It's raining as the small group of us who get together on Sunday nights leave the church. Calling out our goodbyes, we run to our cars. I turn on the CD I'm listening to--one I bought for Mum several years ago and brought home with me from England; Classical 2008. As I drive home through the night and the spring rain that patters against my windshield, Gabriela Montero playing Handel's "Sarabande" fills the space within the vehicle with the overwhelming beauty and emotion of the music.
As I listen to the music I think back over the events of the past few weeks, in which so much has happened.
I arrived in England on Saturday the 10th of March, just four days after Mum's death. I didn't go to church the first Sunday I was there. It felt okay to go slow, not rush around pushing myself as I normally tend to do.
Rob and I talked about all that there was to do over the next few days. He had made a start on the arrangements. We had an appointment with Rev. David Martin, the Rector of St. Laurence church, on Tuesday, and also an appointment with Thomas Brothers , the funeral director. David Martin and Thomas Brothers supported and helped us through the week of preparation for Mum's funeral on the 20th of March. I emailed back and forth with both of them many times over that week.
There were so many small details to discuss and work through. Rob and I did it with loving deference to one another in areas we each cared about. We kept things simple. Mum's favourite hymn would not have been known by many, so instead of singing it, we asked that it be played by the organist at the beginning and end of the service. I wanted to pay tribute to Mum and Rob was okay with that although he had no idea what I planned to say. Truth be told, neither did I until the early hours of the day of the funeral.
Liz Pierce, an ambulance attendant who became a friend after Mum went to hospital in 2009, emailed me to say that she would be honoured if we would allow her to sing at Mum's funeral. She was willing to delay a planned holiday for two days in order to be there and suggested a song I didn't know. After listening to it on You Tube we added it to the service. Later, when I wondered about changing to a different song, Rob frowned and said he didn't want to chop and change, so we left it as it was. I had never heard Liz actually sing, but she said that she would put her heart and soul into it. It seemed like God was giving us a gift through her loving gesture.
On Thursday of that we went to the Redditch branch of Thomas Brothers so that I could say goodbye to Mum. We had taken her clothes earlier that week; the periwinkle blue top that always looked so lovely on her, her houndstooth skirt, and the royal blue slippers with velcro closures. I had bought those, and Rob had doubted whether they would work for her, but they were perfect and she had worn them every day for at least two years. Rob laughed at yet another example of a common thread that runs through our relationship: me making suggestions and Rob being quite sure that they won't work.
Rob wasn't sure that he would go in with me to see Mum one last time; he wanted to remember her as she was. But in the end he went in with me.
The woman who had prepared Mum for our visit was an old classmate of mine at Alvechurch Church of England Primary School, named Maureen. She said that she remembered Mum as such a gentle person. She had washed her hair, but had to guess at how she might have styled it. If it wasn't quite right, she said she would change it. That kindness and concern for such a small thing meant so much.
And there she waited for us, the last precious mortal part of Mum and so precious to us. The hand that had been bruised by the doctor who could not find her vein for the I.V. had been carefully covered by her other hand and between them both she held a yellow rose.
It was important to touch her, kiss her and stroke her beautiful hair one last time. Rob was affected by the scent of the candles and had to leave, but I was glad to have a few moments alone to tell her how much I loved her.
By the end of that week we had done so much. We sorted through drawers and shelves of papers and photographs together. We gently shared the precious things to both of us only caring that they would be cherished. We went to the housing trust offices and found out that because of a rent free week at the end of March, Rob would have access to Mum's flat for one extra week after I left. Precious time for the final work of cleaning out kitchen and closet shelves, removing fixtures and filling holes. This was another gift of God.
On Saturday our friends Chris, Eileen and Nel-Rose came down from Kendal, in the Lake District to visit. Susan was also arriving from Canada having flown to Gatwick Airport in London and traveled to Birmingham Airport by bus. We went to pick her up before our other friends arrived. I could hardly believe that after Susan longing to see Alvechurch for so long, she was actually going to be there. I couldn't wait for the drive from the airport, which I always love, through the rolling hills of Worcestershire, and into the village. After the six of us spending the afternoon together catching up, Chris, Eileen and Nel dropped her off on their way home at her bed and breakfast, nearby, Rectory Cottage. By this time Susan was beginning to fade fast. I was amazed that she had been up for a visit on her first afternoon, when I would have been ready to crash.
The last thing I did before going to bed that night was email an invitation: "Tomorrow morning I'm planning to go to the service at Alvechurch Baptist Church which is at 10.30. If you felt up to going and wanted to, just let me know. I could walk up to meet you and we could go together."
The next morning Susan emailed back:"Last night as I was unpacking, I set aside something to wear to church and then checked the internet to see what time the service is and even checked Google Maps to see how to get there. :)"
I was so glad to have company. It was Mother's Day.