Thirteenth of April

By Emma Pearson

July 16, 2024

Photos my own/from my own collection. Main photo featuring stunning flowers received this week from precious Joan, Mike and Julia’s funeral cards, and a birthday card for Julia from her tree letter box.

13th April 2024

Twenty-eight years ago today, 13th April 1996, in Grasmere, Cumbria, it was trying hard to snow. Snowing in mid-April? In England? Yes. Back in the last millennium it was possible. Back before anyone, bar hard core scientists, had heard of climate change-global warming-climate breakdown. On Saturday 13th April 1996 it semi-snowed in Grasmere. Not enough to whiten the grass, but enough to bring a bit of sparkle, joy and mischief to the day.

Seven years ago today, 13th April 2017, in Geneva, Switzerland, it was a gorgeously bright, too-warm-for-April Spring day. Hot, even, in direct sunlight. Cherry blossom flashy and flamboyant, lush and luxurious in its delicious pinkness. Sky cerulean blue. Grass that long vibrant green that magics itself out of seemingly nowhere, growing so rapidly that if one cared about neat lawns, one would be mowing every other day.

Today, 13th April 2024, it’s weather closer to the 2017 version. Hotter, even. I’ve had a walk up – but not to the top – of the Jura. It’s already too hot to spend a full day out walking. And my dog is old now. A good excuse. And I’ve had a fierce episode of cystitis. Another good excuse. Seriously, it’s wiped me out. And, it’s hot – for sure.

As well as flashing back to the 13th April of these random years, my mind has been flashing back to specific times in the day.

On the 13th April 1996, Mike and I were getting married. In a hotel in Grasmere. Inside in the warmth – away from the “almost snow”. We had a late morning ceremony, and lingeringly-long lunch, and a pahty in the evening. Or perhaps our ceremony was early afternoon, we had a late lunch-early dinner, and then started dancing. Seriously, I no longer remember. But one part of the festivities flowed seamlessly into the next. The friends and family I cared most about in the world, present to see us transition our relationship from “girlfriend-boyfriend-partners for nine years” to official “husband and wife”. It took me about another nine years of married life to get used to being called “wife” and to calling Mike “my husband”. I’d been nervous about mucking up a good quality relationship by getting married. But we didn’t. We were so very lucky.

13th April 1996. We were so young. And tipsy. And blurred.

On the 13th April 2017, Mike was lying in a coffin in a crematorium. We had the service in the afternoon and then drinks and nibbles at a nearby tennis club café. Words, beautiful words were read. Poems. Cards. Flowers overflowed. Many of the details of the day are gone, even though I have some clear memories – such as friends I never expected to be there showing up.

Laurence, dressed in tracksuit bottoms and floppy top – a day trip away from her family ski holiday in the nearby Alps. Laurence simply the wife of a dear old school friend. Not even – at that time at least – so much a friend in our own right. Why should she rock up for me? For us? Clearly she hadn’t packed a posh frock, but she showed up anyway. It’s possible she only had ski boots, moon boots and slippers to choose from, but while I don’t remember her footwear, I don’t think she was barefoot.

Kay who reminds me (because I have forgotten so much of that time), that she chose to attend last minute on learning that, short of my sister, no-one in my family was attending Mike’s funeral. No alive brothers. No dead brother (exempt, of course). No parents (exempt also, being in New Zealand). No cousins, uncles, aunts. No brothers- or sisters-in-law on my side. No Grandparents (dead, so also exempt).

But plenty of people were there. Mike’s side of the family was stonkingly present. Mike’s breathing sisters came. Many of their children. Our three children. His best friend, Clive. Dear girlfriends. Volunteers from the hospice. Friends from my village. Colleagues of Mike’s. Friends and parents of the kids. And recent widows that I didn’t even know so well – as though they knew that it mattered that they were there. Yes. I noticed that.

13th April 2017 – our 21st wedding anniversary? Mike’s funeral ceremony drinks? Both-And.

They are a tricky thing, funerals. Always inconvenient. Always bad timing. Too little notice, even if no actual surprise since if there was a surprise at the death, that a funeral comes next is fairly routine.

Are funerals to honour the person who has died? They are dead anyway, so do they care? Are they to support the people who survive? Their brains are going to be holey for a while, so do they care?

When my daughter died, just two years later, I was in such a permanent state of shock that I barely dare trust a memory from that time. I had so many deaths, funerals and celebrations of life to organise and attend, they seem all to have merged. I couldn’t tell you with confidence who was present at what event. I could swear that person A was there for B’s funeral, but they say “no” – but I was there for person C’s celebration of life. Or whatever.

In the grand scheme of things, perhaps it doesn’t much matter. But what does matter is the conversation. The clarification.

I’ve been wrestling recently about attending my childhood bestie’s mum’s Celebration of Life. It’s complicated timing, a tricky journey by train (I no longer want to fly), and because of commitments just afterwards, I’d need to stay put for an additional couple of days in a hotel just to have wifi connection.

Deep down I felt that, much as I want to honour my friend’s mum, even more important is to be there for my friend, to support her, be with her. But she’ll be full on, milling around, managing family dynamics. I know how Celebrations of Life can go. They are even harder than funerals in my book. At least funerals are over quickly, but Celebrations of Life can go on for hours. Some people even want you to be happy and joyous, but if the death is too close in, too recent – it’s just all too absurd.

I couldn’t do one for Julia. I still can’t. Maybe one day I will be able. Like when she should be thirty. Double the age she made. Perhaps then it will be possible to fully honour and celebrate her short life.

I finally asked my friend if we might do something special together at a later date – honour our friendship and honour her mum at the same time. It seemed such an obvious solution. Better than a compromise. She readily agreed. I suspect we will do a multi-day mountain walk, somewhere beautiful, within the next year or so. We won’t wait too long because we know better. It feels the right and proper solution. But I am glad I asked because she might have preferred I be there for the Celebrations, and then I would have pulled out every stop possible to fulfil her wish.

In my village, literally fifty metres from my house, there’s a wedding going on at the church right now. I don’t know whose wedding it is. Women dressed in wild dresses and super high-heeled shoes are trippy tiptoeing up and down the street. Men dressed in pale pink, taupe or white suits wandering out and about, passing in front of my gate, possibly looking for some shade on this hot 13th April. They look so dapper.

It feels odd witnessing people getting married on this specific date. My village church also holds funerals, though evidently none today. And I have no doubt that many other people are hosting funerals and ceremonies for precious loved ones, right now, in this moment.

Funeral or wedding, they will remember the date and the weather, for sure. I do. It just takes me longer to think it all through, to remember, to re-remember, to re-live, those utterly unforgettable 13th of April dates. To honour the love that was so present on both dates, even if the grief was crushing on the date 21 years later.

I sometimes wonder if I would choose to go back in time and warn 29-year-old Emma of what was to come. Jolt her with an electric shock of sorts… pinch her as she floats by in her flowing terracotta orange silk dress, smile the size of a planet, as she innocently yet confidently states her vows.

A sort of whisper from the future saying,

“Somewhere down the line, before you even know it, and when you think you are not even halfway through this marriage, this sweet date, 13th April, will also come to hold utter pain and devastation. From there on out, you’ll not know what to do with the 13th of April. You’ll want to honour and celebrate, grieve and commemorate, all at the same time. You might learn to do it all eventually, but it will require a lot of practice. Always.

“Enjoy the simplicity of your life while you have the simplicity. Enjoy the daffodils and the almost snow. Enjoy the friends who are here. Some of them will be there then too, but many won’t. And enjoy the family members, especially those who prefer weddings to funerals. For everything vanishes, everything dissipates, everything dissolves like April snow in the end.

“Love, life, breath, friendship, marriage. It will all transform, degenerate, regenerate. And you will be okay”.

Nah – I think I will leave her in peace on her special day. Let her stay in her present. It will be the past soon enough.

About Emma Pearson

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