Two blog-posts back I posted my Spiritual Autobiography (by word-count) Assignment. What I didn’t disclose to you was that in true mags style I probably flunked that assignment. The word count was 3000/5000 words. I managed 7100 words ~ or maybe I didn’t manage it very properly at all ~ hence the 2100 shortfall. It turns out I had 13 pages. Thats a pretty cool number of pages to have randomly finished at ~ I was most pleased. I came to the conclusion that I could ‘run myself’ over any number of the words, culling this paragraph here, deleting this one there, editing my edits, and get my autobiography down to the suggested word-count at a push. However the compromise would be that it simply wouldn’t be me. ~ And on this occasion I refuse to compromise ~ to turn in something which isn’t honest ~ isn’t authentic ~ and frankly isn’t me.
I could remove the language, that I use, to get to where I am going ~ and then the essence of me would be lost along the way. I could record any number of facts ~ but then the thoughts and the feelings that reveal my idiosyncrasies, that trigger my responses to certain situations ~ decisions ~ choices ~ and paths that I have taken, might become invisible. To have actually turned in 3000/5000 words of an autobiography, would have actually been to have turned in somebody else ~ and not me at all. So in order to be True I took the risk of failing the assignment ~ knowing that in Gods eyes I pass it wholeheartedly.
I have to at this point disclose to you, that I Am worried about the response to what my tutors read. Worried about all those Christian tutors who ‘do not judge’ suddenly forming a silent unspoken opinion of me, which is now prejudiced by the information they have access to. Will I now be deemed unfit for service? A Spiritual Director trained by the London Centre for Spirituality, being disliked and banished by her own diocese, is not a good advert for me ~ for the spirituality centre ~ or for prospective directees (especially ones in my own diocese.) It’s almost game over before its begun.
On Saturday after 48 hours of laboured breathing, my beautiful~beautiful best friend died. She stretched her head back ~ opened her eyes wide looking up ~ flexed her arms above her head (just like Jesus on the Cross) before bringing them back down to her side ~ and then she breathed out her last ever breath ~ never to breathe back in again. The time was 9.38am ~ 05.09.15. I barely stroked my finger tips over her eyelids to softly close them ~ Her husband walked in through the bedroom door, back from work, at the precise moment of her last breath ~ he says the words ‘is she breathing?’ I answer him by saying ‘I think she is just taking her last breath’. He lays on the bed next to her ~ reaches in and kisses her lips. We sit there holding her hands in silence and tears ~ 10 minutes later the nurses appear for their daily routine visit.
Earlier in the morning her husband had struggled to remove and replace her Pj’s as they had become soiled, and the pain of being touched to replace them was too much without an increase in pain relief. When I arrived my dearest sweetest friend naked from the waist down lay exposed upon the bed, underwear neither on nor off. I looked at her ~ I registered how perfectly beautiful she was ~ every fibre of her body ~ every soft curve and gentle weave of hair ~ Her milky skin so gentle ~ so soft ~ her frame so perfectly delicate ~ her body so beautiful and womanly ~ her complete nature ~ truly beautiful. So close to that of Our Lady, Mary, the mother of God. Maria the most pure, humble and dignified gentlewoman I have ever had the blessing of knowing. In that moment I was worried for her dignity ~ and so I gently pulled the duvet back over her barest softest flesh ~ that warmth might be restored ~ before the early morning district-nurse could help make her more comfortable.
Now I know with all my aching heart what it means when people say that ‘Mary is the new Eve.’
‘Virgin’ is about the pureness and the goodliness and the holiness of ones heart ~ of ones very being ~ of ones daily living ~ of ones innate nature ~ of ones soul ~ and of ones spirit. Even a wife and a mothers.
God I Love her.
We stayed with Maria after she had passed away ~ until 2.00pm in the afternoon ~ taking it in turns to sit in stillness with her ~ to say our goodbyes in our own gentle way ~ to sit in silence ~ in tears ~ in gentle prayer ~ with sacred words ~ and special thoughts ~ in Spirit and in Love. The children at times all holding one another ~ us holding them ~ Maria holding us. It was heart-breaking. Dearest friends appeared to say their goodbyes, and to support her family. So incredibly perfect. Such incredible sadness. So much suffering. Sorrow so deep ~ So raw ~ So hurting.
So much Love.
God so intimately close.
By 3.00 I suddenly was exhausted.
I left drained and white.
I didn’t know where to go for rest ~ so I went straight round to the chapel ~ then I went to Mass. Peace.
Then I went home and the numb ~ hollow ~ empty ~ lonely ~ stillness ~ crept inside of me.
Where to now?
Its all I can remember for so long.
Last week I stayed overnight at Clare Priory ~ I needed it. I needed to collapse in Love ~ and be held ~ and be looked after ~ and be cocooned in the sacredness of private space whilst having others close by. It was the most special 30 hours. I began the early cold damp day by being offered Toast & Coffee, as I arrived way too early in the morning (having left pre-breakfast in good time for my journey.) I arrived hungry and cold like an orphan. Which is exactly how I felt.
I needed looking after.
I attended morning prayer and Mass ~ and then I climbed up the ancient stairway to my attic room in the heavens ~ past the Augustinian’s rather sophisticated grand looking floor to what felt like the rather especially comfortable servants quarters up above ~ It was perfect ~ my bed was under the eaves. I was greeted in my room by a small wooden writing desk ~ and poignantly, of all people, by a picture of St Rita ~ I burst into tears. I unpacked the things I needed ~ wrapped myself in my pale rose fleecy floral blanket and curled up in the fetal position upon the bed. I fell into a deepest sleep. I only stirred much later in the afternoon, when I felt the door open and then softly close again. I didn’t see a soul. It was apparently my very special ~ lovely ~ warm ~ kind Spiritual Director Sr, she was just checking on me to make sure I was ok.
30 hours was a blessing Sooooooo needed. But in truth a week would have been beneficial. The 3 Augustinians and the 2 Sisters were so lovely ~ the next day I roamed around the grounds ~ counting the many fruit trees ~ admiring the red creeping Virginia ~ enjoying the busy, inquisitive but nervous activity of the squirrels in the specimen trees. The history seeping out of the ancient cloistered ruins, crumbling into the orchard meadow ~ The ancient antique church now beautifully fused with the brightest most alive contemporary worship space. Adjoining it, is the most beautiful Zen-like hermitage ~ with its own framed, private, tranquil garden outlook ~ as if from a glasshouse. Its beautiful ~ a place that I hope to revisit many times. I dream of bringing new life to the tired old house with vases of freshly picked flowers ~ and fresh salads and fruit bowls ~ and a lick of lovingly applied paint ~ and an energy that only carefree youthful joy can bring ~ except carefree youthful joy has all gone ~ from me ~ and maybe from within these ancient sacred walls.
This week I have practically lived in one of Maria’s cardigans ~ it is scented with her safe warm fresh comforting feminine scent. I left some of her washing on my pillow and when I sleep it feels as if she is close by. I sleep with the window open ~ and on the first night after Maria had died I slept with a heightened sense of awareness ~ and the breeze within my room ~ I am almost sure ~ was not a breeze coming in from the air outside.
Eliza too has this heightened sense of awareness ~ it is not just apparent in me at poignant times ~ but underlies everyday life ~ a bit like tuning into radio waves. After chatting about the beautiful scent of the cardigan and refusing to prematurely wash it ~ Eliza Maude talked about the different scent that her different friends have. At one point a little girl in her class picked up Eliza’s unlabeled jumper ~ Eliza knew it was hers as she could smell it. The little girl would not return it and Eliza came home most upset. A few days later however it was returned, as the other Mummy realised it was not her daughters jumper. Eliza says all her friends have a different smell and one of them has seemingly no smell at all, and how she can’t mention it to everyone because they don’t ‘see’ it!
The night that we received Maria’s body into the church was the most moving of all nights. I have never been to anything like this before. It was moving beyond all other experiences of funerals that I have ever known. Her children were so brave. Eventually everybody left, and after taking the children back home Gerald came back to the church. I made us coffee, and we sat and had our last ever cup of coffee with Maria. We sat talking about Maria and about their families ~ and about farming. We laid the order of service for the following days funeral upon all the seats ~ and after an hour or so Gerald left. ~ I told him he should try to get a good nights sleep for strength tomorrow.
I couldn’t however bring myself to leave the church ~ so I curled up on the floor supported by the wall, and sat, and sat, and sat, and sat until midnight. Only then did I leave. I wanted to stay all night long, but I knew I had to get at least some sleep, so that I was ok to support the children in the morning. I kissed the coffin and left. I don’t know what I am going to do . . . Maria was the one adult that gave me physical affection. We hugged and kissed each other every single day. God I Am going to miss her touch.
I was worried at the funeral as my own children wanted to attend ~ Maria would have wanted them to be there ~ she thought it important that children should be allowed to say goodbye exactly as they wanted to. But I was going with her own children up to the burial ground, and Gerald didn’t want anyone to attend but blood relatives and myself. So I asked R if he could attend and stay with our own children back at the reception. I rightly thought my lastborn might find it difficult for me to leave her under such sensitive circumstances. However I talked to R about how it might be an incredibly difficult situation for me, and how I wasnt looking forward to any awkwardness at all based upon recent circumstances. I needn’t have worried, because of course conversations had been conducted privately, and instead any awkwardness that may have been ~ was deflected by one poignant absence.
So many people thanked me at the funeral for my friendship with Maria ~ I had to remind them all that anything I gave wasn’t a patch on what she had given to me, by being my dearest friend for so many years. Why did she have to go first? I Am going to miss every ounce of her wisdom ~ every natural gesture of her Love. Thank God it feels like she’s a part of me.
After the beautiful ~ simple ~ bright ~ no fuss ~ deeply Christian funeral ~ I suggested to the parish priest that I treat the parish to a new clock ~ and not one with such a ridiculously loud tock. Whilst sitting in the holy sacred little chapel night after night after night ~ the tock of the clock breaks through the silence ~ as if challenging God who operates beyond all time. He said I probably only noticed it because of my heightened feelings. I was overjoyed to know that he knew about such a heightened state during poignant times. Nobody else has ever mentioned it before. That heightened state however I feel at other times too. And especially at the funeral wake, I notice in a whole roomful of continental strangers, how warm and receptive and comfortable they all were with conversation ~ Some even reached out and hugged me ~ others kissed both my cheeks ~ others touched my arm and my hands ~ all words shared were generous and warm ~ eyes were bright and kind. And yet each time I shared in conversation with my parish priest, during each conversation he took a step backwards ~ “out of the circle” ~ “backing off” as if moving out of the comfortable realm for conversation ~ too far away to be kind. And suddenly I knew what it was to feel like the leper ~ as if anything that had been previously said about me was contagious ~ and that by taking a step back he would be protected.
The wise part of me tells myself this is about him ~ not about me. The wiser part of me still wants to scream ‘Papa how can your shepherds ever know the scent of their sheep, when they can’t even bear to stand in conversation with them ~ let alone stand within touching distance’
The Medaille Trust job apparently is still available ~ I now have no idea if I have the confidence to pull it off ~ however a small part of me thinks I surely must try ~ as it might ease me from the awkwardness of having to attend Mass in my local church anymore, under such strained circumstances, by avoiding R’s new silent best friend. It might open my life up to something new that might also fill the saddest of holes. However I need to consider that in my special little Church ~ at the most precious Mass ~ in the chair poignantly empty beside me ~ I Am sure sits my most beautiful Angel best friend ~ where together we share in the Eucharist for everything that is ~ everything that was ~ and everything that ever shall be ~ world without end.
And that in itself is the biggest comfort ~ and enough to make me not know what to do for the best ~ I Am not sure I want to give that up.
Dear God ~ where to next?
Marie Jacqueline Hubertine Roper ~ Pray for me
as I Am for you.
Love You forever darling ~ for Eternity.
Stay close † xxx