My mum has gone. It is as hard to say as it is to feel. She is not here anymore. Gone from me. Gone from our lives. Gone from her chair and her garden, never to return. The finality of death is overwhelming. Whatever else there is, what’s now is finished.
I was there when she left. I was sitting beside her stroking her forearm when her laboured breathing stopped. It was sudden. There was no warning, no fanfare, not even a solitary violin. Just silence. It’s a quietness I’ll never forget.
I was not meant to be there. Of all the family I was the one far away. I was sitting on a train in northern England when the phone connection kicked in and I learned how close to the end she was. It turns out my brothers had gathered the night before expecting her to go by the morning. But now a reprieve. Hurried phone calls, flight changes, cancellations and apologies. I exited the train in the old city of York feeling gutted and confused. I had a long day to wait before the journey home could even begin.
I did my best to be positive. I walked. I drank coffee and took photographs. I even bought a hat. I wandered the outside of the colossal Minster, awed by its bulk though joining the queue to go in was more than I could do. Instead I found another place – a little parish church not far away. There was a small plaque on its wall that dated its beginnings in the 12th century. There was no queue outside, not even a sign of welcome. The entrance was littered and un-swept.
I pushed on the door and ducked my head to go inside. As the door creaked closed behind me, the silence was wide, the space empty, the air musty and still. I stood for a while, glad of the quiet. I looked up and saw the ancient stone arches spread out in formation. I looked down and saw the aisle underfoot paved with gravestones – anonymous saints, their names worn away. I edged my way into one of the wooden pews. Seated, I noticed a series of garish little Icons on the outer walls marking the Stations of the Cross. They were not pretty, but awkward, and so very much at home. I closed my eyes and felt an odd sense of peace.
With tears I remembered … I remembered sitting beside mum in church when I was a boy. We sat on a wooden pew. I liked it there. There were no Icons for us, no gravestones underfoot. We Baptists were not into ‘graven images.’ But when I looked up at mum I knew without a moment’s doubt that God was real and that all would be well. For fifty-two years of my life mum has been the one through whom I’ve seen God – my own personal Icon; my Stained Glass; my Saint. It’s as though she wrote God’s name upon my life and kept reminding me it was there. ‘You are a man of God,’ she would say with such conviction I almost believed it. ‘I am so proud of you.’
But now, now she is gone, her breathing stopped. My Saint has gone underground. My reference point has disappeared and my reassurance silenced. I feel so very sad. Yet so very, very grateful.