My first thought was just how very tiny the coffin was. But my friend and colleague Lynn was, indeed, small in size though larger than life in character.
Then I saw it: placed carefully on the coffin with the flowers, a Valentine’s card. Through tears, I could only see the one word. “WIFE”. It was the last expression of love from one man to one
woman on the day when lovers all over the country were exchanging cards, flowers and gifts, feeling secure in the knowledge that all you need is love and not thinking about the future.
It was a beautiful funeral, just as Lynn wanted it. Her friend read a thoughtful poem that summed up the moment when it became clear that there would be no getting better on earth and only death could bring the peace poor Lynn deserved
after her desperately hard fight. Her step-daughter read from the Bible, choking over the last words which promised “everlasting life.” There was Greek music as a poignant reminder of the happy honeymoon spent in Cyprus not quite six years ago.
Outside the rain poured down. It was as if the whole world were in mourning.
To use the word “enjoy” in connection with a eulogy is clearly inappropriate
– but how lovely to hear about Lynn’s childhood and early life. Those of us who knew her well as an adult did not remember her as her mother did, first as a shy, somewhat retiring only child who then discovered a passion for bringing order
to chaos and set about organising her mother and father. I smiled at the thought of Lynn as a fierce little girl, setting the world to rights – just as, in later life, she organised my office, took my filofax away from me because I was duplicating
appointments and creating havoc with diary dates, and brought me countless cups of coffee when I was groaning over the latest marathon committee report.
the funeral we gathered in the church hall next door for much needed cups of hot tea and coffee. Lynn, who organised so many civic events, would have been well satisfied that this, her final event, went so well even though she was not around to complete one
of her beloved spreadsheets to determine every detail. There was much gentle joking among Councillors present about whether they were abiding by the strict dress code which Lynn would doubtless have insisted upon. At the end of every civic event I would set
off to find her to say “well done.” She would invariably be outside, enjoying a cigarette, not exulting in success but simply relieved that everything had gone to plan. I found myself looking for her as we left the church hall.
Of course, she wasn’t there.
Long before we knew the date of the funeral we had been invited to a Valentine’s day celebration with friends and we had
decided to go ahead with it, just a bit later than originally planned so that we could all attend the funeral. A delicious meal of fish starter, steak and heart-shaped desserts; pink fizz and a chocolate rose for each of the women. Mr B was delighted
to find himself in the company of yet another Gillingham Football Club supporter (there are, apparently, a few of them around.) I was just glad to be in the company of friends.
In between courses we played “Mr and Mrs”, that game which tests out how well couples know each other. We all fared rather badly, despite having totted up well over a hundred years of marriage between the six of us. I have played this
game quite a lot and have always found that it is the couples who have known each other for the shortest period of time who invariably score highest. Maybe we long-term lovers just know each too well so we realise there are generally several, equally valid,
answers to every question.
Our afternoon was a celebration of love and marriage, of friendship and solidarity. So was my friend Lynn’s funeral. Driving
home, in a bid to avoid a threatening storm, I am thinking back to that tiny coffin and the Valentine’s Day card on top of it. I find the closing words of the Philip Larkin poem “An Arundel Tomb” going round and round in my head. The
Eldest of the Darling Daughters and I went to see the tomb in Chichester Cathedral many years ago – there lies a knight in stony armour, next to his lady wife. A stone mason, called on to repair the crumbling stone, many years after, had taken
the extreme liberty of re-sculpting the couple’s hands so that now they lie there, holding hands in an unintended but oddly moving gesture of love. When people quote Philip Larkin it’s usually the opening line of his famous poem about
the unfortunate impact parents have on their children. I much prefer the closing line of “An Arundel Tomb. It is sombre but somehow comforting at the same time and fitting indeed on a day when I remember my dear friend, Lynn, and think of the
husband and mother she left behind:
“What will survive of us is love.”