Life changes and change is about the only certainty in life – and with bereavement comes massive change. And unexpected pleasures. I commissioned this headstone from the Cordazzo Kindersley workshop in Cambridge. It was fixed in place on Monday 21st August. It brings me enormous pleasure. The stone is perfect, my final act of love.
It is about six months since a spinner friend with an interest in church memorials, suggested I contact the workshop; ‘Would you do a headstone in Stoke Albany church yard in Leicestershire, or is that too far away?’ I asked. ‘We cut and fix stone all over the world’ came the calm, confident and smooth reply. I didn’t know it at the time but this was Hallam, the eldest son of Lida who would eventually cut the letters on Bob’s stone. Together with Fiona who cut the cross, and her son Vincent they fixed the stone on in the churchyard on Monday morning. Bob’s daughter, my three children, four of my grandchildren, my brother and a Benedictine friend were all there to see it, which made the occasion even better. One of my daughters had done a flower arrangement for the grave which was nice surprise. We all shared a ploughman’s lunch in my kitchen afterwards.
Lida is a woman with a mission to cut stone and is truly a master of it. When we first met at the workshop she showed my brother and I around, and explained what they would need to know from me, before we could proceed. But I had no idea what I wanted. The only thing I was sure of, was that I had met the person who was equal to commemorating the great love Bob and I shared.
I remember there were two people cutting stones where my brother, Lida and I sat having nice coffee at our first meeting. There were no electrical tools whirring, ‘Everything is done by hand here’. The only mechanical sound was a great big grandfather clock with a brass face. It stood at the bottom of some stairs. Watching. Ticking its life away, in a timely nod to timelessness.
The only chatter was from metal tapping metal – it takes nearly 200o taps to cut just one letter! But the workshop was quiet – no radios or mobile phones. Even the cutters seemed part of the stones they were cutting, totally absorbed in their work. Although lots of work was going on, it did not feel busy. It was ordered work, everything neat, clean and tools placed almost reverently on workbenches. Lots of natural light falling on beautiful things. ‘We do the cleaning ourselves – every Friday afternoon – even the windows.’ I wanted to touch it all, especially the finely chiselled letters with beautiful fourishes. But Bob was not a man for flourishes…
I had not realised I would have to make so many decisions. One was the design – I liked a photograph I had seen in one of Lida’s many books – a York stone with a traditional rounded top. I thought this would look right in a country churchyard. Lida talked about cutting stone and prompted me to talk about Bob. I felt we had plenty of time and a rapport, because I am a woman with a mission to spin long draw. ‘No need to take decisions in a hurry. Just let things develop as we go.’ There were many things to consider; he was called Bob, but his name was Robert, do we use one or both? Is the actual date of birth and death important? Or just the years of arrival and departure from this life? Father? Husband? Is it a double grave? if so, will I want space for my name on it when the time comes? Yes! That was something I did know!
She suggested I take the time to discuss what should be written on the stone our children, Bob has two and I have three. These things take time too. They all agreed that to Bob, being a Benedictive and Licensed Church of England Reader, were the significant things in his life and should be recorded. Then Lida did a sketch, estimated time and cost, and we agreed her workshop would apply for a permit which is like obtaining planning permission, but from the Ecclesiastic authority rather than the Local Authority. But we were not quite ready to apply because there were questions I had not even considered yet. Needed a bit more time.
When I saw subsequent drawings I decided against the text; ‘Love bears all things’ on the stone – it is a quotation from Corinthians that popped into my head when I first went to the workshop. It felt too fussy. Time had changed things. The words needed to be simple, but I had not known that at the outset. So more time went by. I remained happy with the idea of a York stone, so that was sourced. My next visit was to see the stone with a drawing on paper laid over, to give an impression of what the final words and cross image would look like. The stone stood about six feet high and looked enormous, but a third of that ends up under the ground when it is fixed in position.
When I had decided on the words the next task was to draw them out in beautiful lettering directly onto the stone. This is done with a very sharp, elongated pencil point. Cutting is then done from the bottom up to save rubbing out the delicate pencil marks. When all the lettering was cut I made another visit to discuss how the Readers Cross as there were several options. Thinking in three dimensions downwards from one surface is completely beyond my comprehension. I tried, but just could not understand the technical implications of it. I simply took Lida’s advice in the end – I was way out of my depth!
Out of my depth is a good analogy as to where I’ve been for the past two years, treading water and just about keeping my head above it. When Bob died on 24th November it was like waking up on a beach after a shipwreck; I was gasping for air, and could hardly stagger about. But that has changed now.
I am becoming accustomed to a different psychological landscape. And the landscape in Stoke Albany is changed now too. For in the churchyard, reassuringly outside the remit of local planners, there is a perfectly cut stone that commemorates the love of my life. We are complete.