wall paintings (8)

To lose everything. They have, those islanders. I want to feel their loss with them, to stand in their shoes. One has to stop the internal chatter, all that minutiae, to do so. We have romantic ideas of how we would cope – all pulling together. Would we? On The Archers there was a flood. Devastation. The village rallied round. Beds were offered, soup, hay for the herd – all very heart-warming. Past arguments and pettiness forgotten. To lose everything. In The Archers Bert’s Freda died. How would that feel? To him that is everything, is it not? You just carry on, Jill Archer says to him, you have to. Yes. Live out our allotted time, said Squire Hamley in Wives and Daughters.

I’ve been lucky – so few deaths in my life. Catherine Moss’s death was the first major one. A dear friend. More, so much more. She was there through my late teens, holding me together. My companion. My dearest friend. She died from the burns. Her car turned over. She always drove like a lunatic. Too fast, too wild. How I loved her.

Of course there were grandparents after that. All so distant, symbolic rather than real. Joyce, moved me, at the end. So vulnerable. Then Dad last year and Mum two years before. I am still reeling, inside. It is too much. It isn’t everything. He is everything, but it is still too much, at times. When he goes, well, that will be everything. I visit that place in my mind sometimes. I know I shouldn’t but I do. I open the door into the room of his passing. How will it be to be without him? When it seems he has always been here, knowing me, loving me, watching over me. I shut the door quickly. No, not now. Not now. Please.

They told me she was sitting on the verandah, when I called. I’m sitting in the sun, she said, the hot sun. I could hear the scraping of chairs on stone tiles, down the phone. She sounded happy. Spring is coming, she said. Yes, I said, that is good. She will go soon. The last of them. I am glad she had the sun.

We watched Philomena. It wasn’t what I expected. I didn’t have to hold my breath. She needed to know that he had thought of her. That was all. She needed to know that she had counted, that she had meant something. She had. He had gone looking for her. That was enough.

We keep going regardless of the pain, perhaps in spite of, or indeed because of, the pain. What can I give you, you who have lost everything?

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.