Years ago I lived in a basement flat. It was underneath an old guest house – the guest house owners still lived upstairs, but no longer accepted guests. No wonder – Frank was 94 and his wife Elizabeth was 92.
Frank was very direct and forthright. Upon meeting him for the first time, he’d stand up ramrod straight and inform you that he’d stormed the beaches at Normandy. Then he’d smile and offer you a cup of tea. Elizabeth was small in stature, quieter than her husband, happy to just sit and listen to conversations.
They’d married a few weeks before D-Day. Frank would tell you he wanted to make an honest woman out of Elizabeth. For her part, Elizabeth would tell you that she wanted to give Frank a reason to come back home from the war. And come home he did. The war ended, they bought their guest house, and had been together ever since.
One day, Frank knocked on the door to my flat. When I answered he asked hurriedly if I could help him, his wife had fallen and he couldn’t get her up. Of course, I dropped what I was doing and followed him up into their kitchen. Elizabeth was laying in the doorway between kitchen and lounge, struggling unsuccessfully to sit up. I quickly assessed that she wasn’t injured, and helped her to her feet. She told me that she felt unable to walk, even a few steps, so I dashed into the lounge and pushed her favourite armchair over to the doorway, and helped her to sit down.
By this time, Frank had calmed down a little bit, and directed me where to put Elizabeth’s chair, with her still on it. Fortunately there wasn’t anything of her, and the large wooden feet of the armchair slid smoothly over the old carpet. Frank had sat down in his own armchair, which was by the fireplace, facing the TV. I hadn’t expected him to help, but I did think it a bit strange he’d apparently decided to sit down and relax.
Then I found out why.
As I pushed Elizabeth, in her chair, closer to him, he instructed me how he wanted her chair positioned – at right angles to his, facing the fire. I did as I was directed. No, not quite right. Frank was reaching his right hand out. Push her further forward, he said. I did just that, slowly, waiting for further guidance. Stop! That’s the correct spot. Frank sighed and leant back in his chair. His right hand was still stretched out, but now resting on top of Elizabeth’s hand, on the arm of her chair. We always sit here and hold hands, he informed me. If we fall asleep, as we often do, our touch comforts each other throughout the night.
I had a lump in my throat as I bade them goodnight, with a promise to return in the morning to make sure they were both ok. Which they were.
Unfortunately, two weeks later Elizabeth died in her sleep. For a week afterwards I listened to Frank cry himself to sleep every night through the thin ceiling of my flat, powerless to help. On the ninth night – silence. Frank had passed away himself, following after his beloved Elizabeth.
To this day, I still think that Frank directing me to place Elizabeth’s chair in exactly the right place so that they would be able to hold hands is one of the most romantic things I have ever witnessed.
I have no idea why I feel this is relevant right now, or even why I felt the need to write it down. But there you go.
Frank and Elizabeth, wherever you are, I hope that you’re still holding hands through the night.
Thanks for your time,