“HAVE a lovely Easter.” These were, almost, the last decipherable words that my mother spoke and were quite typical of her concern for others. While we knew that she was failing, we had no idea how soon she would be gone. You may remember that, last month, I wrote about our plans for an extra-special Mothering Sunday celebration, since it was likely to be her last (Diary, 9 March); we had a lovely time, spoiling her thoroughly; but, sadly, four days later, she died.
The day before her death we were in the garden together, picking the daffodils we had planted last autumn and planning a trip to the garden centre to find some colourful bedding plants to “brighten up the place.”
Her ideal garden was one in which plants of all varieties came together in a raucous profusion of colour. Picture the Hindu festival of Rangwali Holi, that great celebration of spring, new life, fertility, and love, during which participants race around, throwing vibrantly coloured powder over each other while being drenched with water — such gloriously exuberant life and colour was what Mum loved to see in a garden.
She did not deem weeds to be the enemy, but potential allies in her efforts to “brighten up the place”; and so the garden in my childhood home was full of plants that others would shun.
Dinner on the move
MUM was good with waifs and strays of all sorts. Human, animal, plant — each was appreciated for its own attributes. She looked for the best in everyone and everything and was rarely disappointed, although the “bubbly-jock” (turkey) that my crofting grandmother once bought to fatten for Christmas was an exception.
In telling the tale, Mum declared this particular bubbly-jock well deserved the poet Hugh MacDiarmid’s description of the creatures as being “hauf like a bird and hauf like a bogle” (a “bogle” is a demon).
Mum was about six years old when the bird/bogle arrived and, it seems, took an instant dislike to her; whenever she appeared, the bubbly-jock would run at her, flapping its wings, wobbling its wattle, and gobbling at the top of its voice. She credited the beast with her speed and agility at climbing trees.
Care for the enemy
DURING the Second World War, Mum was among the first officers of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service to land at Arromanches after D-Day. She cared for survivors of Belsen and Dachau, and nursed the wounded of both sides, something not everyone was happy to do. Most of the Germans that she nursed were ordinary people caught up in awful circumstances; the only ones she found difficult (but still cared for) were the SS.
Mum’s attitude was that, behind the German uniform, lay somebody’s father, son, lover, brother: in short, a human being in need of help. Her own brother was killed while serving in the RAF, and I suspect that she saw him reflected in the eyes of the frightened young servicemen under her care, whichever side they had fought on.
Strangely enough, just as we arrived for her funeral, an RAF jet flew up the valley, passing us just above tree height, low and slow enough for us to see the pilot. Not having seen such a sight since moving to Warton, our sons were convinced that this was not merely a coincidence, but Grandma’s own personal “farewell” flypast. She certainly deserved one.
WE HAD a rather different encounter with a flying machine a few nights after Mum’s funeral. We were all in the sitting-room which, as the house is built on a slope, has splendid views to Ingleborough in the east; as we enjoy star-gazing and have fond memories of family walks up Ingleborough, we rarely close the curtains.
This particular evening, the sun had set, and we were engrossed in a particularly lively game of Scrabble when Number 2 Son jumped up and pointed out of the window, exclaiming “What’s that?” I stood up just in time to see some lights whizzing away from the window and ducking down behind the wall of the neighbouring allotments.
It seems that someone was trying a little night-time drone-flying. Whether they were trying to film the ruins of the Old Rectory, which sits behind our house, by starlight, or were fellow Scrabble fans seeking inspiration from our board, we will never know. We do, now, draw our curtains more often.
GIVEN that Mum’s funeral was on Maundy Thursday, her wish that we should “have a lovely Easter” has not been easy to fulfil. One thing that helped was keeping her body with us overnight when she died. In the morning, her presence, which had been very strong after her death, was gone, and what remained was the well-used shell; her soul was obviously off and up and away.
We miss her dreadfully but are happy for her, knowing that she is at peace, welcomed home by the loving God she served throughout her long and colourful life.
The New Zealand poet Joy Cowley’s Easter poem “The Resurrection” ends with these words: “Ultimately, it’s all there is. Just endless love . . . listen to the way he says your name.”
Endless love and a warm voice gently calling. A lovely Easter indeed.
Elizabeth Figg is married to the Vicar of Warton and Borwick with Yealand, in Lancashire.