8th June 2022

My sister-in-law May died last week, on Jubilee Day actually: devoted, houseproud mother – not a speck of dust in sight anywhere, not a cushion out of place – and for many years an elder in the United Reformed Church in Chorley. Sixty-five years of memories, from right back to our teenage years, have come tumbling out. Right now I hear her Lancastrian tones, commenting in amusement on my supposedly teetotal mother’s home-made cider: “Ee, she does make some brews, your Mum!” It was May who gave me some rudimentary lessons in ballroom dancing. One day in August 1961 it turned out to be May who, when I was away on a month-long sea trip, phoned my parents purporting to be a girl-friend wanting to know where I was, saying in indignation, “Well, he never told me he was going away!” It was only a slight but familiar inflection in her voice that eventually gave the game away. My father enjoyed the tease.

It would have been wonderfully appropriate to share such memories with May on Jubilee Day. Alas, her last few years had seen not only steep physical decline but memory-loss with dementia. How cruel that so much of a loved one’s life can seemingly be wiped away from their consciousness, and how unfair for us to be denied the joy of re-living those times with them. I have to confess I don’t (yet) have a theology that makes some sort of sense of this. I can only hope for advances in neuroscience and a more humble waiting upon God. For now, gratitude to and for May, in God.

Keith Clements