Love lost, read and found
As the date for Kath’s funeral loomed, I had this uneasy feeling deep in my instinct telling me what I already knew, something somewhere was being forgotten. The feeling was gnawing away at me between everything else and whenever I got a moment to distract me from all of the distractions, I gave it more and more thought. But the funeral plans were taking all of my time and the feeling was put to the back of my mind in the hope that all those rallying around me, would somehow remember to address the things I could not remember myself. Once I knew what date had been set, I confirmed with Father John from our parish and he agreed he was free and could do the service on that day.
I think I will take this opportunity to mention that when I was crazy about and still chasing Kath back in our early teenage years, she used to regularly go to Sunday mass as St. Anselms RC Church as did many of our friends who were all local to the Balham and Tooting Bec area. In my efforts to be in Katherine’s company as much as I could, I often went to mass just as much at her parish as I did to my own. At Kath’s local parish, the head and residing priest for as long as we knew, was Father John. Years later, married and now settled in Morden, we had our own parish which over the years had had a number of changing residing priests in our time there, but when we least expected another new one was announced and we were all chuffed to bits when it turned out to be Father John and we were once again reunited with our younger Sunday routine and it felt that in the parish we now had a familiar friend.
Anyway back to the story at hand, the date had been set and the parish had been booked and I then had to meet with Father John to choose readings, Psalms and Hymns and who if any would stand up to read at the service and once I had chosen and ticked off these loose ends, I could then set about creating the ‘Order of Service’. But before I turned my mind to that, with members of my family I went to look at a choice of 3 separate cemeteries in the area and to look for a plot in which to bury my wife as she had recently requested, (Details coming in a separate piece). After much discussion and weighing up certain options, I settled for the site of her would be grave and another thing was ticked off the never ending list. The day before I had picked out the dress in which Kath was to be laid to rest in and the ticking off of each thing just went on and on, but I still had Katherine’s dying wishes left to fulfil and those thoughts on my mind were also weighing on me.
Then I got the confirmation that Katherine’s body was ready and laid out in the chapel of rest, and those who might want to, for the next few days could pay their final respects.
I don’t think I can quite describe what I felt the first time I walked into that room and saw Katherine laying there and knowing I won’t be able to do the emotion much justice, I don’t think I will even try, save to say, it was a punch in the stomach and reality check which knocked the remaining stuffing out of me. This was the moment I had dreaded for many months, the moment for sure, when I knew were I stood was in one place and my wife if she stood, was in another and on the other side probably looking at me looking at her body. Whilst I did look at her body I tried to avoid focussing too much on her face and only looked over it in quick glances knowing that in death they would not have been able to catch her quite right, to how she looked day to day and in life. I don’t think I wanted to have that newer image dominate me. Over the few days that she was left peacefully laying there, I went many times to see her and reflect, not sure if I kept going out of duty because she was there and I felt it was my place to be there by her side guarding her body while she awaited her granted wish to be buried with the ashes of her loved ones or perhaps I went so often, because I didn’t know what else to do. I did know though that I could not bring our daughters to see their mother laying there in eternal sleep. The girls should remember mum alive for as long as they could, and I was not about to change that too soon.
At 5.30pm the Chapel of Rest finally had to close and I was politely reminded of the time by the lady on duty and I went back home to carrying on with the ticking off of things.
Hannah helped me on the computer with the layout of the ‘Order of Service’ booklet, and with my sister’s help, we picked out a photo of Kath to use on its front and then in a daze, I went off to the printers to pick out the colour and texture of card and get the booklets printed. Not knowing how many I would need, I ordered 100 thinking that surely that would be more than enough then I kept a few back to send out to anyone who couldn’t make it, but still was convinced that a booklet per family would mean the quantity would be plenty. I ran over the list once again of all who had been told and who I thought might be coming to the Funeral and I still had the feeling that someone somewhere was being forgotten and then I realised what else I still needed to have ticked off. I thought a collection of photos of Kath through the years would be nice to have laid out at the wake so that those gathered in her memory could look through and reflect and also as the venue had a big plasma screen, I could have a slideshow of such photos playing in the background too. I had thousands of photos myself of Kath and I and our family together over the years, but apart from the odd photo, I realised I had almost nothing of Kath,s childhood years and so I went to her mum’s to look through and select some from her photo albums, which I would then scan to the computer late into the night, when all else was deadly still. It was here that it jumped out at me, in so many many photos, Kath was pictured laughing and playfully, having endless fun with her younger neighbour Emily and sister Juliet. I had met Emily on a number of occasions but all had been in the first couple of years of knowing Kath and when at 16-17 years of age, I had not yet managed to make her my girlfriend. Emily and Kath were as close as could be and had grown up together and were always in each other’s houses. But by the time that Kath and I started finally dating, it was not too long after that Emily moved away and contact was only through occasionally letters. After losing contact for many years, somehow they did once again connect and they met in Clapham for a drink one day in about 1998 or 1999 where Kath told Emily that she had eventually married that boy from college that years ago had turned up on the scene and crowded out much of the time that they once shared on their own. Then once again they parted company and unfortunately more years drifted by before the contact addresses and telephone numbers they both had exchanged became old and no longer correct and hence a wonderful part of Kath’s early life faded into the past and into just memory.
That whole night in bed, I kept thinking I had to somehow get in touch and let her know. She would want to know and have been given an opportunity to attend the funeral, but more than that, I knew Kath would have wanted me to have found her and told her the news and knowing this in my heart, I couldn’t bear the thought of the funeral taking place without me having contacted her.
The next day when I awoke, my niece Alexandra had offered up her day and she spent it with me, making the slideshow on the computer, of all the photos I had selected and the ones I had scanned in the night before, and it took most of the day to get the chronology right and then to apply the right tone of backing tracks for the mood, but I was most grateful to the wonderful job that she did for me and for how lovely it was having her share the whole of my day, and the unspoken support that the gesture offered me.
While she was busy doing that, I spent hours on end going through Kath’s files, diaries both old and new, her Filofax, address books and whatever else I could find that might offer up or somehow divulge the way to contact Emily, but the numbers I found, when I rang were just dead. Then I tried every conceivable trick I could think of online in the hope that the Internet would have some trace of Emily and it did, but which Emily was which? It was a nightmare trying to decide what to do or who to contact, as Emily shared the same first and surname with so many others. Facebook alone offered more than a hundred. I tried to narrow things down but not having seen her since she was about 15 years of age some 26 years before, it was hard for me to know what she might look like. I tried to narrow the possibilities by gleaning what I could and eliminating things like non matching ages, hair, likely area of residence but this still left far too many and so many of which had no photo to even look at, and so after so many hours, I made my strategy of choice. From the remaining possibilities, I would message, inbox and email as many as I could, in the hope that one of them would reach the right Emily. I can’t remember how long it took, but it was hours more, before after contacting over 50 different Emily’s all sharing the same surname, I gave up in the hope that my efforts had been enough. Neither Kath’s brother or her mother had been able to offer me any help and so it was now up to chance. I had given up most of the whole day in the search but I still felt incomplete from the fear that I might have failed to contact her and in turn make my wife’s funeral complete.
The next day was the last day Kath could be still be seen open casket at the chapel of rest and knowing it was a time for more goodbyes, it was not too unusual that towards the end of the day and as closing time fast approached, I was joined by Kath’s brother Alex and mother Esther, in the room by her side. We found ourselves talking about all the recent events and about Katherine of course including her last days at the Hospice where so many people had visited. Alex asked me if I had successfully managed to contact Former prime minister Sir John Major, who I had felt compelled to contact in light of his visit to Katherine in her hospice room when he had seen her there all alone playing cards on her bed, and gone in and sat with her for a while just to chat. I was just so moved by the thought that he had taken such time, to sit with my Katherine during one of the many moments that she spent there all alone that I desperately wanted to acknowledge the fact and to inform him that despite Kath since passing, his gesture had given her much pleasure and me some real comfort. I told Alex that I had emailed his office but that I had not heard anything back and as the conversation switched to all the families and friends who had called to pay respects or to confirm their attendance to the funeral, I told him that I had not managed to successfully contact Emily and that it was a real shame I felt unresolved. He nodded in agreement and then suddenly added, ‘Emily’s Uncle is another quite distinguished high profile figure in the Conservative party!’, and suddenly a glimmer of hope leapt in my heart and moments later, being once again closing time, we had to leave the Chapel of Rest but this time for the last time. The next time I would see Katherine’s casket would be on her funeral day, but I still had one more journey planned for us first, before I would lay her to rest. But even more urgently now, I had to rush home, there was one thing I still hoped to tick off.
When I got home, I rushed to the computer and continued my search, but this time I searched directly for Emily’s uncle. The search took me to an official Conservative Party website on which I managed to find an email address direct to his office. I emailed the office taking care in choosing my words so they were not missed, ignored as spam, or just overlooked and once I was happy that my cold calling email would set out enough to prove I was genuine, I sent the email subject header; ‘my wife and your niece were very close friends’. Then I am sure, I breathed out as big as sigh as I could muster, and told myself that was that, if I hadn’t managed to contact Kath’s childhood friend, at least I felt I had done all for her in my trying.
The next morning was the day before the funeral and eagerly I turned on the computer to check if my last minute email had had a response. not one of the previous 50 hopeful emails aimed at Emily’s namesakes had bothered to reply, despite my heart felt plea, so I was prepared for a disappointment, but there it was, at 9.01am an instant reply with the first minute of the working day, an email from her uncle’s secretary expressing his sympathy and reassurances that he would have the email forwarded on to Emily. I was almost in tears reading it and felt so relieved, but being so late with just a day to go, I didn’t really believe that after so many years and short notice, Emily would be able to attend, but it didn’t matter, I was proud to feel I had not let my wife down.
As the day went by, there was no email reply from Emily, and rather dejectedly I turned my attention to things I still had to tick off. I still had to prepare my funeral attire and write some kind of fitting words and another funeral speech that evening when I noticed my forgotten phone and saw some missed calls and some texts on it and they were all from Emily and suddenly rather nervously I rang her back. She told me she had emailed me but they had gone into my junk file and when I checked there was two emails from her sister Juliet too, and they had amazingly done what they could with commitments and work at such short notice and both were going to attend Kath’s funeral. I can’t express enough, right at that time, how much it meant to me, in a way I had come full circle and my Goodbye to Kath was going to be much the same as the first time i said goodbye outside her home. I walked Kath home one day many years ago on the first week of meeting her at college, where when we reached her home, I met her Emily for the first time.
After Emily’s call I went upstairs to get my suit, shirt and tie ready, and I found from Kath a last calling card. Tucked in my back of my black funeral tie, Kath knowing I would wear it, had left one last message for me. It read simply; ‘Love you darling! X’.