Thursday 26 March 2015
Tribute to a friend
Yesterday morning I had the phone call I was dreading. It was a dear friend's daughter telling me that her mother had passed away the previous evening. I had only spoken to Annie last week, and she sounded very upbeat and cheerful, although we knew that now they had withdrawn the chemo because it wasn't helping any more, she didn't have long left. She set a date for me to visit next week. I thought at the time, that seems a long way away, but thought that obviously Annie had Dr and hospital appointments to keep. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I think she knew we had said our goodbyes. Her one desire was to die in her own home, with everything that she loved around her, and where she felt safe. I was so glad to hear that this had come to pass.
We had been friends for 20 years, and met when we were doing an Access course in English Literature and were both inspired by our Lecturer, who was superb. We both went on to do degrees - hers in Victorian Studies and mine in Archaeology. Annie and I clicked from the start - we were both adventurers in life, saying goodbye to life in the town (London for Annie) and both taking on half-ruined smallholdings in the Welsh countryside, though hers, in the foothills of the Cambrian mountains, was more remote than ours.
I can remember Annie telling me that they never had the chance to even properly view the cottage they bought, because it was rented out, and the people weren't there when they came to view. It was unlocked though, and they just peeped into the kitchen, and looked through the windows and liked what they saw and went back to put in an offer. When they first arrived, all the ruined farmhouses and cottages along the lanes to her smallholding were being squatted in by hippies. This was the time of articles in Country Bizarre magazine, which told people how to squat in abandoned houses!
Like us, Annie and her husband spent years and all their money doing up the cottage, and it was a lovely home, crammed with all the sorts of things our house is filled with, especially books. Every time we sat drinking tea and eating cake, I would look at her ceiling to floor bookcase (just one of many throughout the house) and see the same books I had on her shelves. She was an excellent cook and like me, enjoyed baking.
Annie lived for her garden and created the most beautiful garden out of a sour, damp Welsh hillside. She was a real plantswoman, and had green fingers. It must have broken her heart when the Hospital told her she must give up gardening because if she picked up an infection from mould, it would go badly for her. But that didn't stop her planning, and I helped her to source some unusual Rhododendrons and other plants last summer. I had been hoping beyond hope that spring would come early and she would see her new Rhododendron "Gomer Waterer" flower but sadly spring has been dragging its heels this year. Whenever I visited I brought her pot plants or bulbs to grow in pretty little vintage jugs I had found - old china was another of her delights. Old embroidery and crochet too. I delighted in leading her astray with more pretty "stuff"!
When she moved to Wales, she joined the Local Spinning and Weaving Guild and was a real craftswoman. She loved embroidery too and was trying to finish a piece for her daughter whilst she was still able. I will offer to put the final stitches to the border. . .
Aren't the colours stunning?
Annie loved beautiful things. She loved learning new skills. She had chickens, took in stray cats and like us, had 9 at one time, and loved all animals. She was a very gentle soul and was a bee-keeper. I wonder if anyone has told her bees that their mistress has died?
Self-effacing and modest, she was none-the-less quietly stubborn and declined the offer of going into a Hospice to end her days. Her home was where she felt safe, surrounded by all her pretty things, and her beautiful garden. The barn with the Barn Owl in residence, the wild birds which she fed through winter, the light from her stained glass windows throwing shards of colour across the room. Rooms filled with memories of her beloved husband who predeceased her, and of their family growing up there and bringing their own children to visit.
I shall miss you Annie, but I will never forget you and am so glad of this last year when we laughed together, and cried together, and I had the chance to give you a little brightness at the darkest of times.