Music & Memories In A Full House

 

John and I drove to Exeter earlier this week for MIJ’s funeral, passing Dartmoor where we had spent hours in the past walking the moor with MIJ and Ray. We arrived early and found there were loads of people already there, clustering together in small groups in the way that people who know each other tend to do especially at sad and solemn events.

They were dressed in a variety of ways and it was easy to distinguish MIJ’s walking club buddies in boots and comfy clothes, from her belly dancing friends who jingled softly when they walked, the dangling coins on their belts moving in response to the motion of their hips.

MIJ was very specific about her final arrangements and although I had an idea from Ray of the simplicity of the ceremony to come, I was still slightly unprepared for such an unusual service.

You can see in the photo I discreetly snapped from the back of the chapel that her coffin was made of wicker. Instead of expensive flowers, she asked that Ray pick a few wild flowers if there were any to be had and although you can’t see them clearly, there is a small collection of snowdrops along with a shell from her garden and several other types of flowers that Ray had picked that morning.

What was most moving to me, causing me dissolve into tears at first sight was the image of her hiking boots near the foot of her coffin. A few years ago she had asked John to put three or four songs on a CD to be used at her funeral one day. This music made up the bulk of her service with just a short bit of verse, a poem she had written that was read by her son. I wish I had a copy of it to include in this post, but the one below made me think of the simplicity of her service and how little fuss she wanted to be made.

I have to say that for a brief moment when her coffin was carried in, I imagined MIJ sitting atop the coffin balanced in between the flowers and the boots in a dress I like to think of as her dance hall look from when we went to a fancy dress party on New Year’s Eve. I swear I could just about see her riding up there with her legs crossed wearing a flirty smile while surveying the room to see who had come to say goodbye. 

Life Goes On

If I should go before the rest of you

Break not a flower

Nor inscribe a stone

Nor when I am gone

Speak in a Sunday voice

But be the usual selves

That I have known

 

Weep if you must

Parting is hell

But life goes on

So …. sing as well

~Joyce Grenfell

Ray & MIJ (in her dance hall dress), & Me – 12/2008

 

 

 

 

 

Marilyn Jefferies 1949-2010

I took this picture on our last walk on Dartmoor with Ray and MIJ. I had already snapped a few shots of the cross when MIJ stepped into the shot. I took two or three photographs with her back to me wondering if the cross marked a grave or had been placed there as a memorial of some kind. I know now that many of the stone crosses on Dartmoor were placed there as guideposts to let travelers know they were on the right path. It seemed appropriate to use this photograph today.

Ray called this morning. John was out so I took the call knowing before I answered what he was going to say. He told me that MIJ had died about 7:00 this morning and that she seemed peaceful and appeared to be in no pain.

He said that he had just finished writing a poem for her and had turned to open the curtains as it was just beginning to get light. When he turned back, he could see that her breathing had changed so he took her in his arms and held her as she slipped away. That’s the way he said it, ” I took her in my arms and held her, and she just slipped away.”

As much as MIJ loved Ray, I cannot think of anything she would have liked more than to be held by him at the end.

Ray & MIJ on Dartmoor – November 8, 2009

The Last Walk – Measured Steps

Our friend MIJ is desperately ill. She won’t get any better and it is really bad now. That knowledge sits so uneasily with me that it stays with me in the back of everything lately. I pester John for answers he doesn’t have and ask him to call her partner Ray for updates when I know there is not going to be any good news.

Twenty years ago, MIJ had breast cancer with a reoccurrence five years later, but with good medical intervention and diligent followups it seemed unlikely that this would reenter her life, at least not in this way. In November, she turned sixty with the kind of energy you would expect to see in an athletic forty year old. As active as I am, I always felt pleasantly tired after one of our five hour walks around Dartmoor, while MIJ never showed any signs of fatigue.

She has been in so much pain that Ray said she has given up and her doctors are now focused on just keeping her as comfortable as possible. Already a tiny slip of a woman, her weight loss is shocking when friends stop by to see her and it has been difficult to find the right dosage between controlling the pain and allowing her some lucidity in the short time she has left.

From everything we hear, she is receiving wonderful care from a compassionate medical team who spent weeks searching diligently through symptoms that were so unusual that they thought she might have something they could treat … something with a different outcome than the one she has now, a terminal diagnosis.

Mid November was the last time we saw her. I wish I had known it would be our last walk, I might have talked of other things. From all appearances, everything in her life was fine. She’d just had her sixtieth birthday becoming eligible for her state pension and we discussed the ways a bit of extra cash would be useful to her travel plans. After retiring at 58, she and Ray would often go off for six weeks at a time, walking and camping in conditions that while beautiful, would have left me grumbling. When we saw them in November, they were planning a trip to Nepal with a departure date of next month, and I listened to her explanation of why they were going there and putting off the New Zealand trip I knew she had been dreaming about.

She also told me in great detail of the new kitchen installation she had decided to go ahead with. MIJ has a doll house of a cottage and had wanted to make changes for some time, but had put it off, concerned as are most people on the edge of retirement, about money. The kitchen was finished about a week after MIJ went into the hospital. She never even had a chance to use it. My mind fixates on things like that. I tend to get stuck on thoughts such how she won’t ever cook a meal or wash a dish in the new space. I think about how she will never see New Zealand or swim again with her grandchildren. I keep thinking about how sad it all is and what she will miss.

I have been getting stuck there lately thinking about the twenty years she won’t have, but John encourages me to shift my thinking by gently reminding me of the twenty years of living she has been able to have since her first cancer diagnosis. In those years, MIJ has seen her son marry and have children of his own and she has been able build memorable relationships with her grandchildren who are old enough now to remember her when she is gone. Having twenty more years meant she had time to meet and fall in love with Ray eighteen years ago and travel to places she might never have seen had she been traveling alone.

When I came back from America early in December, I anticipated we would see Ray and MIJ for New Year’s Eve like we did last year, but around the time I began to think we should call them to make a plan, Ray called us to share the bad news. They were with us on our wedding day and I thought we would have more time. That’s often the way it is. You plan for a future that may not come and put off the things you might do or say differently if you only knew that this moment might be all you would have.

It is so natural to say, ” When I retire, I shall do ____ or when I get a new ___, I’ll be peaceful and happy,”  but if anything ever illustrated the point that we should not wait to do the things that matter, the finality of death does in it in an unmistakable way. It is that period at the end of the sentence, the full on stop that says, ” Your time is up.”

As Ray watches over MIJ in the hospital, I find my focus shifting to what we can do to help him. MIJ is getting all she needs now and is barely able to communicate more than a few words a day. He is at her side, all hours of the day, staying late into the night to keep her company as she gets ready for the final part of her journey.

Looking back over my photographs from our last walk together, I saved this one although I wasn’t really sure why at the time. It is not particularly pretty like many of the others that day, but in looking at it now I can see a future that was not apparent to any of us three short months ago.

MIJ, as you can see, walks on ahead while Ray waits, looking off in another direction. She is getting closer to the end now and I feel such sorrow thinking of her dying in a hospital bed. A still and quiet MIJ is so unfamiliar that I can’t quite get my head around it and my mind looks for something more comforting. I find it by picturing her walking, looking as I remember her best and thinking of these last days as measured steps, where MIJ is only going on before us, on a last walk alone.

More From Dartmoor

The other day I gave you a little teaser when I talked about our big walk around Dartmoor.  So I took a break from sewing to pop a few pictures up today. I’ve been asked to post some pictures of my repurposing projects and I’m making good progress so look for a few photos towards the end of the week. Back to Dartmoor...

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The moor has a great deal of variety in the look.

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We passed a fair number of cyclists that day. Ray and Mij said they’d never seen so many on the path there before.

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Me eating my standard moorland meal of American peanut butter and English ginger jam.

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Ray and Mij having their lunch.

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Pausing for a hug.

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Checking the map just to be sure.

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A walk through the woods just before climbing through the rocks.

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Hill climbing past the moorland ponies.

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Classic English countryside…sheep and stone walls.

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Patchwork beauty.

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I love the lone tree in the curve of the tor. ( Tor – large hills with outcrops of bedrock)

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Pausing for me to catch up…I always lag behind taking pictures.

IMG_8330A long shot of the sea in the distance beyond the lake.

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Nightfall on the drive home.

Still Walking The Same Path

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In 1975, the two men in the center of this photograph met through a mountaineering club in the Midlands of England. That’s thirty-four years they have been camping, climbing, hiking and walking together. In case you don’t recognize my husband John from this picture taken after a trip to Nepal in 1982, he’s the second man from the right. Standing next to him on his right (wearing a vest), is his long time friend Ray.

John and I were walking on Dartmoor today with Ray and his girlfriend Mij. While we covered about nine miles, I was snapping away taking so many pictures I was frequently lagging behind the three of them. Not surprising to me, I seemed to catch most of my photographs of them from behind. It was an amazing walk and I’ll be back tomorrow with more pictures to share, but I wanted to post a couple of John and Ray from today… still walking the same path after all these years.

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