April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
These are the opening words to T S Eliot’s famous poem ‘The Waste Land’. I studied this poem in depth for my A level in English Literature when I was just 18 and although I loved the words of the poem, the many varied characters, changing voices and visual imagery I could never quite grasp the meaning of those opening lines. How could April, with the onset of a longed for spring, ever be described in such desolate terms?
As I stood in church today waiting for the coffin of a very dear girl to be brought inside those were the words that sprang to mind and I finally understood what Eliot was describing.
Annie was a vibrant beautiful young woman who died recently of kidney cancer – she only just made it to 40 and left behind an 18 year old son.
Annie is the daughter of a very dear friend of mine and although I did not know her well she made an impression in a few meetings that will be with me for the rest of my life. Despite her debilitating condition she had a huge zest for life that never deserted her and she inspired all those around her to appreciate the everyday joys of life. Annie loved animals – you can see her above surrounded by her troop of dogs that went everywhere with her. She ran a very successful dog grooming business and had such a way with dogs that even my elderly, very grumpy and often prone to bitting old dog took to her and happily let me leave him in her capable hands.
You can see Annie above in the white shirt This photo was taken last September not long after her terminal diagnosis and Annie had a broken hip – her crutch is behind her. We had a crisis in the village that day – 3 donkeys were being moved from the Donkey Sanctuary to a new home and the door of their trailer came undone resulting in the donkeys falling out onto the road. Although badly cut and bruised they were remarkably unfazed by their experience and were caught by Annie’s parents and led into the vicarage garden to calm down. Annie and her husband turned up with a new trailer and we spent a very long time trying to persuade the donkey’s back into it. I had not seen Annie since before she had been taken into hospital with her broken hip and I was overjoyed to see her out and getting about again.
I had 2 broods of young chicks at the time that I needed to re home and Annie said that day that she would like to take them. She arrived at my house twice, taking each mother and her chicks separately to their new home where she had bought each one their own chicken coop in which to raise their chicks – we both cried when one of the little chicks died in transit. My last memory of Annie is standing with her in my garden on a beautiful October morning as we chatted about life with chickens. Annie said how lucky we were to be enjoying such a day and living in such a beautiful place. She told me how happy it made her to know that every morning she had a garden filled with chickens to look forward to.
Although we all knew her diagnosis was terminal we hoped and prayed for a medical miracle that would buy her more time, but it was not to be.
Annie’s death tears at my heart on a number of levels. As a mother I know that there can be nothing worse than to have to live through the death of your own child – when we give birth to new life we naturally assume that the child will outlive us – for Annie’s parents to have to say goodbye to her so soon is heartbreaking. Also as a mother I can imagine with all my heart how hard it must have been for her to have to leave a son who is not yet independent. She is lucky that her parents are young and fit enough to take over the job of caring for her son, but to have to leave without seeing him through university, into a career and perhaps married and with his own children would have broken her heart.
And for Annie herself my heart goes out – to have to leave the party whilst there was still so much to enjoy – she was recently married and they were planning to build a new home together, there were all her animals to love, a large and extremely loving family to enjoy – Annie had everything to live for and no choice but to say good bye.
And that is why, standing in the church today, in the midst of the outbreak of spring, I finally understood why T S Eliot called April the cruelest month.
Goodbye Annie – the world is an emptier place today and your community will miss you.