Mary's musings

Mary Hoffman, author of over 90 children's books, including the Stravaganza series and Amazing Grace, has begun a web journal which will be updated roughly once a week. You can read more on

Monday, April 26, 2010

A personal post

In a period dominated by volcanic ash, when we thought youngest daughter would not be able to have the trip to Florence she was giving her partner as a birthday present and had booked months ago, there was another more poignant event.

In December, my cousin's wife Sylvia died after a long and painful illness but my sister and I couldn't make it to the funeral. Our cousins lived in San Diego and flights were booked up in the week before Christmas, plus the planned BA strike was playing havoc with the schedules. And you had to have a permit from the US embassy which had to relate to a specific booked flight and took a while to organise.

So when we heard that our cousin was bringing Sylvia's ashes to Hampshire for scattering at Southampton Crematorium, we were pleased to have another chance to say goodbye. The sun shone brightly and all Sylvia's siblings were there, three brothers and a sister. The volcano in Iceland had its effect - it took her husband 30 hours to get to the UK, via Paris, the Channel, Victoria and Henley. And their youngest daughter had been unable to get a flight, even though she works for an airline. But there must have been thirty or forty people there.

Her ashes were scattered in the Garden of Rest where her parents' had been years before. Henry read Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnet How Much do I love Thee? and there were tears shed. Sylvia's sister was comforted in a huddle of brothers. Then we moved to a hotel where a DVD played stills from her life. From an impossibly slim pretty teenager, to a beautiful bride, young mother, domestic goddess, glamorous mother of the bride and frail but luminously happy wife celebrating her 50th wedding anniversary in a gold dress.

When we had dispersed to our various homes, my sister rang to say she had got back safely. Gad to hear it for there will be no brothers to comfort me if she goes before I do. We were just sitting down to our dinner. "I'm going to get myself something to eat and watch TV," she said. "What programme?" I asked. "Ashes to Ashes," she said and we both had another little pang.

It all brought home how important it is to have rituals to mark these rights of passage; it almost doesn't matter what they are, as long as they are shared and leave everyone feeling that an important event has been suitably acknowledged. RIP, Cousin Sylvia, a lady who lit up the world and not just for her family.

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