Yesterday was the fourth anniversary of Mother’s funeral, but it was someone else’s death I was remembering last night, Angela’s.
Over the weekend I received a message to say her ashes were to be scattered on Monday evening in the churchyard of Old St Pancras church, the church where her memorial was held. At that memorial friends and colleagues read a selection of poems by Angela. Last night, Nicola, who now teaches voice, and who taught drama and English back in the day when she, Angela and I worked together, had been asked by Rob, Angela’s husband, to read two poems while the ashes, with I hope Angela’s generous spirit, were released into the air.
Before Nicola arrived, Rob, an actor, and now a frail elderly man walking with the aid of two sticks, and very slowly, announced he would sing a song to Angela. It was My Love is Like a Red Red Rose. We stood in the shade of the Hardy tree while his cracked voice rang out, and we knew he felt the pain of her loss as keenly now as when she died. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in having suddenly blurred vision.
The Hardy tree is named after Thomas Hardy who had the task of clearing the headstones of the graveyard, and now they are grouped around the tree which has grown into them and joined them in a mutual embrace.
Nicola chose two poems Angela had written about her parents. Or rather one poem she had written about her mother, set in the part of Wales where her mother had lived as a child and where Angela visited in 1992, and another about her father a naval man who died when she was a small child, whom she never really knew, but she had the letters written home to her mother so full of love for their daughter.
Nicola’s voice choked on some of the words. My eyes blurred again. We saw the fields and sheep dip, the wall where Angela’s mother had sat, the lane she walked to school; saw them through Angela’s eyes as she found the connections in the landscape, and remade our own connections to Angela. We saw the black ink on the folded pages of the letters, felt Angela’s warm rush of knowing from the words that she was loved, her final stanza that that was enough to know of her father, that he loved her, knew that what Angela wrote was a universal truth for all of us, and in that moment were bonded wth each other around the tree, thinking our own thoughts, thoughts which doubtless echoed and overlapped from one to another.
There was wine and nibbles in a house nearby, one of Rob and Angela’s neighbours Catriona, before they moved to smaller accommodation. Nicola and I walked with Rob and his son Murray. Minutes to cover each yard, Rob stopping twice to sing two more songs.
It was a lovely evening. Great company, good memories and the promise that next year we will meet again around the tree, pour a libation of good red wine for Angela, and drink to her once more.