me to a room rather like a small café where there were a few people and sat me down with a book.  “I’ll be back in a jiffy,” she said. So, I looked at the book. I can’t remember exactly what it was but I do know it was about David Bowie. He was influenced in his young days by an actor called Anthony Newley. I remember seeing him in a play called Stop the World, I Want to Get Off. So that is when I thought, what’s it all about Angels? Names like Anthony Newley, Michael Caine – what’s it all about Alfie, were all questions juggling for place in my brain.

The airline clerk came back, doing some paperwork and I asked her when I could board. “Oh, just relax,” she replied. “We are loading some packages on board and then we can talk about that”. I thought, how weird. What is there to talk about except she hadn’t even given me my boarding pass?

After an hour went past, I started to get itchy and when that happens it means I want some answers so I went to find her and she had disappeared.  Ah, I thought, I will find the supervisor. I went in search and asked several airport staff, to no avail. So, I returned to the room and waited. Another woman in uniform entered the room and asked for me. She told me she was the supervisor and how could she help. She looked exactly like the woman with whom I had been conversing and then as suddenly as she had appeared, she disappeared. Finally, the original clerk returned and I asked her if she would please get me a boarding pass, as everything was in order and I wanted to board the plane to be with whomever I was travelling. She just smiled and said, “Everything will be all right”.

I remember wondering what she meant by that and off she went again to do who knows what. It was getting close to 3:30 by this time and I was beginning to get frantic. At this point, in she came and sat down for a meal. I went over to her and asked…………. please, get me a boarding pass as I HAVE to get on that plane. People are waiting for me. She smiled and said again, It’s fine. Everything is going to be all right.”  I told her that maybe it would be fine but at this time, I certainly wasn’t and I wanted my boarding pass to get on the plane. She smiled again and said, “It isn’t your time.”

What wasn’t my time? For what? Time to do what? Go where? She continued to smile at me and eat, then took my hand and said, “People are here for you. You have to stay. You have important work to do”. It was as if she wasn’t hearing a word I said. I began to ask her what she meant as she hugged me and explained, “You have no idea how wonderful it has been knowing you, but I have to go on board now and take care of my passengers. There are two waiting for me you know. Everything will be all right”. She walked into the plane and closed the door behind her.

Joan in the Land Army during the Second World War. She is on the left.

It was then that Della jumped on my head and woke me up. I just lay there musing on what I had just experienced. I had so many questions. I trembled a little and then became very angry that I didn’t get on that plane to be with the people I wanted to be with. Even though he wasn’t identified, I assumed it was John. Who was waiting for me I felt were Joan and Peter. After while, I somehow felt that the airport clerk that stopped me from boarding was in fact Joan. It looked like her – petite, smiling, always saying everything was fine and not to worry. She would be the one bustling around and not telling me until I was in a state of anxiety that there wasn’t room for me on that plane; always looking on the bright side even when it was to her detriment, as the last few years of her life were.

I was very still. Della had given up on me. Would it be a good idea to tell this dream to someone who could interpret it, I wondered? I knew someone who did that very well. Me. Normally I write down my dreams, as I tend to forget them, but this one was so strong and obvious so there was no need for that. So, I woke up thinking, I am still here. There are factors that influenced that dream, like wondering why I am still here, the last of “the quartet”. What was my purpose? Why couldn’t I be with those I loved unconditionally for most of my life? No answers.

Why was Joan the person who was stopping me? As I have always described grief as a list of unanswerable questions, I realized something from my subconscious was rising to the forefront. That I had no answers and that the time had come to write of this. My deep sense of loss and aloneness came when a friend of mine asked me how I was doing. I answered her by asking, “Do you want to know what I tell others or how I really feel?” That about sums it up.

Joan, Peter, John

How This Feels

 After spending time with one of my children recently, I told her I was experiencing the same qualms many of my patients had shared with me over the years. I understood perfectly what they were saying and now, I was feeling it. One aspect of grief for survivors was that people would forget their beloveds. That was the case about John as the family was faced recently with these two losses, twelve days apart, their Uncle Peter and Aunt Joan, whom they adored. They are blood too. I am not. I understand all that. My daughter said, “You can’t expect people to think of John as you did”. I know that, and it was then when I became suddenly very serene knowing that those who remember John, will, and that’s good enough. Suffice it to say that I will never forget him and that is sweetness of the soul.

I have been considering writing about the quartet for some time now and couldn’t bring myself to do so as it was so…………………. see? I can’t find the words to describe that is was so………………………. Let me start with the definition.

Yvonne and Joan


 According to the Oxford English Dictionary: “A composition for four voices or instruments: the performance of such a piece: any group of four.”

We were certainly a group of four and our voices were laughter and finishing each others’ sentences. Some people never experience unconditional love. I was blessed with three people who loved me unconditionally, which was reciprocal. The loves were diverse but the glue was unwaveringly strong. Nothing could rip that apart.

Our names are Peter, Joan, John and Yvonne. We trusted each other with our innermost feelings, although I was better at it than they were. Even though we were all Brits with their stiff upper lips when it came to anger or tragedy, I stuck out like a sore thumb. I wasn’t repressing anything. They would all laugh and change the subject. I was outvoted three to one.

My friendships with Peter and Joan lasted over sixty years and with John, almost twenty-seven. I met Joan at my first job at the National Association for Mental Health in London. Such a hilarious friendship! We just got it from the minute we laid eyes on each other. Two smart hilarious women. Although I was eighteen and Joan twenty-three, it was as if we had found that naughty child within that we had never experienced in our own childhoods. We would leave work to go to a café for lunch on Oxford Street. Express Dairy, I think it was called. We would giggle all the way through the meal and at that time, everything seemed funny.

There was a very gruff waitress (server today) who didn’t think we were funny at all and for some reason Joan really liked a dessert called Valencia Pudding. This waitress didn’t like Valencia Pudding and whenever Joan ordered it she would always growl, “Whaja want that for?”, which had us in uncontrollable hysterics as she took so long getting it we thought she went to Valencia to buy it.  That was the beauty of it. We never wondered why we thought ordinary things so funny, which made it funnier. This is why this blog is so challenging. I don’t want to leave anything out, yet I can’t include it all. I’d have a book! Joan and I had been looking for the recipe for Valencia Pudding for years and never found it so if some enterprising researcher can get information, please pass it on.

Joan and Peter

Peter and Joan were far more than my brother in law and sister in law. Peter was the brother of my former husband. He got the house and I got Peter. I did better. Years ago, when I was in London meeting some friends, I introduced Peter as my former brother in law. That quiet man suddenly roared, “FORMER??? I WILL ALWAYS BE YOUR BROTHER IN LAW!”

Joan and Peter had known each other for several years, only meeting now and again for various family functions. When I came to America (which is another story completely) I was so unbelievably homesick that Joan came over to spend some time with me. This started in 1969, which is why I am so good working with codependency. That’s how I left my country.  We are going, I was told, and that’s that. He left for the States three months before I did. I had four children aged 11, 8, 5 and 13 months, had to pack everything up, sell the house and get to the airport. It was a nightmare, as my family did nothing to help and only my beloved foster brother George came (he came to our home through Kinder transport). Leaving my friends and some members of the family I loved, I crumpled. I look back at that woman – that Yvonne – and I don’t recognise her. I found the passport photo and I don’t know who she is. The sadness in her eyes says it all. As we all know from Nietzsche, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger! I would have liked an easier, softer way, but lessons are lessons apparently.

From that time, Joan came every year and now and again, Peter would fly over at different times. One year they came at the same time not knowing and after all those years knowing each other from a distance, they fell in love. Their story is very much like mine with John and it was beautiful. We were all each other’s unexpected gifts. I believe she was in her late forties and Peter eight years younger. They had never been married before. It was joyful. After that, I would travel home every year and stay with them once my children were adults. We would almost choke when we were eating as it was all so bone rattlingly funny.  Can’t verbalise it – it just happened. Peter had been bullied as a child and spoke very little of it. He was a loving, gentle, funny, trustworthy man and they were a perfect match for one another.

In 1988 when I met John, I took him to the UK to meet Joan and Peter. It was love at first sight. That’s when the quartet was formed. What clinched us was humour. Here are a few examples:

John and Peter

This was John’s first exposure to the two of them and we decided to go for a few days to one of my favourite places in the UK, The Cotswold’s. We chose a hotel and as we were having dinner, Peter leaned over to John and said, “I want to have your child”. I just got to the bathroom in time, but that was just the beginning. Joan loved her food. She also took great delight in taking her time to eat it. I mean, so slow. John was quite similar. I was faster, having raised four children on my own virtually, so I was running around finishing off their plates. Peter was a vacuum cleaner. So, I suggested that we would order appetizers or hors d’eovures as they were called, and whilst Joan and John were eating, Peter and I would stroll around the village returning in time to order our entrees. Once they were delivered, Peter and I would take a bus to the outer villages for a tour, returning in time to order dessert. By that time, Joan and John would just have finished their main course. Ordering dessert, we decided to sit them out and had a doze until tea or coffee came. Of course, this didn’t happen but I did suggest it!

With all that, Joan would say, “I enjoy my food and I don’t care how long takes me, so there”. It went on from there. So many episodes of healthy daftness.

I know I have written about this before but it bears repeating as it is one of my favourite Peter stories. One day he telephoned me from the UK and said, “My wife says you aren’t fit to live with pigs and I said you are,” and hung up. He would leave me crying with laughter at some of the stunts he pulled and the very best entertainment was being driven by Peter. He and Joan were like a vaudeville act, discussing routes and getting them wrong. Every time I said anything, it would remind them of a song and they would burst into singing until I said something else and off they went again. Joan was an insatiable reader, which explains why I was given a book when I went into the café. I didn’t catch up at that time – I do now.

It is almost impossible to put into words what we had. I am grateful and so blessed. However, I am reminded on a daily basis, the deeper the love, the deeper the pain. I don’t know how my life will be, as the last of the quartet. Is there anyone else in that position? I am sure there are but I don’t know any. It is a constant change of emotions, from grinning ear to ear remembering our antics together, to a physical pain like an emotional amputation, which has me reeling. I didn’t know how to begin this writing and I don’t know how to end it. Suffice it to say that I am still loving them as I did in life and that will never change.

It’s 1 a.m. and I just thought of how to end this soliloquy.  I’ll make a cuppa, wake up the cats and watch the film……………The Quartet.



7 thoughts on “What’s It All About, Angels?

  1. So beautifully written and envious of such a wonderful friendship! Please continue writing about the quartet.

  2. What a beautiful story. It’s great to learn more about the quartet and you. I guess unless you or the universe arrange an amazing quadruple death, sooner or later there will be 1 left waiting to make the group whole again. I believe you will have more dreams about some or all of those loves and likely will in some see them, talk with them. I’ve had a few about Megan, and I hope you have many more. Bittersweet is a tough way of life, but at least there IS sweet. I’m emailing you a couple of recipes I found for Valencia pudding and hope one of them is the one Joan loved. I particularly like the phrase ’emotional amputation’. I’ve often thought that living with a huge loss is probably similar to living with a physical amputation. The empty space is painfully obvious, we adjust to it as best we can because we must, but we still feel that phantom missing part – in some inexplicable way, it’s still with us – that must be love. I love you, Yvonne. Robyn

  3. I could feel your love, your pain, your laughter. Wonderful blog!! So uplifting for me. You are an Angel my friend!!

  4. Yvonne..so beautifully written..the power of love and yes you have been blessed as are those who have an opportunity to be a part of you lie, both in body and spirit

  5. Yvonne,reading your blog about”the quartet”triggered wonderful memories for me of Michelle and I getting to spend a month in England with two of the four in your quartet. What a delight. I was pretty shy back then, but not even I could resist Peter and Joan’s wit. One day the four of us got on the “tube.” It was crowded so we each grabbed a pole located right inside the tube where the door was to get on and off.Without a word spoken Joan and Peter very seriously march toward each other and switch places. Michelle and I looked at them, then each other and we too march toward each other switching places.Peter comments something like,”meh” and marches toward me and we too then switch places.And on it went,what a hoot.You also mention George your beloved foster brother.Michelle and I got to spend some time with him when we were there. Uncle George,right? He cooked fish for us, I think he said it was plaice (sp?)fish. Anyway,it was great and I can still remember the taste of it till this day.He was so kind and sweet to Michelle and I. I remember feeling so comfortable around him my shyness just disappeared.The loss of John devastatingly sad enough let alone the loss of Joan and Peter also.As you must know, you have always been my hero (Superhero even lol)so knowing you and having gotten to spend that so special a time with Joan and Peter in England I can just imagine the four of you together. You know I never met John but the imprint he left on you and Michelle is undeniable and beautiful to me. Wow that’s a lot of loss to shoulder Yvonne.I love you.Good thoughts and warm light coming your way. Love, Denise

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