Auntie Rita

An Exasperating Inspiration

Auntie Rita, was Grandma’s baby sister, dad’s aunt/proxy older sister, my great aunt and godmother, cub leader, nursery assistant, wife, mother and full time carer. She was also the family line of communication, although this was not always appreciated. She was keen to discuss, give opinions and pass on everyone else’s news, but not necessarily her own. Apparently, Grandad would refuse to answer the phone on a Sunday afternoon, when her call was expected.

However, she kept the family in touch with each other, visited whenever she could, kept herself busy in the community, and never forgot the family at birthdays and Christmas.

Rita, Elizabeth and Kate.

At time of writing (March 2021), she is still living, although with advanced dementia, and at the age of 91, she can claim to be the longest lived person of her line.

Rita January 2019

She was born 29th September 1929, twenty one years after the oldest child, to George and Alice Gillott, and nine years after her next oldest sibling, (Esme). Perhaps she had hopes of being the baby of the family, but this was not be, as eighteen months later, brother Derek was born.

Her niece Audrey, (sister Doris’ daughter), was born the same year, and they spent alot of time together. Maybe Doris was a surrogate mum, as Alice was getting older, and also had baby Derek to care for. Later Rita spent more time at Esme’s, maybe helping her look after ‘Dad’ David.

Perhaps this was just the traditional way of raising children in large families, spread over a number of years.

Rita helped out as a cub leader, and took David out on trips, on one occasion, to London. When as a child, he visited his grandparents, (George and Alice), he would sleep in Rita’s bed.

Rita married John in 1964, at the relatively mature age of 35. John was Polish, and Rita insisted he must change his name before they married. He had been ‘Jan’, we don’t know his Polish surname, before becoming John Day. His family had fled Poland before WW2 started and settled in Nottinghamshire, before moving to Sheffield. John never really seemed to master the English language and most sentences made up for this by containing an expletive. However he was kind and quiet and thought the world of their only son, who was severely disabled both mentally and physically, from birth. Sadly, John died from a heart attack in 1984 aged 58, and Rita was left to care for Julian by herself.

L to R in summer 1964. Bill. Esme, Rita, John and Cynthia in the garden of ‘Sanderling’ in Duffield, one of the many places my parents lived during their early married life. I was in the photo, but only as a little bump!

Rita moved them into a council owned bungalow in Crookes. The rest of the family didn’t feel that the hilliest and highest part of Sheffield the most sensible place to settle when she had to contend with pushing a heavy wheelchair about, especially in the winter. But Rita took no notice, and still lives in the same house.

Julian spent a lot of time in hospital, whilst surgeons attempted to ‘straighten’ his legs. Sadly it seems that he was something of a ‘guinea pig’, and by the time of his final operation aged 14, he was unable to walk at all, and had to get about on his hands and knees.

Rita cared for him single handedly, as he was unable to do much for himself, (although he is able to feed himself, he has to be told to do so). He loves music and sport, particularly snooker and cricket, and has a great sense of humour, he often had me in fits of laughter as a child. Whenever I hear the name ‘Charlie George’, I am reminded of Julian, which was his standard answer to any question about a sportsman. Or when asked at the age of seven what he would like to drink, the answer was ‘a pint’. He also loved to go for a ride in ‘David’s Caravette‘.

He also has a great memory for family names, and can identify photos. Last year he could reel off the names of all the family members and where they lived.

Julian would spend the day at a special needs school up to age 16 and after leaving there went to an adult training centre. He lived at home with Rita caring for him full time at night and weekends. They went on holidays, usually with friends from a support group, and Rita had one or two weeks respite each year. They continued like this until during her late 70s Rita was having trouble moving Julian about and getting him bathed. Julian then had a carer in to help get him get ready in the mornings.

Rita fought against them being split up and placed in different accommodation, even when it became clear that dementia was preventing her being able to safely care for him. Dad was the best only responsible relative willing to make decisions for them.

Eventually social services took over their very complicated care, and they both had their separate care packages in their own home, and able to stay together, when other members of the family felt they would be better in residential accommodation.

Auntie Rita, gives the impression of having a rather blase attitude to life, and at other times, that ‘life owes her,’ and she can certainly be outspoken.

There is no doubt that she has been hard working and conscientious caring for Julian, but at times, it may have been easier for her, if she hadn’t always been trying to fight the system. However, her obstinate determination, has served her well, and she has achieved personal care for them both, in their own home, enabling them to stay together in difficult circumstances.

Sharing a joke, Rita, Julian and Esme 2001

Rita passed away, peacefully at 1.30am 17th June 2023, at the age of 94 and attended by her carer, with Julian close by. In the past year she had fought off both Covid and Pneumonia, achieving her wish to end her days in her own home.