My son and I sat in the freezing car, muttering about my teenage daughter’s forgetfulness as dusk turned to dark. Running late as usual, she slammed and locked the front door, stowed her guitar in the boot, closed it with a thud then slammed the passenger door shut and handed me the jangling house keys.
I glanced over at my neighbours’ house and noticed a long, black estate car parked very close to their front door. The door opened and an elderly man in a dark suit emerged pulling a lightweight, collapsible gurney. On it, something black. A blanket? No, it looked waterproof, zipped up. Another man emerged . They looked up at me, alerted by the shrieking “No!” that had escaped as my hands flew to my face. They looked on with concern when they heard the sobs and saw us staring before I ushered the kids back into the house.
For several days, as the cancer had advanced through Maria’s limbs and organs, and the morphine had brought on terrifying hallucinations, I’d kept the kids away, encouraging them to remember the funny, strong and vibrant woman they’d come to know, the Maria who’d been a school teacher, political activist, hill walker and painter as well as a devoted mum, wife and friend.
But now they’d seen the stark reality; Maria in a bag, deposited gently but unceremoniously into the back of a hearse. For a rich life lived long and wide and deep, it was such a small bag. I knew then that her soaring spirit had moved on.
As the children sobbed in their respective rooms, I stood in the hallway unsure what to do next. My daughter had a music workshop and rehearsal to get to. As well as performing her own material, she plays guitar and co-writes songs for other bands, and with a gig coming up, her absence would affect everyone in the workshop.
Propped up against a photo frame on the shoe cabinet, I saw the poem my daughter had printed out in rainbow colours to comfort Maria’s husband and family when the inevitable happened; they love Scotland’s breathtaking beauty as much as Maria did.
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.
Still wearing my coat, scarf and boots, I stepped outside into the cutting cold of a clear, star filled night. I slipped the card through my neighbours’ letterbox, then stepped back into my cosy warm home and asked my daughter if she’d still like to go and make music.
Knowing Maria would want her to do anything that made her feel glad to be alive and grateful to have a gift, my daughter sniffed, wiped her nose, hugged me and nodded.
We left the house quietly, and got into the car. I switched on the headlights and the heater, reversed out of the drive and headed off.
Life is messy. I’ve met, loved and lost a lot of people along the way, but every time I’m left behind, it makes me even more grateful that I can still share journeys with the people I love.
I’ve turned the comments off because I’m taking things slowly, getting used to being online again after my cyber hibernation. If I got any comments, I’d want to respond, chat and check out the Comment Luvs. For now, I’m content just to be writing again. Janice