Three Letters To Grace
I have said how your legacy is the small kind things; I have been noticing them more and more. It’s almost ridiculous, in a wonderful way, to be so taken by the pattern on a plate or how clever elastic is. I can’t stop making beautiful meals. Yesterday I woke up with the bravado to debone a turkey leg. It took awhile; regret was made fleeting by success. I feel like you know. That your light and care are here in everything and that’s why I am continually tuning in. The energy to transform everything is part of this, to celebrate our ordinary splendour. This has manifested into some minor furniture renovations and uncovered a leaking pipe under the bath. (I think we can fix it, I’ve put a cloth down for now to soak it up, left it open to dry out the floor and the rotted skirting board. The bath panel is outside meanwhile… should I paint it? Probably not…)
This is the best of grief; the deep and peaceful loss, the fine example, your ninety year span.
How you paid attention to simple loveliness.
You said thank you for every tiny thing: when we helped you to eat, every single mouthful had its own appreciative exclamation. You were afraid of being a burden, ‘a stinky old lady.’
We wanted you to feel looked after, to see how you were the source of the care because you taught us how. And this is life, it has variables...
You worried, that was your sore point. Would everyone be okay?
Every soul that ever lived.
Every butterfly and spider: you knew that things were nuanced, interdependent. That nature was cruel and marvellous, that this included your own decline.
It didn’t stop you feeling but you knew; sometimes I could pull you back to ease, you were susceptible to good humour.
(‘How will I ever repay you?’ says you:
‘Well, I checked - this account is fully prepaid. You don’t even have to be polite!’
‘Hahaha,’ says us.)
I hear you saying:
‘Look after each other, my darlings.’
‘A good hug goes all the way to the fingertips.’
I hear you pep talking yourself:
‘Come on, Grace!’
Sometimes cross, sometimes laughing; as the physical you faded into dependence, which you did not want and added to the worry-list, which you could not reverse, and neither did we wish this for you. The silver in this cloud is love, and the proof of love.
We brought it to you bit by bit. All the small kind things.
We said: ‘Come on, Grace!’
Xxx With love, to the moon, as ever xxx
We have been to visit your body today. Your coffin is just right, you would be pleased. The funeral directors told us you had picked out what you wanted a while back, and how much easier that makes arrangements (so we will be online later looking at how we arrange for ourselves to become trees, that would make you giggle.) Your face is rested, we could almost believe you were in deep sleep. Mr asked if your foot was twitching - that was the tell. You have on the purple stripe twin set that we all admired on you, and in your arms two bunches of roses, and your legs covered in birthday cards. You looked comfortable, out of pain: but the spark of you was gone. We were looking at a revered vessel.
It is not going to be easy to let you go: social distancing at a funeral is adding a weird edge too. We were a bit wobbly over it, till we thought of doing this for you and not for ourselves. Life deserves its rituals. Later on, when hugs are allowed, we will have a memorial picnic.
We put our gloved hands to your forehead, stroked your hair, said Goodbye, pressed the button to say the Chapel of Rest was being vacated.
The funeral directors checked we knew the time and the place, and the rules of distance. Also that we knew the toilets would be locked - we will all be dehydrated from not drinking, and from crying, and/or at least one of us will be peeing in a bush…
Sad with loss, happy with memories.
The spark of you is not gone, exactly, it’s just not in your body now.
We will miss you and keep you with us.
Dear Grace A socially distanced funeral is better than not being there. We must all have been muttering that somewhere in our minds. It was- dissociative. Our family who we have not physically seen since March, who we would normally hug- properly hug, fold them into our joy, as taught by you of course- if we saw them earlier the same day: standing two metres apart, holding tissues, squinting in the sunny car park of Exeter Crematorium.
[Joh and Bob were in their car, with the air con on - some alone time, some grieving space.
Kev had brown shoes on, which got him and Guy laughing over Nan Clark’s ‘what’s next - brown boots?’ statement of social decline.
Chris, Emma, Molly and George were crisp in black and white.
Kate in big sunnies; Tanya and Abbey in floral prints; Martina too, in heels but her back was paining her; Kirsty in black, all hair loose.
John sporting a fine beard, smart white shirt.
Craig in suit and tie: no beard, and the quarantine tache all gone, but a full head of hair which the other lads remark on.
Guy in his grey stripe suit, black straw fedora.
Me, flowy black dress, pink scarf.
It was a nice mix, Grace, in spite of imposed distance. Our colours went well with your flowers too: all the pinks and soft purples you were so fond of. I could see your eyes alight with love at all this.]
We chatted, buffer-chat, the preparation. A little catching up, a little reminiscing.
Martin the funeral director came to fetch us, we followed him around to the chapel.
The hearse parked ahead. Flowers spelled MUM, your favourite title.
‘Is that her in there?’ George asked.
‘Yes, she’s tiny, isn’t she?’
(Things to say to children at funerals: give them something cute to focus on, mix the happy with the sad, this is how we celebrate a life.)
Some went on in to the chapel: cousin Joyce, walking with a stick but sprightly. She remembers your wedding day.
All your sons stayed to follow your coffin in.
Mr and I at the back.
The services were handed out, each had a packet of forget-me-not seeds and that is what made me cry first.
(As if, Grace!)
Chairs spaced apart. I know that Joh and Bob were sat in front of us, that Chris and family were front row to the right; daren’t look at anyone else.
Here we were, Grace. Not the way we would wish, not the tumbling mass with children everywhere, not the scrum of hugs, shoulders damp with a blend of tears. But here as best we can be, and following the rules so other families can do this too.
(Angry flash at elitist selfishness - you had no hate in you, but I like my angry self, she takes a stand, and you so anti-selfish, we can reconcile this.)
We attempted to sing All Things Bright And Beautiful but mostly were crying, not much sound came out. Sorry for that. The song reminded me of when I was staying over and we had been shockers staying up till 10pm watching Blue Planet - some programme had popped up about wealth. I asked you what you would do if you won the lottery, what Grace would treat herself too.
‘I’d save all the animals,’ you said. ‘Save the planet and the people.’
‘But what about you, what would you like: swimming pool, manicures, holiday?’
‘But that is what I want. Save the planet and the people.’
Tears were rolling. Abbey sobbing - I could hear her, I dared not look. Mr looked and crumpled: we grabbed hands. We felt like monsters for not comforting our family.
We did this to preserve a privilege for other mourners.
The vicar reads well, he is adorable, so kind. (As a child I had a book, The Elves And The Shoemaker, he is the image of the old shoemaker, I kept imagining him tapping a hobnail into a boot sole.)
And so the service reached the blessing, and the curtain pulled around your coffin.
No one rushed to leave.
A slow procession back into the bright afternoon.
At first we were quiet, still weeping. Tender. Even more tender without touch.
But everyone was taking time to talk.
Martin brought the flowers out for us to admire.
There could be no wake so we lingered over our talking, over the flowers.
We should take them home, Joh said, or they’ll just be left. That didn’t seem right.
So we loaded our arms up with lilies and roses, sea holly, carnations.
Broke ourselves away gently.
Mr said he would like to walk around the grounds, the trees are striking here.
We said goodbye to the stragglers; we will meet when we can.
We strolled to the pond where glittering damselflies flew; sapphire, turquoise, emerald, gold, dotting the velvet evergreen. Willow curtains swooped from sky to water. Ancient trunks twisted. Acers flamed. Grass all clipped. We circumnavigated the chapel, found two doves strutting on the path.
Back at the car, Mr opened the bag that Abbey handed him. Brownies from our super baker - and a letter of condolence from Grandchildren 1 and 4 which reminds us that 'Granma Grace is the brightest star in the sky.' Those boys!
Tears, cake, coffee.
And this morning: we need coffee. We finished the sherry.
There is a bouquet swamping the table.
Mr is making a flower press so we can make keepsakes; picture frames, we think.
There are two packs of forget-me-not seeds to be started.
Some in pots to travel with us. Thank you, bright star xxx