On Monday, my cousin, his wife and I made the same journey from the South West of England to Wales, to the same village church where family and friends had gathered little more than a fortnight ago to say farewell to my niece. And, just as it had on the day of my niece's funeral, the sun poured down on us but even more brightly. It was the sort of weather that one always wants on the first day of a holiday; we could hardly believe that we were now on our way to say farewell to my niece's mother, my dear sister-in-law, whom my cousin and I had known for almost sixty years, since we were children.
But the ancient church gathered us all in and gave us time and space in which we could both grieve and celebrate a long life, a life well lived and a life full of love. The four of us who spoke in her memory, each had our own particular and precious recollections but, without any prior conferring, we were as one in recounting her great loves: family, friends, home, dogs - and all animals and wildlife, music, laughter, jokes, cooking, parties and entertaining. The doors of her home - and her heart - were always open and, over the years, she had welcomed so many across the threshold of both.
One of the passions we shared was music and it was my sister-in-law who introduced me, when I was still very young, to classical music. Her great musical loves included Italian opera, choral music, and the tenor voice; she shared those loves with me, a gift that has lasted a lifetime. But she made music too: playing the piano was the source of much joy and was her escape from the demands of everyday life.
This being Wales, the music at her funeral was very fine indeed, uplifting us and soothing us like balm: as a congregation, we sang Psalm XXIII, set to Crimond and that great Welsh anthem, Cwm Rhonnda, (Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer). My sister-in-law had sung with the Monmouth Choral Society, many of whose members, including close friends, formed the choir who sang her to her rest - Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus during the reflection and, at the closing, the Sarum Prayer, God be in my head, set to music by Walford Davies. The simplest of words, centuries old, the profoundest of meanings. It mattered not who was a believer and who was not; the beauty of the music gave us a safe harbour for our shared tears and sadness and, above all, a setting in which to give great thanks for her life and for the love we had for her and she for us.
So, this, for my unforgettable sister-in-law, now resting at peace with the two of her beloved children who went before her.