At heart Elaine was a true romantic and she was particularly in love with the Pre-Raphaelite times and works of Victorian Britain.
The idea of billowing, flowing romance; of rhymeless poetry penned in meagre garrets by ailing consumptives, and exquisite artworks created on canvas by renegade artists; thumbing their noses at convention and society, while all the time craving the patronage of both.
She lapped it up whenever and wherever she could.
When she moved in with me she brought along her collection of Victorian prints and drawings, which she then spent three hours one Sunday evening nailing round the walls of her new kitchen. They stretched floor to ceiling covering every inch, but I loved them too.
One of her favourite places was the Russell Coates Museum and Gallery in Bournemouth where much of this period of artwork is displayed. Before we met, she told me, she would often go there alone to look and dream.
We went together just once and I was aware that this was a new intimacy between us. This sharing of her special place with me was very important to her, almost akin to new lovers baring their nakedness for the first time.
This love of the romantic extended into the scene for her ideal funeral.
A windswept hillside churchyard. The sky black a thunderstorm raging; torrential rain.
The coffin being borne aloft by men in black frock coats and top hats.
The priest in front, leading the way across the slippery ground; the wind trying to strip him of his vestments. The followers behind, drenched to the skin.
At the graveside the earth boggy and sodden. As the coffin is lowered the rain and wind washes the tears from the mourners’ down-turned faces; the flowers they’ve brought, now useless be-draggled offerings, like weeds at a wedding.
Elaine would have loved this to have been her funeral- lucky for us it wasn’t.
Tuesday 19th January 2021.
Mike and I arrive at the Woodland Burial Ground just before midday, we are early which is what I want and we are both feeling nervous and on edge. My friend is worried about me and how the next hour or so is going to go, though he has said nothing I know him well enough by now.
The truth is, now we are here I feel a little detached from this morning; it’s as though I’m here to watch a short play that I don’t really want to see let alone be a part of, I’ll just be glad when we reach the end.
Last night I spent alone at home, tonight Mike is staying with me as Elaine had wanted. I’ll be more than glad to have his company, he’ll have the sofa as his bed where I spent last night and was visited by the silence, (see previous blog).
After I woke this morning I went for a walk in the half light up through the park where Elaine used to go after Bruce died and where we often walked together. Much to their disgust I shut the cats in as I wanted just my own company this time and they do so love to go for a stroll, all our cats have.
To this day I am not entirely sure I was alone but the walk did me good, and I feel a renewed strength to face this morning, something in the weirdness of last night has bolstered me up too; is her funeral the ‘peak’ and afterwards is it a gentle slope downwards to normality? Questions without answers at present but they’ll come soon enough.
On my way back I collect a stone from the track to go into her grave; I will also put in some earth from our garden which she loved so much.
It’s just after 12 o’clock as the first of the invited mourners start to arrive. They turn up slowly which gives me time to say hellos to most of them. The mood is subdued, Elaine didn’t want happy- clappy anyway, and she’s not going to get it today. The weather is brooding, grey, a bit cold and unpredictable, the wind fresh and getting stronger; she may yet get her Dickensian burial scene.
A grey hearse silently arrives bringing my wife to the party, whose invite she has steadfastly declined for the past thirty years. My emotions are subdued and strangely neutral.
I’m very relieved when Jane, who is to conduct the service, arrives. Now I can relax a little, we are in good hands.
Everyone stands around talking quietly, all reluctant to be the first to go in and sit; but once a few do, all follow. Mike and I are among the last.
Again the coffin, now set on trestles, looks unusually large; on it rests a spray of nine long-stemmed dark red roses from me. Elaine requested that everyone bring along some flowers to go into her grave with her and all have done so.
I don’t intend to give a blow by blow account of the service here; Elaine had mapped out what she wanted some time ago and we stuck 95% to her wishes.
There was music by: Leonard Cohen, Ellie Goulding and Johnny Cash & June Carter. Readings from, Nicholas Evans, Nancy Wood and Winnie the Pooh!
Elaine’s words were read followed shortly by my own that she never got to read or hear; Jane did a masterful job of weaving it all together, and as she read my words aloud I knew in my heart that I had to carry-on the blog. Anna had given a ‘thumbs-up’ to my idea of continuing it, to tell Elaine’s story to the end, now there is no going back.
As the indoor bit came to an end we sat waiting to follow on as the coffin was taken by hearse to the graveside. The weather was closing in and I wondered if Elaine was planning a soaking for us all at the eleventh hour; but it did hold off, just.
I’d asked that my roses be taken off the coffin and placed on the earth after her burial. Thankfully someone was thoughtful enough to take one bloom and leave it on the coffin lid, a gesture I will ever be grateful for.
There were further readings by Jane and then my darling was gently lowered into the waiting earth and everyone filed past to cast their offerings in with her; I was last with my buttonhole of snowdrops picked from our garden. I also dropped in the stone and earth from home.
Despite lockdown rules there were hugs all round, and I was grateful to Penny, Elaine’s friend and mindfulness instructor for taking my arm as we walked away.
Elaine may not have got her fantasy Gothic send-off, but I think she would be pleased with the dignified solemnity of the occasion and the genuine sadness of all present.
There can be no wake afterwards, as originally planned, so I give my thanks to as many as possible as the party slowly dissolves around me. Mike and I are last to leave and return to what is now just my home.
I am feeling very bleak and unsettled. Something is over, and I’m glad for it, but something else is close by waiting to begin. I can feel it now.
Mike and I have tea, as Elaine would have, then despite the worsening weather decide to go for a drive around. Just what do you do after a funeral when everything is closed down?
During this reluctant tour Mike has a brainwave and says; “Let’s go to Knowlton.”
Knowlton was a small hamlet just off the main Wimborne/Cranborne road; all that really remains now is the ruined 12th century Christian church that was built in the centre of a Neolithic earthworks.
It’s a strange place with an aura of eeriness and brooding. I have been here before so had my wife but I can’t at first remember if we had been here together; a while later I remember that we had.
It lies on the route we took each time we went to the vintage barn at Cranborne. This was a journey Elaine and I always loved. It is a super sweeping road to drive, and the fields and skies around you are always so vast and proud but without any menace or threat.
The light at any time of day, but especially the early morning, brings colour and freshness to the landscape that Elaine’s Pre-Raphaelites would have enthused over. They would have loved also the air of dark romance that hangs in the atmosphere of this melancholy ruin.
This afternoon though they may have preferred their warm studios as it’s become freezing cold, the wind is a demon and rain falls in torrents.
We sit in the car for a while and luckily the rain stops so we venture outside for a walk around. Not surprisingly, we are the only ones about and have the place to ourselves. We set off across the earthworks towards the church, there is little shelter and the wind cuts through us.
I don’t fancy too much of this, a quick tour round will suffice, but then we notice something on the far side of the site and go to investigate.
There are two Yew trees growing close together and on them is an amazing sight of coloured ribbons, string, small toys, remains’ of flowers you name it and it’s probably there; coins have also been left.
We are not sure what it’s all for but a dog walker appears close by and we ask him. He confirms our suspicions that people leave these things as a form of offering to remember loved ones and to appeal to the ancient gods for help and good luck.
It all strikes a chord inside of me. I want to leave something for Elaine, coming here this afternoon wasn’t a chance thing I just know it. I don’t have anything with me only coins, but it doesn’t feel right to leave them so I resolve to return soon with something that has more of a feeling of her to it.
It’s very curious, but stood between those trees I felt close to Elaine; I don’t know why that should be but it just was, I can’t wait to return. We head for home as dark grey becomes the dominant colour of the landscape and the rain starts once more.
Our evening and night pass with the aid of beer and curry plus programmes on Ferrari and McLaren. We don’t talk too much about the day but are both relieved that it is over, but what now?
I have a dreamless night, though it seems to me that I’m sleeping in a huge dark void just floating in nothingness, waking isn’t much better.
I’m up before Mike and make coffee. He appears and says he slept ok which I’m glad of, that settee isn’t the best of beds.
We don’t bother with breakfast just coffee and talk. It is during this converse that Mike repeats something that he has said to me before, it sticks in my mind which is just as well, but I’ll tell you what and why next time.
Mike packs his gear as I tidy up and he’s ready to go by 9.30; I don’t really fancy being alone but have to be sometime. We say our goodbyes and he says he’ll phone me soon, I know he will but as he drives away the rain starts and so do the tears.
I can’t fully understand why, stupid I suppose, but I feel utterly alone in the world everything is black and hopeless.
I’m back indoors and sat on the settee, I can’t stop sobbing.
Two hours pass and I’m still sat there, all I want now is to die.
To be continued…