One of my aunts died this week. It was not unexpected – she was 93, lately diagnosed with dementia and had recently refused to eat or drink. Her behaviour was problematic to the other residents in her sheltered accommodation – she would ring their doorbells and run away and hide. She decided not to have children and never bought a house. She never went abroad but accumulated weath in cash and shares. She died intestate and this will potentially cause family arguments as she has several half siblings who will not benefit from her estate.
I contrast her life to that of her great grandfather, Anthony Stoll. He immigrated into Britain in his late teens from Germany in the 1840s. He built up businesses, some of which failed, so he built new ones. He married and had a large family. His obituary tells how in the Murphy riots (anti-German riots in the 19th century) he sheltered behind the doors of his shop and home with his family. He helped build Birmingham’s first Catholic Cathedral, and laid the foundation stone of Birmingham’s first Catholic Primary School. He set up each of his sons and grandsons in their own businesses. A clerk wrote on the outside of his Naturalization papers “A good man”. He was entirely forgotten in all the family stories, probably due to the anti-German feeling in the First World War.
We make choices in our lives. Some are wise, some foolish. We can hope to make a difference and leave the world just a little better because we were there. I loved my Aunt but have to feel her choices did not give to our world. I untangled Anthony’s story over many years and feel very proud of a man who worked to improve life for himself and his family and for the wider community. His is the funeral I would have wanted to attend