For Sheila


I haven’t blogged in a while. No, no, it isn’t anything you said. We’re still cool. It’s me, not you.

Joking aside, we lost my wife’s Mum just before Christmas. Sheila passed away on the 12th of December at the rather wonderful age of 90. For the past two years she had been fighting a sly and elusive cancer which had been making her life a misery but had refused to show itself. Then at the last, the cancer turned into something much more aggressive. And that, I’m afraid, was that.

There are many ways to look at this. You tell yourself that 90 is a good innings. Sheila had enjoyed a fantastic life with 44 years of marriage to Murray, a degree in Mathematics from Cambridge, two loving children and three great grandchildren. She had many friends and was much loved in the community.

You can say all of that.

You can tell yourself that her passing is a great relief. She had been in a lot of pain in these last two years. And while the hospital staff were very professional and caring, they never could make a cup of tea precisely the way that Sheila liked it. Not many people could.

You can reassure yourself that she died peacefully in her sleep. What that really means is that they had given her so many pain-killing drugs that she didn’t know much about anything at the end.

The young should bury the old. That’s what they say, isn’t it? It’s the right order. I can’t begin to imagine how painful it must be to do it the other way round.

If you are religious, you can tell yourself that Sheila is in a better place now. And if you aren’t religious, she is certainly no worse off than she was.

You can tell yourself all of this, but it still doesn’t stop it from hurting. We’ve lost a remarkable woman. A 90 year old who taught herself how to use her laptop. A mathematics whiz who did something very hush-hush in the war in the development of radar. A lovely lady with one of the keenest minds I have ever known.

It’s the funny little moments when it hurts the most. When you notice something in the television schedules that she would have liked. And you reach for the phone to tell Sheila in case she hasn’t spotted it.

But then a weird thing happens. I don’t know how it works, but I do know exactly when it happens. It’s a bit of magic.

After the church service there is a subdued party. Everyone is invited, all are welcome. Teas and coffees. A round of sandwiches. Sticky cakes for pud. A glass of prosecco. It was one of Sheila’s favourite, don’t you know?

The magic happens within the next ten minutes. It’s something about the food and drink. It is a powerful metaphor, a symbol. It says that life goes on. We finish a funeral with something to eat, a reminder of the day to day business of existence.

Sometimes there are kids playing. The grownups stand around in little circles chatting while the young ‘uns run around them, like speedboats zipping between islands.

You meet someone you haven’t seen for years, or maybe a relative you haven’t met before. And before you know it you are talking about what you are doing now. Your job, your children, your life.

It’s a way of drawing a line. Yes, we have just lost someone very dear to us. Yes, that hurt will go on for days, weeks, months, years. Yes, we want them back for just one more day.

But life does go on. It isn’t a case of whether we are going to die. It is about when and how. We are all going to head for the exit at some point, as time and generations roll over us.

Yes it hurts. It’s supposed to hurt. That shows we care.

And then we move on. We find ways to keep their memories alive. We do our best to honour their memory. We do things the way that they would have wanted.

And then we move on. We raise a glass … to Sheila. Hmm, that’s a nice glass of bubbles. A cheeky number from the south side of the vineyard, if I’m not mistaken. She would have appreciated that.


2 thoughts on “For Sheila

  1. Will, what a wonderful piece. I’ve heard it said that if you can write well about death, about loss, then you really can write.

    My regards on your family’s loss. December deaths have a way of screwing up the entire season if you’re not careful. I lost my mom very close to Christmas, and for a couple of years, all the joy of the season was gone. It’s making it’s way back, slowly.

    Grace and peace to you and yours in the new year.

    Liked by 1 person

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