My mother is gone, but I still see her everywhere
Coping: This is the first time we have come to Bere Island without my mother
Bere Island: I walked with her here, summer after summer
And it all feels familiar. I shrug on the solitude of open space like a warm coat, surprised to find it still fits. There are few memories from childhood that we can revisit without a sense of present disappointment grating sharply against idealised recollection, and I’m conscious as the wind jostles my hair, a gentle reminder, that this is one of them. A tiny oasis of the rarest kind, when something feels exactly as it did in childhood. It is a homecoming of sorts.
I walked with her here on Bere Island summer after summer, the greenery snapping and bleeding underfoot, releasing its secret aromas so that they entwined themselves in the memories. The island has a fragrance – honeysuckle, gorse, timid ferns curling in on themselves, fuchsia and those ethereal blue hydrangeas you don’t find in other parts of the country. It has been years since I’ve been back. I thought I’d imagined the fragrance, but here it is again, softly murmuring to me.
We have come here without her for the first time. Every summer, we would stay on the island with our great-aunt at her home in Lonehort. As a child I thought it was “Loneheart”. I was permitted to wander off by myself in a manner that would not be the case anywhere else. There was no one around. I would dig my heels into the resilient, scrubby grass on the hill near the house and look out at the shimmering sheet of the sea. There would be silence but for its yearning lament, the music of insects in the long grass, and my lone heart beating.
We have packed a modest picnic – sandwiches and apples – we didn’t know how long it might take us to find the right place. The sandwiches are wrapped in foil in a canvas bag over my shoulder along with some bottles of water and a large green tub, like the sort protein powder is sold in. None of us know what to do with the tub, so we take turns carrying it silently. My brother starts to voice concern; maybe we won’t find a good place. “We will.” I intone this like a prayer.
Contrary to the forecast, the sun beats down and it is the island of our childhood. We pass some nonchalant cows, masticating their drab fare. They look up in unison as we go by, the thick lashes cresting the soft black pools of their eyes making me slightly envious. They seem to be looking right inside us and then they resume their chewing. The whispering of the sea grows more urgent and the sweet smell of the land gives way to brine.
We used to fish here, where tufts of spongy grass recede into a rocky outcrop. On a bad, grey day, the sea would throw itself at the rocks in an attempt to subsume you. Today, it reflects the light and our anticipation as it shudders softly against them like the flank of a nervous horse.
My sister-in-law has gathered a bouquet of wildflowers. Those blue hydrangeas dominate serenely while the searing red of Crocosmia Lucifer screams out with raw feeling.
After a time, I open the bland green tub and cast half of my mother’s ashes into the agitated wind. The vast water chants a dirge as it takes its leave of the land and folds the ashes into itself.
My brother scatters the other half into the breeze, followed by the bouquet, and we watch together as it bobs gently into the open water, the soft blue of that blowsy hydrangea already a fading memory.
The poem John Donne wrote for his wife Anne before a parting slinks across my dulled consciousness. I am surprised – I’ve always associated it with romantic love – it’s a romantic poem. But that notion of two people fundamentally connected like legs of a compass resonates as I watch the last physical remnant of her drift out to sea. She is gone, but I see her everywhere. The connection remains as long as I do.
“Such wilt thou be to me, who must, Like th’other foot, obliquely run; Thy firmness makes my circle just, And makes me end where I begun.”