Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Winnie's death: some days of silence

Police photo taken by revolutionary guards, Dechang, China. c. December 1950.  
Winnie, Bill and Clarissa. Father Bill was being held in Xichang at the time.

Some days of silence because Winnie died on Saturday. We had a warning call on Friday but then nothing more till Saturday when another call came from the nursing home to say she looked to be very ill. Five minutes later a further call to say she had died.

Naturally we drove straight down - we would have done so anyway - and were the first to arrive followed by Hilary (Clarissa's sister,) and Geoff (Hilary's husband), then Bill (Clarissa's brother).

Winnie was laid out in bed as normal. She was already cold. We kissed her on the forehead - I kissed her for our children, Tom and Helen too. There were tears of course. For all that she was ninety-two and her death was expected - and indeed twice foreshadowed - the moment when it arrived was the moment when what had accumulated found expression.

Her earlier home carer was very fond of her, and so were the nurses in the nursing home. She never complained or made life difficult for them - she too had been a nurse, after all - and was clearly sweet tempered and generous. That was my experience of her. As we sat around the bed I tried to remember the first time I met her. I had met Clarissa's father first, in the art college car park as he was loading up Clarissa'swork at the end of the year: tall, distinguished, a little daunting (but not later, and always generous and witty). I suspect Winnie met me at the door of  their house in West Drayton, immediately smiling and welcoming.

Over the years both Clarissa' parents were of enormous help to us in too many ways to begin to list..

Clarissa's memory is that when she told Winnie she was going out with a poet she was delighted. She herself loved poetry, and was - apart from Clarissa - my most devoted reader, Reel being one of the few books in her room in the nursing home, along with a Bible and a book of prayers.

I have never quite forgotten that poetry is not just to please other poets and critics but that it should mean something to those outside the poetry 'community'. Not every poem, but some at least.

This is the last poem I wrote for her., when she was ninety, still at home and capable of reading with concentration.

A Photograph in Old Age

So light entered the camera, if only for
a fraction of a second which was enough
time for a draught to slip through the door

or a feather to rise in the faint puff
of wind, or the pupils of her eyes to dilate
and the  conceiving of one off-the-cuff

remark about time. Even so she could wait
for time to pass, whole years of it, and slow
the moment down to no particular date,

she, being ninety, and smiling, in a flow
of moments, far too many to note or count,
like watching a feather, or hearing the wind blow

without any desire to keep track of the amount.


Muse said...

x to you and yours.

George S said...

Many thanks, Muse.

havantaclu said...

All love to you & your family.


Graham Mummery said...

Very poignant poem.

My condolences to you, Clarissa and your family. My thoughts and love are with you.


Sue Guiney said...

Sending condolences to you and your family, George. And thank you for taking the time to share the beautiful poem.