On the pilgrim way: ‘I am haunted by gloomy hymns’
Perhaps it is the time of year, but I am haunted by gloomy lines from hymns. ‘Change and decay in all around I see’ keeps coming to mind. The lawn is covered with fallen leaves. So much dead-heading is needed – or maybe some drastic cutting back, even digging up. Fortunately, I have good gardening nieces to fight back for me – clear the ground, plant the Spring bulbs.
My husband Kees’ dementia symptoms are increasing so we are trying to get ahead of the curve. I am getting on top of internet banking and the bread maker. Kees and I have gone through his files and labelled a box containing our wills, the deeds of our house, key financial papers, our funeral bond and one or two other vital documents. We came across a folder from the 1960s and 1970s with ten years of Kees’ letters to a Zimbabwe Africa Peoples’ Union detainee, which filled me with admiration for his committed kindness – and then smiled to find the certificate our Peter won, aged six, for winning the flat race.
In our local church we are arranging a service on the last Saturday of October with the title ‘For all the saints’. Its original purpose was to allow the families who lost members during the lockdowns to now gather in church to give thanks and remember. However, we are including a kind of roll call of all those in our church community who have died since 2000. I have the job of letting the families of this list know about it, inviting them to send us a photo, perhaps attend. That’s when I started to be haunted by a different line of a hymn: ‘They fly forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day’. For about a third of those names I have no idea how to contact anyone who remembers them.
However, my spirits are lifted by how delighted the families of the other two-thirds are to be contacted, to have a formal opportunity to remember mother/father/spouse. And the service is going to be a time for family get togethers.
A real counterblast to the season, and to my low mood, was a visit to the Hockney exhibition entitled The Arrival of Spring, Normandy 2020. I was completely overwhelmed by the brilliant green of so many of the pictures. I felt I had drunk a magic potion which took me to another place, another mood completely. And David Hockney painted them during lockdown!
I forget which wise person wrote about ‘psalming down the devil’ but I am trying to drive those haunting hymn lines out with words from Psalm 34:
I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed. This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord, and was saved from every trouble.
Sheila Maxey is a member of Brentwood United Reformed Church, Essex
This article was published in the November 2021 edition of Reform