Our cleaning lady finished up today. Completely unexpectedly, it was her presence one day a week that helped to lift me out of the doldrums when I hit a double dose of grief some years ago. Every Thursday her busy polishing and dusting was a real comfort at a time when all I could manage was to sit in a chair and lift my legs up so she could vacuum underneath them.
At first it was just her consistent presence that was so helpful. Then as time passed we started to talk, to share stories and before I knew it, she had me laughing at her hilarious take on life. I knew she wasn’t your typical cleaning lady when she asked if she could borrow my copy of Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader. From there we developed a mini-reading group, sharing thoughts on books, enjoying working out why she gave one title the thumbs up, when I gave it the thumbs down and vice-versa.
When I turned back to writing, one day I was lamenting that I couldn’t find someone to transcribe some tapes. “I can do that for you,” she said. Turned out she’d had a busy professional life as a secretary before turning to cleaning, and as well as transcribing she became a great proof-reader.
I am so lucky to have had her in my life. Now, like Mary Poppins and Nanny McPhee before her, she moves back home to brighten up a little corner of Surrey on the other side of the world. I will miss her but how lucky I was to have had her in my life: and she taught me an important lesson – when we’re grieving, the comfort and encouragement we need can come from the most unexpected quarters. The secret is to let it happen.