Angela’s funeral was yesterday. Her memorial was today. The unusual proximity of the two events due to family from from the US and Australia needing to return home.
The church was packed; standing room only at the back. The timings were thrown out of the window almost before we started. Some of us sat at the front, before the altar, ready to be called forward to read her poems. And not just her poems. She was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize this year. Nicola and James read an extract from that, then there was some background to an unfinished novel.
Quite a few of the people at the funeral and the memorial were people I worked with over twenty years ago and have not seen since leaving my post at that school. It was surprising how the years rolled back. It was also surprising how nice it was to see people. One was a child I had taught who has folowed in my footsteps to become a French teacher, and is now following in my footsteps again by leaving teaching, citing paperwork and management control as the two things that have killed her love of the job.
I managed to stay almost dry-eyed until the end. There were some poems, some memories that threatened the tear ducts, and lumps swelled in my throat. But the last person to stand up was Penny. I had looked for her yesterday at the crematorium. She was a parent governor of the school back in the day. Her daughter Hannah was uber bright and very demanding. At one parents’ evening when Hannah was fourteen or fifteen Penny and I said we would have a gin together when the GCSEs were over.
Several years later Hannah killed herself. She checked into a hotel which had the same name as her father. He had committed suicide some years previously. Of all the funerals I have attended, Hannah’s was the most heart wrenching. Outside the tube station I met members of her class. It was lovely to see them, all grown up, on the threshold of adulthood. But this was something I felt they should not have in their emotional back catalogue.
Penny was composed. In her place I should have been in the street howling at the moon, but she was keeping it together for her son Aaron, who was beside himself. After the service we promised again to have that gin.
So today, when I saw her, I raised the gin question again, and we chatted. She said she had not been able to go to Angela’s funeral as it raised too many memories. I thought I understood. Then she said, And Aaron has gone too. I didn’t understand; thought maybe she meant he had emigrated, gone to start anew in New Zealand, South America, Canada. She explained. He had followed his father and sister and taken his own life.
There are no words of comfort you can offer. There are no words. We hugged. I salute her for keeping going when everything she has loved has gone. I don’t think I’d have the strength. She said Angela had written a poem about Hannah and she had brought it, intending to read it today.
It was that poem that made us cry. I was sitting next to Hannah’s form tutor. Angela had found the words.
Penny and I are going to have that gin, and kick the autumn leaves on Hampstead Heath.