My grandfather died in his church.
For many years he was vicar there, the ancient village surrounding it dating back to the Domesday Book (and possibly beyond). It was the kind of place that had a castle once, but ‘Simon De Montfort and his crew tore it down.’ Where the old manor house had fallen prey to post war neglect, where another old home had an indelible bloodstain by the fireplace, relic of misdeeds long ago.
My grandfather was a wonderful vicar. At least, that’s how I remember him. He preached love and tolerance, filling the church with vegetables and fruit at harvest time, the scientist and historian in him acknowledging traditions older than his religion. On Sundays, after the service and Sunday School and dinner in the old Georgian vicarage, he would sit at his desk and prepare his notes for next week’s sermon while I danced around the small circular table at the centre of the room, French doors open to let in the scents and sounds of the garden beyond.
He died when I was only nine, struck down by a massive heart attack as he readied himself for service in the small vestry. He was carried out through the packed congregation (which included my grandmother) and, several days later, laid to rest in the churchyard nearby. I still miss him (as I do all my grandparents), and feel glad I had the chance to know him for a few short years at least.
We sometimes visit the village where he lived, though I haven’t been for a couple of years now. It still slumbers peacefully among the fields, the small stream where I used to play Poohsticks with my grandmother meandering through the main street past half timbered cottages and Georgian houses. It’s a beautiful place and not much changed since I was small.
About eight years ago we visited, taking my husband and baby daughter to the church where my parents were married and my brother and I christened, a carved wooden memorial chair marking my grandfather’s years of service there. It was an auspicious time for me – coming out of a difficult spell after the birth of my daughter and reconnecting with my past, the trip we made to visit family in the UK was life changing for many reasons.
And so I stood in my grandfather’s church and I remembered. Singing in the pews next to my grandmother. My very-small-at-the-time brother deciding one day that he would rather stand with Grandad in the pulpit than sit in the pew (nobody minded). Taking my basket of apples up to the altar at harvest time, so heavy I had to use both arms to carry it. Years and layers of time and memory weaving around me. And then something, I don’t know what, prompted me to take out my camera. I held it up and thought (again, I don’t know why), ‘Grandad, if you’d like to be in this picture, please do.’ Then I paused for a split second before pressing the shutter.
And this is the image that appeared:
I don’t know how you feel about the idea of an afterlife, or our loved ones coming to visit after they are gone. I have my own opinions but I won’t bore you with them today. However, this photo seemed quite special to me.
Do you see the two orbs? The big one is directly above my grandfather’s memorial chair, while another seems to be ascending the stair to the pulpit. (it’s on the bottom step)
And then who is this peeping around the pillar? The chapel to the right is called the Lady Chapel, and houses two very old and worn burials of a knight and his lady, their names lost to time. Did one of them decide to come back and have their picture taken?
I should go back, I suppose, and take another photo from the same angle. It’s a very old building, after all. Dust, tricks of the light and worn marks on the stones can sometimes present images that seem other than they are. So I leave this with you without further comment, although I’d be interested to hear yours.