Thinking about my dear friend, who lost her fight today … I remarked yesterday that she would probably never see another Summer and such a thought was just too awful to comprehend. Not to see another Summer, nor Spring nor birthday or anything. The birds on her bird feeder, the flowers in her garden, the basketful of sheep’s fleece that she will no longer spin. The beauty of her work and her simplicity and honest living with her husband, never to be experienced again.
She gave us the most amazing memories, experiences and, to me, was the most remarkable and patient and kind teacher and mentor. She taught me to appreciate the natural world in different eyes and taught me to look at colour in a way I had never even thought to consider. When I think of her, I see and feel warmth, sitting on the steps to her studio in their garden and taking in the haven of peace she and her husband created. She took such delight in showing me John’s hard work in the garden, the crop of his labour and pointing out the growth of the little Apple tree I gave them one year.
We would walk past the little Orchard where her husband had so lovingly planted my little Apple tree; we would pass the wood pile and then walk towards the house to marvel at the little flowers. I used to give them both a bag of flower bulbs each Christmas of little Tete-a-Tete and I never realised that they had planted them all in one flower bed, so each Spring they would have the wonderful array of colour outside their window. I was so touched that they took the time and thought to do this, I was flattered and just the simple action of doing that showed me how they appreciated every little thing that came their way.
I saw her this morning, in my mind’s eye. I looked at a photo I had come across recently and saw her sitting on the style in her woollen skirt and her quilted gillet, round neck jumper and her flat shoes and there coming towards her feet as ever obedient as he was in life, was Bryn, the last of their sheepdogs and who retired off the farm with them to their wonderful peaceful haven at Woodridge. She was smiling in her quiet way and was in total peace, that sort of peace you sigh with and it sits right with you. It is there she will wait for her husband and visit his memories in his utmost despairing grief. She radiates warmth from that meadow to her family and to her husband, her arms of comfort around them as they now face their life without their Mum and Grandmother. The World for them at the moment is cold and harsh as they weep in their utter grief and loss of this incredible woman who touched so many lives.
I was asked once, where was God in all the suffering and how could I keep my faith when such kind people leave this earthly realm. I replied that my faith gives me strength and it is the world that deals us with such cruelty, not God. On the recent BBC programme (brilliant writing by the way), ‘Call the Midwives’, I was struck one evening in the message at the end and I realised then that this programme had a great theological thought in each one and I had missed the previous significance to each episode, until I heard this one…
It was, ‘God is not in the event. God is in the response to the event, in the love and in the care’. He is in the response. ‘Somewhere a decision is made that no amount of prayer can change’ and we have to trust in Him.
This thought gives me great peace and the strength and courage to face each moment. He was there when my own father died suddenly. He gave me such great strength to deal with each day and I lived moment by moment, stuck in a circumstance – an event – that I could not control or forecast an outcome; I had to embrace each deep pain and each circumstance and let it envelope me but I knew that God kept His candle, His flame, alight within me and no amount of darkness from the world could ever extinguish it. This became my comfort and my blanket to wrap myself in. I had a core pillar within me that would not budge no matter how many times people hurt me or pushed me or when I became wounded but wounds heal, some slowly, some quickly.
This pillar of strength, I have come to realise, is the Cross. It is here that God places me. It is a cold and desolate place but above me on that Cross is a Man who radiates such warmth and healing through His own suffering, that I cannot give up and I am healed through His love. His own being never diminishes but is constantly renewed and so His love is boundless and abundant. It is forever flowing towards us.
No one wants to go voluntarily to visit such a place in their lives, of grief and of pain, of hurt and of despair but we all have to go at some point and sometimes more than once in our own lifetimes. I see this place as somewhere to shed tears to fill a rainbow, of somewhere that I can outpour my own deep grief and anguish and pain but leave it with warmth and with healing and with the right amount of strength to move on. Inside I never leave this place at the Cross because even though it is a desolate and painful rock, I know that my strength and my love for Christ is renewed and the wood I cling to is warm.
I sincerely hope that my friend’s family can feel His warmth and know that their Mum, my dearest friend, is okay. She is no longer in pain and she is reunited with her faithful companion and they sit together and look across the land and the meadow flowers, they breathe in the warmth and the fragrance of good honest natural living and are content. She is truly at peace.
This image, this vision, is given to me by Him that strengthens me. My mothers that have gone before me place around my shoulders the shawl of their warmth in a comforting mantle so that I may have the strength to help others through my own suffering experiences and be strength for them in their deep grief and loss.
I am grateful for my faith, I am blessed to have this gift bestowed upon me even though there are many times that I feel I do not deserve it but that is not how God works for me. Christ is with me in my suffering, His Cross is mine to bear daily and this is something that I now understand. As the candle flame flickers before me in the gentle drifts of air in my room, I pray that this gift of strength is passed on to my friend’s family at this time when they need it most and for John, that he feels her warmth around him. Such a loss, any loss, is incomprehensible and unbearable with every breath full of pain and deep hurt when we face that empty bed, empty chair and the emptiness home feels without that person no longer there.
We must not let death become us but life itself must fill us; with every unfurling leaf and feather this Spring, let it be in rejoicing for her life. And, as the garden fills with flowers I hope that their hearts fill with her love that she gave so abundantly. I am so grateful that I had her in my life, that she became a cornerstone in my learning and appreciation, that her friendship became a building block to my peace. No one ever wants to say goodbye .