I have just come back from a funeral. My friend and work colleague Jackie passed away. She was a work colleague with whom I worked for thirty years. Sometimes we know such colleagues better than our family or our intimate friends. Such a person was Jackie. We interacted for hours together in a work atmosphere, through situations in turn comical, farcical even, tense, dangerous, sad and stressful. Over endless cups of tea along with fellow workers we spoke about family, our home, our worries, our fears, our dreams. We built a picture of ourselves and of others in an atmosphere of easy freedom without the arguments and counter arguments which comes with family interactions. We talked, we listened and were listened to. And Jackie was solid as a house, listening, asking, caring advising.
At the funeral service, the priest who did his best but did not know Jackie as well as I did, talked about her caring attitude and how much thanks people owed to her. Little did he know how much I owed to her and how much I needed to thank her. In her last days she was too worn away by disease and did not want to see or talk to anybody outside immediate family. I obtained her address and even got myself a letter pad so I could write her a handwritten note to thank her for the things she had done. But alas, before I could write she was gone. As the priest spoke, me and the congregation in that little chapel had our own thoughts of Jackie, each one a different thought, each one a different perception of her.
People are born into this world, they live their lives and leave their footprints before they leave. The footprints do not look the same to everyone left behind. This is something I discover when I read obituaries. I am aware my memories are different from that of the obituary writer as they are from the many others who knew the deceased. And so with Jackie. My memories of her are special to me and to no one else.
Jackie was a strong woman, a fiery woman with Celtic blood in her and sometimes, when you needed it she gave you some of her fire to sustain you, to warm you. There was the moment when I was very low following my divorce when she approached me with a warm smile and said “one of these days someone is going to come and sweep you away”. They were just words, but from her, they were flames of fire that warmed me and kindled hope. A spark of resurgence which she thrust straight into my body. And I have never forgotten the energy I felt then, when she said those words.
I have friends and colleagues who deny the existence of an after-life with messianic zeal. But if there is a place out there, I hope Jackie finds peace, and a man big enough and large enough to embrace her and contain her fiery and explosive soul.
The picture above is of her dancing with me at my birthday party four years ago and the expression on her face of all embracing kindness says it all.