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Reform Magazine | September 26, 2020

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On the pilgrim way: ‘He sings as he never has before’

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On a dark, damp, late January day, I briefly nipped into the garden to feed the birds. I noticed, to my surprise, that the garden was full of new growth – green spikes of daffodils poking through, gorgeous Lenten roses, a few primroses – and the soil looked so rich and fertile. My pilgrim way just now seems full of sadness, difficulty and struggle but it also feels somehow rich and promising.

In early December, my niece’s ex partner suffered a massive stroke – paralysed down one side, no speech, impaired understanding. It was a tragedy. But there has been such an outpouring of love, particularly from his adult children and from my niece. His daughter plays dominoes with him, his son bought a wooden puzzle he can do with his left hand, and my niece wraps him up and pushes him out in the hospital grounds. She sings to him and he joins in, singing in tune as he never did before.

A dear church friend’s husband had a minor stroke. She visits him daily in hospital, and takes the opportunity to visit the three other elderly people from our small church who are in the same hospital. A new kind of elder’s list.

In mid January, my late sister’s husband died, full of years. I dreaded the funeral, as his adult children had difficult relationships with him. However, the extended family gathered, and it was so heartening to see them all there. All the ‘children’ were able to participate with integrity: the son paid warm tribute to his father’s remarkable artistic and creative abilities; others chose to read favourite poems of theirs.

We returned to the Sustainability Centre where my sister was buried. As we walked down the long, muddy path behind the wicker coffin, trundled along by close family, birds sang, and I saw some early primroses. We stopped several times for readings, and when we reached the shared grave, where my sister was buried eight years ago, the family lowered the coffin. We threw daffodils in for ourselves and for all the family members not present. As we came away, I felt the ‘children’ had finally let go of their beloved mother.

And now we are setting off for a family wedding, a gay wedding, in Berlin. The happy couple have been amazed by the family’s support and love. We are gathering from Edinburgh, York, Sheffield, Liverpool, Colchester, Worcester and London. The couple don’t have much money, so we will all chip in, dress up and have a wonderful party.

And beneath all this rich tapestry of my pilgrim way, with its light and shade, there runs a mournful basso profundo – the maturing grief of our son for his ‘child’. It is 18 months since she took her life, and he finds family gatherings difficult, full of memories. But I must give him the last word: he has just bought seeds to plant a new season of vegetables and has tipped out his ripe compost all over the raised bed, ready to receive them.

 Sheila Maxey is Book Reviews Editor for Reform

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This article was published in the March 2020 edition of Reform

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