What Remains


1948 Bringing In The Milk

A young boy about 7 or 8 walks with his little brother as they follow the tall man into the garage to see what waits inside. Watching intently, he listens as his cousin seventeen years his senior explains patiently and carefully that the boat they’re standing in front of is a varnished, clinker built, sailing dinghy. The boy has never seen one this close before, but he knows from the excitement in his cousin’s voice that this is very special to him. He listens and tries to remember as this kind man takes time to explain the purpose and names of the riggings and fittings. His little brother fidgets beside him too young to absorb much of what is being said. Only 3, his brother won’t remember this day, but later he’ll help his older brother as they build the first of two dinghies when they are only 9 and 13. When they’re grown men, they’ll each buy their own sailboats, but still sail together at times, as they explore the Cornish coastline not too from the Bristol Channel where they first rowed the dinghy they built together as children.


Two Lads In The Dinghy Built In 1956


John Winchurch 1956

Mom Takes A Ride In The New Dinghy

Mom Takes A Ride In The New Dinghy With David

It’s this early childhood memory that John will recall 6o years later when he stands before about 30 or so of his cousin Michael’s family and friends as they gather together to share stories of this erudite man whose sense of humor generally made him the life and soul of any party. After his memorial service, they’ll all gather round to look at the photographs that various people will bring to share. Most will contain images of Michael, some from 50 years ago like the one below when he served as best man at the marriage of John Collins and his late wife.

Michael J. Bench - Best Man- 1959 (Far Left In Photo)

Michael J. Bench - Best Man - 1959 (Far Left In Photo)

After sharing his childhood memory of Michael, John will listen with great interest as John Collins, the groom above tells him how he met Michael when they were architecture students and how together with another friend they’d bought the dinghy that Michael had shown the boys in the garage all those years ago. John Collins will say he was interested to hear the dinghy mentioned during the memorial service and he how he can’t quite remember what happened to it. He’ll also add how it came to be in that particular garage when the three of them owned it jointly. Being students still, Michael was the only one with a place to store it and so it was there… tucked in the garage of Michael’s parents, Auntie Millie and Uncle Horace when John and his brother David visited the Bench family around 1948.

John And Cousin Mary, Remembering With Michael's Friends

John And Cousin Mary, Remembering With Michael's Friends

This picture probably more than any other reminds me of the day and how in the end what remains are the memories and stories we share. Michael was well loved and there were many conversations as we talked and talked lingering even as we moved towards our cars reluctant to have the day be at an end. Mary was not really interested in being photographed as so many of us are particularly as we get older, but this sweet photograph of her alone is one I just had to share because with her brother Michael’s recent death and the loss of their younger brother two years ago, in their circle of three, she is what remains now.

Mary Bench Levack

Mary Bench Levack

Saying Goodbye – A Death In The Family



This is a difficult post to write. Michael Bench, John’s cousin died yesterday morning about 5:00 am. We had received word late in the afternoon on Wednesday that he was suddenly responding verbally to questions when asked by the medical staff. This was in direct conflict to what anyone had expected. We were quite excited to hear about this positive shift as he’d been totally unresponsive the morning before and had planned to be at the hospital at 10:00 the next morning to see him. Before we could get there, the hospital phoned at 5:20 am to tell us that he had died.

All of this has been terribly shocking to everyone. Last Saturday we’d shared a lovely meal with Michael and his sister Mary. John’s eldest daughter came down from London and his brother David was there too along his daughter and her boyfriend who came down from the north of England for the reunion. Michael and Mary had traveled to Polzeath for a holiday and were scheduled to go sailing with us all on Monday. The picture below shows us at a local pub in Cornwall on Saturday evening. The black and white photo above was taken at the same dinner.  Michael and Mary had been out for a small bit of coast path walking earlier that day and both seemed fine with no health complaints.


I had the good fortune of being seated next to Michael during dinner and we talked about many things throughout evening. There were still many questions I wanted to ask him about and I said goodnight that evening thinking that we’d have plenty of time for that over the next few days.

After a late lunch on Sunday, Mary and Michael went to beach in front of their hotel and before long Michael decided he wanted to go down to the water and changed into his swim trunks. Leaving Mary high up on the hill watching his belongings, he walked down in the direction of the water  and was gone so long that Mary began to wonder where he was …it was about the same time she noticed a commotion on the beach and a crowd gathering.  As she approached, she realized that it was her brother Michael on the ground with someone administering CPR. It turned out to be a physician who happened to be at the beach with his wife. I can’t imagine how frightening it must have been for her to find Michael in such a state.

An air ambulance was called and Michael was airlifted to the hospital where his heart was restarted. At the time and for several days after, no one had any real hope of his survival much less recovery so it was a shock when he began to say a few words on Wednesday evening.

If I’d known Michael for more than the evening I spent with him last Saturday I might tell you more of the regular things you expect to hear when someone dies and people speak of who they were or what they did during their lifetime. I might tell you how he was a Senior Architect who spent his career with the National Health Service designing hospitals and other medical facilities.  I might tell you how in 2003,  his life partner Leo Breach had died on Christmas day after many years together and how at 83 he still lived on his own in London. Or I could tell you about all the ways he was important to his sister Mary, how at one point they’d shared living space for 18 years of their adult lives or about how they’d travel all over with Mary at the wheel of the car even though she was the elder of the two.

If I’d had more time with him I might have been able to share the stories he had from a childhood spent traveling with his family to various parts of Cornwall and how much he still loved to holiday in the southwest of England as an adult. I don’t know all the details of his life, but I do know that walking along the water’s edge that day was something he loved.  John helped me to see it from that perspective as I wondered aloud to him …asking  no one in particular…what in the world was Michael thinking when he put on his swimsuit and headed for the water.

I’d like to imagine him walking across the sand carried along by the excitement of a beach holiday and not think about how it would be the last time he would ever dip his toes into the coolness of the Cornish sea. I’d also like to think that he might have been looking back along the shoreline in the direction of where he’d left Mary when he felt the first pains in his chest and how perhaps in the moments just before he lost consciousness he might have seen his family sitting on the shore whether a fragmented memory remembered from a picture of his family like the one below or perhaps a gathering of those gone before waiting to lead him to the other side…I just hope he saw more than the sand of the beach as he slipped into it before closing his eyes.

The Winchurch & Bench Families On The Beach

“We are the boat, we are the sea, I sail in you, you sail in me”

-Lorre Wyatt

Many thanks to all of you who’ve reached out to us during this time..we are very grateful for your good thoughts and prayers.