It’s been eleven years since you left us on May Day 2005. I was sitting in your chair at the top of the garden at Penparc Cottage thinking about you when the call came. I heard the phone ringing, heard it stop, picked up by someone inside. Our friends Susie and Michael and their daughters Minnie and Rosie were holidaying at the cottage. I don’t know who picked up the phone, but both Michael and Susie came out to give me the news, and their stricken, caring faces told the whole story before they’d even explained. They didn’t know you, but they knew about you, knew what the news would mean to me, and they were so, so tender. Nevertheless, the physical sensation was unexpected. The sudden blow to the chest and an emptying, as though heart and guts had burst and were unstoppably flowing away.
Death was expected, of course. You’d been long fading. I’d been with you the day before, to sit and watch while Ian attended to business. I’d held your hand, leaned in and murmured softly to you, not wanting to pull you back through the easeful veil of drugs. You were floating so far away from me that I imagined myself a distant speck in the dreamy landscape beneath your wings. You were peaceful.
You died at a point of change in our lives. We were moving to Aberystwyth, though hadn’t yet found what was to become our home. Peter and I were staying with our friend Pip, who’d loaned us her guest cottage, the Ty Bach. Pip knew I was sad and was as kind as kind can be. But no concern, no matter how beautifully expressed, could pack back what had flowed out at the time of your death. Eleven years on and it’s still missing, like the cavity of a lost tooth that I can’t stop probing with my tongue, expecting the miracle of a return while knowing that it can’t grow back. This is not to say that there isn’t love in my life, because there is. But not your love, and I miss that more than I can express. My friend, confidante, co-conspirator and muse, I miss you every day.
I think that this emptying is what eventually undoes us. Every passing of a loved one pulls out another bit of my stuffing.
This is how it feels. (You’ll like this, Catriona. It’s a story!)
As a child I started out on a walk along a beautiful country lane, surrounded by a loving family. Gradually friends joined the walk, and as I grew, the throng multiplied. It was a merry crew, a constant discovery and delight. There were the older generation still with me, but mostly young and lively people of my own age. The walk was like a party.
Gradually the older ones began to drop back. It was sad, though it seemed natural. After all, they were older. When they stopped I waved goodbye and moved on. I missed them of course, but I was really interested in what lay ahead.
Then some of the ones who were the same age as me began to slow down, falter, stop. First one, and then another and another. And each one stopping in the road diminished my happiness and made me less myself. A bit more stuffing pulled out.
These days the group is slower, and much smaller. Every time I look around there are fewer companions. Now when I turn back I can see many figures dotted along the road travelled, just standing there. I keep walking while they diminish and then disappear in the distance.
Right now I still have enough people around me to remain optimistic. But our numbers decrease all the time and I fear that one day I will be the only one on the road. I’m not at all sure I ever want to become the unaccompanied traveller trudging forward, carrying an emptiness left by absence. But what alternative is there? And I wish… oh how I wish… that you were here so we could talk about it.
Sent with love by Clive to Catriona Urquhart
May Day, 2016
Catriona wrote the poetic text to the body of work that started my career as a painter. The Mare’s Tale poems appeared in 2001 in an edition with illustrations by me and published by The Old Stile Press. It’s a beautiful book and is still available from the press, based at Catchmays Court in the Wye Valley. Designed and printed by Nicolas McDowall, it’s a lasting testament to story-telling, friendship, collaboration and Catriona’s artistry with words.
By clicking HERE, you will find other Artlog posts about Catriona.
Dear Clive. So beautifully achingly put. And searching, as you do, for a magic that will put everything in some transcendental perfect place without pain and loss. We all ache for that, don’t we? But we all also thrive in the loss for it brings us back to ourselves, and to the eternal lasting presence of relation which doesn’t die. Of course, being material, we live our daily lives with that loss. Oh how the Buddhists share their teaching of moving beyond it! Oh how stubbornly we can’t! I can’t quite yet and you and I being almost the same age both walk that path, so full of life and joy and fun and being and doing together, and then witnessing some one or ones turning away. How we had to experience that in the worst moments of the AIDS crises. Losing so many good close friends and family earlier than we should have. I think somehow it makes these new losses even more “hurtful.” We had hoped, prayed, those kinds of numbers – one after the other – wouldn’t come again. I know you still visit with, and have visits from, Catriona, but that the touch of hand can’t happen is still such a great grief. You are brave to tell us all about it. And let us give back to you the love we send as your salve, as minimal as it must be, but as maximal as it is intended.
big hugs 😦
Another beautiful and sad entry, Clive. I know how you feel. One doesn’t want to be the last one, the one who goes on alone. But at the same time, if you disappear first, it will be the friend, the loved one, the companion, who will be left alone to miss you.
jacques Brel, in that song, “Les vieux”, sang; “celui des deux qui reste, se retrouve en enfer”. Of course, Brel was thinking of old people, and Catriona was young. Much too young and much too talented for her death to be acceptable. But it has to be accepted.
And I say about her what I said about Trevor; she will live on in your love and in your memories while you live, and while any of us who have come to know her through you live, and while those who have come to her through any of us, are still alive…
Such is the power of love and of remembrance.
Love and remembrance is everything!
Thank you, Maria.
How moving and beautiful. I believe that thinking about lost friends and family members keeps them alive and moving forward with us. Perhaps not in the same way but they’re still there as Catriona clearly is for you.
Yes, still here. And yet not. It’s all such a mystery.
Darling I hear your feeling and respect its truth but here’s my own. Your traveling will always have Catriona and the others still beside you, or rather with you for as long as those we love or who loved us are remembered then how can they really be gone?
Love, whether near or far, forever for you
And sending love back by return post. Lots of it, too! (-;
Now you’ve made me tearful, you have so beautifully expressed your pain, and your journey through life. Thinking of you xxxL
Oh please don’t cry little one. Or if you do, let it be brief. You too know the cottage, and have enjoyed happy times, friendship and laughter there. Let those be the memories. Sending love to you and G from Wales.
Eleven years on and it’s still missing, like the cavity of a lost tooth that I can’t stop probing with my tongue, expecting the miracle of a return while knowing that it can’t grow back. This is not to say that there isn’t love in my life, because there is. But not your love, and I miss that more than I can express. My friend, confidante, co-conspirator and muse, I miss you every day.
Expressed so well. I so understand.
I know you too, Bev, walk this path. Sending warmest wishes.