Saturday, March 27, 2010

A story for Jill

Although this is really a story for Jill, I know she'd want me to share it with you.

Jill was a friend, a very dear friend. During the final weeks of her life I visited her regularly in hospital. I sat by her bedside and we'd talk . . . how we talked! Wonderful, liberating talks that had no agenda and ranged seamlessly over such topics as our shared spiritual beliefs, our deep love of the countryside, and our mutual delight in the works of P.G.Wodehouse!
But, first and foremost came Jill's love for her family . . . and her love for the garden she'd created at her home in Oxfordshire.

Those who love on a generous scale provide nourishment for all creation. Jill's garden was living proof of this fact. What she wanted, she said, was a romantic garden. To demonstrate that this love-affair was in no way one-sided, every plant responded with joyful exuberance.

On my penultimate visit to Jill's small room in the hospital, I noticed a new arrival beside the bed - a small, wicker trough overflowing with spring flowers. It made a joyful statement against the sterile backdrop of trolleys, tubes and bottles. The bulbs had been lifted in full flower . . . snowdrops . . . anemones . . . crocuses . . . cyclamen. A kind friend in Oxfordshire had decided that if Jill couldn't come to her garden then the garden would travel to her!

"I'll take a photo," I said, "When the flowers fade, you'll have something to remind you."
After draping my scarf over a rack of bottles, to provide a less clinical backdrop, I took out my camera.

The following week it was clear that Jill was nearing the end of her journey. As the trough of flowers had disappeared, I placed the photo gently in her hand.
A smile of pure delight spread over her face . . . a smile that I treasure in memory.

Three days after Jill's death I received a letter in the post. Do you remember me telling you that I act as tutor on a correspondence course? The students come from all over the world and, although I rarely meet them, they become good friends on paper. The letter I received that day was from a student whom I'd corresponded with for several years. We had never met. She was, she told me, coming to London for a funeral the following Friday. As the funeral would be taking place quite close to where I lived, she wondered whether it might it be possible for her to come and see me?

I looked at the address on the letter . . . Oxfordshire.
I recalled the date and time of Jill's Thankgiving Service . . . half-past eleven on Friday.
Surely not . . . ?
I phoned my student.
"You aren't, by any chance," I asked, "a friend of Jill?"
Not only was my student a friend of Jill, she was the very friend who had carefully lifted the flowering bulbs and enabled Jill to enjoy her garden from the confines of her hospital bed!

Well . . . you can imagine the rest. My student and I, Jill's two friends who had been united in this totally unexpected and extraordinary fashion, met in advance of her Thanksgiving Service to give our own thanks for what Jill had meant to us. We then walked to the service together.

Through the Woodland Trust, I've planted a tree in Jill's memory. It will be putting down strong roots in a bluebell wood in Oxfordshire. What dedication, I wondered, should I put on the certificate? As Jill and her husband had deeply admired the work of William Blake, I chose four lines in memory of our many talks . . .

"To see a World in a Grain of Sand,
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour."

. . . and guess what I discovered the day after after choosing this poem? The same four lines had been used as part of the service for her grandson's christening!

Did Jill's spirit arrange for me to meet her friend from Oxfordshire? It was one of her many delights in life to bring like-minded friends together. Did she ensure that I chose the right message on her certificate . . . ?

It's only on one level that I'm bidding her farewell. Who knows, she may be planning another gentle nudge for the future!

Thank you, Jill. Thank you more than I can say. Thank you for everything.