Dear Readers, on Wednesday we interred Mum’s ashes in the churchyard of St Andrew’s Church, Milborne St Andrew. The sun shone gently, the grass was full of wild primroses, and great tits and robins sang. I think Mum would have loved the spot where she was buried, not just because it was in a sunny, happy, open spot, but also because she was right next to the grave of her best friend Pat, who died a few years ago.
Mum was a great collector of ‘waifs and strays’, people who needed her help but didn’t have the capacity to reciprocate. Until she met Pat she didn’t really know what it was to relate to a friend as an equal. Mum was an intensely social person but Dad wasn’t, and she was unhappy about leaving him on his own in the house. Dad was a great watcher of Last of the Summer Wine, and would have been perfectly happy watching it every day until it was time for Pointless, and then the News, and then The One Show, and then Midsomer Murders and then bed. Mum really chafed against these constraints, and Pat was someone who would whisk her out to a craft shop or a sewing group. She helped Mum to make her masterpiece, a magnificent embroidered quilt, and then convinced her to exhibit it at a craft show, where it got the Silver Award. Pat gave Mum a sense of possibility outside the confines of the bungalow, and when she died, Mum lost not just a friend but a whole way of accessing the outside world.
Mum’s ashes lay next to a field which is often full of sheep and their little lambs. She would have loved that too. One of the local estates, Kingston Maurward, has ‘lambing weekends’, where you can go into the sheds and actually see the lambs being born. Mum was enchanted, and so was I, though I remember the chaps having to go outside for a breather. But after that she eschewed all lamb meat, in spite of it previously being her favourite roast dinner. She was tending towards vegetarianism as she got older, but for Dad, a meal wasn’t a meal unless there was meat in it., and there was no way that Mum was going to put her preferences in front of Dads.
When I was younger, I used to worry that Mum hadn’t fulfilled her potential, largely because Dad was the centre of her world, and whatever he wanted came first. She was so creative and so outgoing, and her life could have been different. But would she have been happier? I doubt it. She adored Dad, and he adored her, and they had worked out a way of being together that largely suited them both. I found a letter that Dad had written to Mum while he was out in Venezuela making gin for United Distillers, and it was so full of the longing to be home and to see her again that it reminded me that this was a love match, a true partnership in which each person needs and respects the other. Someone said that the truth of a marriage can never be seen from the outside and I think that’s an accurate observation.
Dad was at Mum’s funeral, but not at the interment – he broke his wrist in a fall last weekend and has a chest infection. I popped in to see him before the ceremony and he was asleep. He looks so frail now. He disturbed in his sleep and I stroked his hair as if he was a little boy. I left him a ‘frothy coffee’ and some Polo Mints and Dairy Milk chocolate. Hopefully the nurses will let him know that I visited, otherwise he’ll think he’s been visited by the confectionery fairy.
I did find a poem, though, which I thought represented him, even though he wasn’t there.
But what struck me most about the ceremony was the sense that life was bursting forth all around us, even as we mourned for Mum. As we bowed our heads in prayer the breeze rustled the leaves, and the jackdaws chinked overhead. I know that Mum would not want us to be frozen in time but to move on, to do whatever it was we are here to do. The flow of the river carries us forward however hard we cling to the riverbank. Mum lives on every time I’m in a gift shop and see something that she’d like, every time I smell White Diamond perfume, every time I hear ‘You Are My Sunshine’. I am bereft, but also strangely hopeful, as if everything has been scoured clean. I don’t know what will happen next, but as I look at the unfurling of the leaves, my heart lifts, just a little.