I’ve wanted to write about this for a long time, but haven’t had the energy. It’s not the easiest story to tell. And I have a feeling that even now, I’ll tell less of the story than I really want to.
Another person who started the year with a dose of flu was my nephew’s fiancée, Lucy. However, she didn’t do as well as I did; early in January she went into hospital with pleurisy and various other problems which looked like flu complications. The hospital drained copious amounts of fluid from her chest.
Initially she appeared to be recovering well. But around the third week (the timescales are a little vague in my mind now) she started deteriorating again. A scan revealed shadows on her liver and pancreas, which could have been signs of an infection spreading there, but which of course put other worrying thoughts in our minds. By then she was too ill to have an anaesthetic to take samples from her liver and pancreas. But one from her spine proved to be cancerous, and a sample of the fluid drained from her chest turned out to contain cancer cells too.
A few days after the cancer was confirmed, my nephew Pete was called into the hospital. This was, I think, on the Friday or Saturday. He was told that Lucy may only have a week or so to live, and that if they wanted to get married, they shouldn’t wait for the July date they’d planned.
The Sunday afternoon was spent planning the wedding, which took place next day in hospital. Amazingly, all the people who were to take part in the original July wedding were able to get there, at 24 hours’ notice, and about fifty guests were able to attend as well. Lucy wasn’t well enough to get married in the hospital chapel, and there wasn’t room in the hospital ward for all the guests, so there were two parallel services: a marriage blessing service in the ward, and a communion service in the chapel for the rest of the guests.
I wasn’t able to get to the wedding, because I hadn’t recovered enough from my flu to travel down to the other end of the country (the journey just to orchestra and back for a rehearsal wiped me out). But considering the circumstances, it seems to have been a fabulous occasion, and as close to the originally-planned event as possible. For example:
- rings were purchased from a local jeweller similar to the ones Pete and Lucy had intended to get
- Lucy was able to dress as she’d planned for the original wedding
- a member of the hospital staff made a wedding cake
- another member of staff (maybe the hospital press officer) took lots of wedding photos—and got one printed out on the day so Lucy could see
- one of the nurses asked the people who were doing building work outside the ward to take an hour off so it would be quiet for the wedding
- champagne also arrived, via the hospital staff.
Pete and Lucy were married on January 31st. Lucy died just 15 hours later, early in the morning of February 1st, still wearing the ballgown she’d worn for the wedding, aged 40.
Lucy’s funeral wasn’t held until just over a fortnight after her death; this was largely in order to give as many people as possible the chance to get there, especially since the wedding had been planned at such short notice. It was of course a very sad event, but it was also an exceptionally supportive one. There was a short committal service at the crematorium (which had to be invitation-only because of the number of people expected), followed by a memorial service at Pete and Lucy’s church, where they were originally going to get married.
When I arrived at the crematorium, which was packed, I was immediately struck by the supportive atmosphere. One notable moment in the service was when we listened to the heartbreakingly appropriate song Bye My Love by Brian Houston, which Pete had chosen. I was in a seat near the front, but was aware of everyone getting their handkerchieves out as the song progressed. The gist of the song was “I’ve got to go now, but my love for you remains”.
The memorial service was (as it should be) a wholehearted celebration of Lucy’s life. It was conducted by a minister who had known Lucy for about twenty years, initially as her student chaplain at university. So his own personal memories of Lucy were included along with those from various family members. It was also done in such a way that anyone could participate meaningfully; not only those with a Christian or other faith. I feel this was really important, since it was obvious that those attending were there because they wanted to be there—there was no sense of anyone being there from a sense of duty or whatever. Everyone wanted to remember and celebrate Lucy, and it seemed to me that they were all able to.
Towards the end of the service, Pete spoke about Lucy’s final moments. How he found the strength to do this I don’t know. I won’t go into detail here about what he said, but it was inspiring and had to do with Lucy embracing her departure from life as fully as she’d embraced living.
Somewhere between 350 and 400 people were at the memorial service. And as funerals go, it was about as celebratory as you can get.