Have you heard?
Have you heard?
“Have you heard about Emily?”
“Is someone going to make an announcement?”
“Well Stephen knows, let’s leave it to him to decide.”
Mutual agreement, I nodded my head like one of those silly dogs on car back windscreens.
“He announced one death yesterday already, and two deaths might be… well…”
I nodded again, agreeing. Two people who will never again be joining us to listen to music and song at this private festival, bustling with parents and children from the local Waldorf school combined with friends and friends of friends to dance and catch up and play. An annual event, an act of love from the family who open up their fields to the local community for what has been nicknamed ‘Roger’s Party’. One death announcement is bad enough. But two – that’s one too many.’
This year Emily, a stalwart regular with her four glorious children and wheelbarrow loaded with provisions, had stayed away, pinned to her bed by a sudden and violent form of cancer that gripped her the previous winter and only now had released her – or should I say, she had left it behind, departing her body on the Saturday afternoon whilst I listened to the band play in the marquee.
Text and social media delivered the awaited news at lightening speed, and by Sunday mooring the niche collective of sleepy-eyed campers, volunteer coffee servers and musicians, played out the same morning rituals as every year, some knowing the news, some not, and some wishing they didn’t.
As I walked away from the makeshift reception my eyes filled and anger bubbled up. ‘Why was I nodding like a fucking puppet? How can Emily not be publicly remembered here just because someone else died first? So she’s just one death too many? Too depressing – can’t have real life and death spoiling the fun of the festival, can we? How inconvenient that Em chose to die on that particular Saturday afternoon.’
And if someone were to make an announcement, say a few words, would it be me?
No bloody way. I know how it would go:
“Have you heard the news about Emily? Emily Smith, then Turner, and last summer married again to become Emily Gilbert, didn’t have time to change her bank account to her new name. Last summer was a busy one: the death of Emily’s mother, the celebration of Emily’s wedding, running a growing chocolatier business and a tribe of children needing feeding and transport, and only a few months later a diagnosis of a rare and ferocious form of cancer in one of her sinuses. Nose bleeds and swelling segued into chemo and radiation as Emily waged chemical and nuclear warfare with one core mission – to buy time. At first I judged and despaired at the war damage on her body, but when a mother wants to stretch out a few extra months to be with her four school-aged children, she will use any weapon available. And she will take no prisoners.
“Boo – Hiss – get off the stage! We want the music – this is a festival, not a funeral!”
Yes, you’re right. Just a few words, a mention. Everyone knows the long version. Let’s just create a post-script.
Ok, here goes… will a poem make it more palatable?
You may have heard about Em
Her body died yesterday pm
She went from one room to another
Leaving four children without a physical mother
But hey guys, I have news for you….
If you think a skin-suit with hair and nails
A tangled web of nerves and flesh, vibrating cells
Can contain you and me
Can define our status, or place, or set us free
Then I have news for you…..
We may shift from one room here to another over there
But we all live in the same giant house where
The walls are loving arms that hold us up, where
The windows stream in light to blind the darkness, where
The doors give access to each lifetime of learning, where
There is only one lesson
We live only to extend love
And are only truly alive when we do
The love we extend fills each place
Then spills out into the fields beyond time and space
Emily knew how to extend that love and grace
Indestructible, eternal is our Em
Who vacated her body yesterday pm
Roger’s Orchestra is shaking our souls out of Sunday inertia with violins, cello, double base and oboe. A ramshackle jam of talented enthusiasts and professional musicians extending their gifts to an auditorium of hay bales, babes in arms, old and young. Two regulars – who may not have known each other, I really don’t know – are missing from this space. Yet the space is still full.
The orchestra crumbles back into the crowd after moving me to tears once again, as they do each year, and are followed by a lively rock band of enthusiastic youngsters, and after another round of nose blowing in the portaloo I drag my tear stained swollen face back into the fray. And I’m smiling.
Emily dispensed love in the form of truth on several occasions, when I was locked in a cupboard under the stairs of the great big house of life, in heartbreak or overwhelm, she would drag me back out. She pulled back the curtains, chased out the mice and in truth, at least once, she saved my life. But that’s another story…..
The finale arrives with the N Kippers and we sing along and dance to Spider in a Suitcase and laugh hilariously at the soap opera star wrapping himself in sellotape (this is no ordinary festival!) and he says a few words about the friend who is missed and them something very beautiful, amongst the laughter and playfulness of the music. It was something like: “When music reminds us of a person, then the person is there when the music is played”.
No announcement is needed. I let it go.
Today let’s dance with Emily
Today let’s sing with Emily
Today let’s remember Emily and shed those tears of her’s that she kept us from seeing
Let’s announce her departure by welcoming her Home
As the band rocks on and the audience shouts
She may have moved into another room but
Emily Smith… Turner…. Gilbert….
Is – Still – In – The – House!