Yesterday, we all said goodbye to 'Our Jess'. It was always going to be a hard day. Hope decided she wanted to come and pay her respects to someone who has so greatly inspired her during her years turning from a child to a young woman. Hope had never been to a funeral before and I wasn't sure about her coming but Jess has been a big inspiration to her in formative years and that will last a lifetime. In the end, I decided she needed the closure a funeral brings as much as any of us who felt similarly about 'our Jess'.
Funerals are tough and you need your friends around you. For that reason, I was really pleased when the lovely Oli and Kati offered to pick us up from a station where their journey from Milton Keynes could intercept with one in easy reach of East Croydon. We met at Oxted, having passed some lovely country areas which Hope and I both said we should come back to one weekend day in the coming weeks, just to get away from it all and have a walk in the woods. We all really need that right now and I hope we get the weather for a day like that very soon.
Oli and Kati were perfect company for the day. We spent the journey to Westgate chatting about all sorts. Oli is a fellow writer and we've both recently read each other's work so enjoyed the chance to chat about a few issues that arose from comments we'd made. Hope was quiet, not quite sure what she should be anticipating when we got there. As we drove into Westgate, we were silenced by the sight of Jess's beautiful glass carriage pulled by two white horses with pink plumes getting ready outside the undertakers. We had a good journey in and had arrived early. I had been called and asked to do a quick interview/tribute to Jess for Meridian TV and, after being reassured the family knew that they were filming Jess's arrival at the church and were happy for them to talk to people, I agreed. Anticipating tears, I had no make up on and, despite Hope's strong suggestion it was a silly idea as I didn't have any waterproof mascara on me, decided to put a bit on when we were on the train. In a moment of parent-child role reversal, she did have the 'I told you so' as Jess came into church and my mascara leaked into black rivers down my cheeks. Future note to self - don't bother with make up at a funeral again.
Even with the interview to do, we were a bit early so went for a drink in a little tea and beach shop on a deserted and cold looking sea front. Hope and I thought it would be nice to come back in the summer. What was so lovely, and important about the day was that we found little things to laugh about and things our memories of Jess told us she would have giggled at. She will be remembered for laughing herself into coughing fits so often. I chose a hot choc and realised it was made of milk so a full big mug of milk, not sensible as I'm a tad allergic. I also fancied battenburg cake, just like Grandma would have had on a sea front, probably in similar weather. There was something comforting about that and we also shared a few laughs.
I was worried I'd get through the little interview but managed to stay composed and say what I wanted to about Jess. We met with Emily, Matt, Holly and her parents, Richard, Aunty P and others I knew from Facebook, outside the church. We were all muted but pleased to offer support to each other. Then we went into church and waited for Jess to arrive. The anticipation built and I felt sorry for those who came in at all later than most as everyone turned round. The door was really clunky, something else we found amusement in.
Jess was beautiful when she came in. She had a sky pink coffin with white heart with her name in pink on each end. A beautiful spray of pink flowers covered the whole coffin. My emotion bubbled over as soon as I saw her, as did Hope. I don't think you can ever prepare yourself for that first glimpse of the coffin. Her Mum, and then her Dad, met my eye and took my hand as they passed and I was pleased to be able to give them a bit of support. The service was lovely. Jess came into her favourite song "Truly, Madly, Deeply' by Savage Garden. She chose everything herself and her hymns were "Make me a Channel of Your Peace" and "Be Thou My Vision"
This Poem "What Matters" was read
What will matter is not what you bought, but what you built; not what you got, but what you gave.
What will matter is not your success, but your significance.
What will matter is not what you learned, but what you taught.
What will matter is every act of integrity, compassion, courage or sacrifice that enriched, empowered or encouraged others to emulate your example.
What will matter is not your competence, but your character.
What will matter is not how many people you knew, but how many will feel a lasting loss when you're gone.
What will matter is not your memories, but the memories that live in those who loved you.
What will matter is how long you will be remembered, by whom and for what.
What will matter is not your memories, but the memories that live in those that loved you.
It's not a matter of circumstance, but of choice
In the face of adversity you chose to live a life that matters
And Jess really did didn't she!
Jess left to " Time to Say Goodbye " sung by Katherine Jenkins. I'll never hear that song in the same way and seeing it on You Tube now brings back those tears that still come too easily. Gosh, Jess would be telling us all off for the number of tears that have been shed for her and the words that have been written about her over the last few weeks.
It was a hard funeral for everyone and watching Jess set off in her carriage on her final journey to the cemetery was heart breaking. The journey also led to a few of those moments that Jess would have chuckled at. We had no idea where the cemetery was and 'Sean' Oli's TomTom was not too helpful either. Luckily we caught up with the cortege and enjoyed watching the plumes jiggle about ahead of us, knowing we were with Jess on that last trip. A journey where she was surrounded, not by machines and tubes as she had be the last time I saw her arrive somewhere, at Kings Hospital just before Christmas, but by beautiful pink flowers. It was so sad yet beautiful and free. The horses turned into the cemetery road, straight through red lights which made us all giggle, especially as the huge, long line of cars behind it followed and did the same. I'm sure Jess would have approved with us finding some funny moments, even if the humour was a little black. It all added to our memories of the day. We really felt her giggling at us when all of us who'd worn high heels and funky shoes in her honour (as she had a thing for shoes) had them sink into the wet grass at the cemetery and covered in mud. Oli, Kati and Hope had awesome shoes on which got really mucky and were not best comfy either. In fact, Hope donated hers to me as soon as she took them off to reveal the blisters.
I warned Hope that the burial was the hardest but she found it OK. In fact, she said she felt very peaceful watching Jess be put to rest. She's such an amazing girl that Hope and I was so proud of her. I found it hard, not least finally having the opportunity to give Jackie, Jess's Mum a big hug. She held me so tightly and told me not to cry because Jess was strong. I'm sorry for crying again now Jess, you were so strong and we are trying to be but we loved and miss you so much. I told Jackie to keep in touch and she said she has to because she needs me now. She needs me to help her do some things for Jess. I promised Jess in my toast the day she died that I will do anything for her, even now, so feel less helpless knowing there are still things I can do to help her to do the work she began before she was taken so young.
Oli, Kati, Hope and I went 'secret roading' after the burial. This is where Oli and Kati explore unknown roads in search of places of interest, in this case a pub for one final toast to Jess. We found a quirky little place with some interesting regulars, so more opportunities for some amusement. Hope had her first shandy in a pub, she more than deserved it.
The journey home saw day turn into evening and we were a lot quieter. No doubt, reliving our memories and all feeling pretty tired. In fact, I was absolutely drained for the evening. More drained than I can remember feeling in a long time. It's been a long month. It started with so much hope for Jess and then went so wrong. Work has been busy with the media interest and, as I have blogged before, I found it very hard dealing with media in such tragic circumstances about someone I had become close to, but I did it and I know Jess would have been proud in that. Paul and his parents were with Wills and I wasn't really feeling very sociable so had a bath and then, later, Hope and I relaxed with a take away (Ellie had tea already but shared some). For a rare evening, I did nothing. I didn't even switch on the computer. I just watched mindless TV, dosed a bit and then chatted on the phone with someone who cheered me up no end.
Last night was restless. At the start of the year I wrote this entry as I was working out where this year would take me. The next entry was about Jess and we've had the snow disruption and, for me, a pretty nasty cold that gave me a muggy and useless head for a while. January 2010 has been an interesting month. There's been a lot of change, good and bad. I'm now sitting here going back to where I was before it all went so strange and thinking about where 2010 will take me, especially in terms of my work and where I'm going with it. I know I've taken on a bit too much and some projects have developed well, others not really getting off the ground. It's time to prioritise and, in some cases, take some tough decisions. My priorities I think have to be the organ donation awareness work and writing. In my writing, I need to diversify more. I have my novel well on the go and some interesting things to write about transplants but also need to get away from all of that sometimes. I'm really enjoying the work I'm doing about the Haiti Hospital Appeal.. that will be the subject of a whole blog entry of it's own over the next few days.
For now, it's time to snap out of the sorrow and move on. Jess has inspired us and we'll have that inside us, with memories of her, forever but we owe it to her and others whose passing came too early to live our own lives to the full. I found this song earlier on today. A good one for taking me from a tricky January into what, I hope, will be a happy and settled February. It's time to say goodbye to Jess, goodbye to January 2010 and goodbye to all that should be left behind to make space and energy to embrace all that the rest of the year has in store.