Friday, 22 June 2018

Penhaligon's Orange Blossom: a tale of perfume, friendship, and the longest journey

I am all too mindful that I am overdue to blog again, even allowing for my more relaxed posting schedule these days...well, if I ever had a schedule, which is moot. I have at least half a dozen post ideas in the pipeline, but I don't feel like writing any of them. The simple fact of the matter is that a close friend (whom I will call 'M', with this being a public forum) died on Saturday, and she is still very much on my mind. Despite the exceptionally personal nature of this post, I realised that it would help me to process her sad loss by talking about it here, just as I am doing in private conversations with friends. Otherwise it could be a long time before I feel able to revert to my usual blogging topics - and tone.

Any readers who follow me on Facebook may already be aware of my friend's passing. I will copy across my tribute to her, to set the scene, as it were.

"What's on my mind?, asks Facebook. That's an easy one. The death of my friend M at the weekend, taken by cancer sooner than any of us thought. I had known M for many years, in different houses, relationships, and hair colours - on both sides. She came for Christmas several times, and it is my great regret that I only mastered the art of cooking an edible turkey after she turned vegetarian. Maybe because of that(!), I will never know. She loved bright colours, plain speaking, and any cats which crossed her path. She favoured a particular type of mug, and a particular kind of tea. She was the life and soul of craft nights, and often turned up unprompted with the makings of supper. She was a force of nature with a beautiful voice, a big heart, and an indomitable spirit, which will always be very much with us."

And here is one which also struck a chord, from another good friend, who hosted the craft session pictured below:

"Remembering and missing this unique, bold, compassionate, crazy, courageous, creative and generous soul. Without M I would be the poorer for so many laughs, tears, insights, experiences, places and wonderful people. She made things happen and made an impact on everyone. Those ripples, the memories and the connections between us that exist because of her, cannot be erased and will carry on through all of us."


A particularly messy craft night!


The last time I saw my friend in her flat - too poorly to be on her own at home really, and indeed it was soon after that that she admitted herself to a hospice - we had a long chat, in which she asked me to tell her all about my news: 'I don't want to talk about being ill.' I had made the food she had asked for and put it away in the fridge and freezer, though as I did so I wondered whether she would ever manage to interact with it. After about 45 minutes, she declared herself too tired to talk anymore, and I took that as my cue to go. As I bent over to kiss her goodbye, she exclaimed: 'Oooh, you smell nice!" and I explained that it was Penhaligon's Orange Blossom.

The last time I saw my friend in life was last Friday, at the wonderful hospice in a neighbouring town. At Val the Cookie Queen's suggestion, I took along a bottle of sparkling fruit drink - fizz being more palatable than flat, Val said - and when M felt strong enough to sit up for a bit we shared a plastic cup or two of that. I set the bottle of Orange Blossom down on the table by her bed, saying that this was the perfume she had liked, and perhaps she could have a spritz on her bedding or sniff it on an amenable nurse. I didn't realise at the time, but in hindsight I think my aromatherapy ideas came a bit late to be acted on. Not long afterwards, the doctor made her round, and I stayed at M's request while they had a difficult and moving conversation about her palliative care arrangements. After about an hour and a half I left - the next visitor had already arrived.




That evening, I spent several hours ringing all the friends of M's I could think of, urging them to get on over to the hospice as a matter of urgency if they wished to see her. Quite a few had no idea how gravely ill she had become in such a short space of time. I also planned to visit M again on the Saturday morning, but it was the first visitor - one of the people I had contacted in my address book blitz - who arrived really early, and happened to be there at the end. I was sorry not to have made it myself, but far, far more important was the fact that somebody did. And the bottle of scent was in the room too, its little bow at a crazy skew-wiff angle like wings reaching skywards. I know that an inanimate object is a very poor substitute for human company, but I was strangely comforted by the thought that it had been by M's side in the night. Her last visitor had in fact puzzled over whose bottle it was, as M herself did not wear scent.

I did go back later that day, and noticed that the perfume bottle had gone, presumed tidied up by a nurse. Then last Wednesday it made a surprise reappearance. M's brother and SIL - who lived far away and like most of us, had been caught short by M's sudden passing - had invited a few close friends of M's to the flat to pick out one or two keepsakes from her belongings. A number of musicial instruments found homes, including a guitar, an accordion, a hammer dulcimer, a boran, and a tin whistle. One of the girls from our craft circle had M's sewing machine, another the Nutribullet, and various pot plants and soft toys were also safely and lovingly rehomed. I opted for some crockery, including a whimsical teapot, and a subset of M's enormous wool stash. We had even spoken on that last afternoon of a brand we both discovered we owned - M had asked which colours I had and told me hers. And now, a week on, the wool is here in my house...

M's cup, my saucer - a perfect match

On a side note, I would love this to happen when my time comes...the thought of friends giving a new life to some of my belongings is frankly heartwarming. I would feel as though - in a small way - a part of me was going on to be part of the fabric of their lives. And goodness knows I have a lot of perfume to give away! Which brings me back to the Orange Blossom. M's SIL suddenly produced it out of a bag and held it aloft, inquiring: 'Did somebody want this?' So I claimed it immediately, explaining that it was in fact mine, and that I would very much like to wear it to the funeral. A sunny, uplifting scent, to complement the brightly coloured clothes we know M would wish us to wear. Here is my review of the perfume for anyone who might be curious.

M is having a woodland burial in a plot near her home. She will be singing several of her own compositions at the service(!), very likely including this rather apt track, These Fields Again.

Rest in peace, M; thank you for the music - and in the words of another of your songs, consider yourself well and truly wrapped in 'invisible string', such that you will never 'float away'. Or maybe we should make that wool...?





15 comments:

  1. What a beautiful tribute to your friend! I'm so sorry for your loss. I love the story of the Orange Blossom keeping vigil by her bedside, and now rejoining you. A dear friend and I both lost parents within the last year, and she told me she believed in looking for some small, subtle sign after a death that the dear one was near, and wanted us to know he or she was fine. I think this was yours.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Anonymous,

      Thank you so much for your comment, which brought a tear to my eye. 'Vigil' is a fitting word for the bottle's overnight stay. I am also sorry for your and your friend's loss of a parent, but loved the idea of the departed giving a subtle sign of their presence. I hope you both got one of your own...

      Delete
    2. Yes, we did! BTW, apologies for the Anonymous on my first comment, I had to figure out how to enter my Wordpress info.

      Delete
    3. Hello Old Herbaceous, thanks for figuring out the mechanics of making yourself known! I know how hard it is to comment in any shape or form on Blogger. And I am so pleased to hear you got your signs...

      Delete
  2. That was an incredibly touching post, and I am so very sorry you lost such a loved friend. x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Crikey. It is still sinking in that my friend is no longer here, but writing about her has been cathartic. X

      Delete
  3. Hi Vanessa, what a lovely brave post. M sounds like a fantastic buzz of a human being. I'm glad you got to be there with her and at least leave her with a little bottle of beautiful scent to make the environment more joyous.
    The 'giving out of possessions' reminds me of your SABLE concept. With my dwindling obsession nowadays I imagine my whiffs will have all gone off! Weird isn't it, imagining the stuff we will leave behind? Especially the banalities like our spare toilet rolls and tins of beans...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Sarah,

      Thanks, Sarah. M was indeed a 'caution' and a real livewire. One of the most beautiful singing voices I have ever heard too.

      Yes, the SABLE conundrum is always with us. You are probably right that our perfumes may well have gone off by the time our time comes. Some are turning already. I remember clearing out my late mother's food cupboard and lamenting the fact that she had kept spices from 'Best before August 1982'. This was 1999.

      Delete
  4. Dear Vanessa, I’m so sorry for your loss. Any departures - no matter anticipated or completely unexpected - leave holes in our souls. Dying is hard on the person herself, and it is our duty to help loved ones who’s facing it - and you did it the best you could. Death is something that affects us, left behind. So, please, use any means necessary to bring yourself some relief and peace of mind.
    Beautiful post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Undina,

      Thank you for your kind words. It is hard on all involved for sure, but I felt humbled by the 'stoic grace' (to quote a friend) with which M herself faced this big leap into the unknown. I am finding listening to M's music a comfort, as well as having some of her belongings around.

      Delete
  5. Such a beautiful, touching and heart-warming tribute, V. As is your talent, you hit just the right note. Once again, I admire, and am rather envious of, your like-minded, close-knit (not pun intended) community of friends. Love the picture of your complementary cup and saucer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Tara,

      Aw, thanks - also for saying I hit the right note with this post - I was concerned about that. 'Close-knit' is a great term for the community, which I may pinch and use when speaking to my fellow crafters! I have learnt through M's experience that if this ever happens to someone else, God forbid, friends will be there for them, as much or as little as they would like them to be.

      Delete
  6. Death is not for the faint hearted. A really touching piece Vanessa. What a journey. Hugs. Val xxxxx

    ReplyDelete
  7. The Elite Service Offer the well prepared and memorable Escorts in Karachi  All these Hot look Charming Models are genuine high profile Females and Very friendly to provide Escort Service with full of fun and naughty adventure. They are best and Independent Karachi Escorts with Lovely Behavior and booking call us.

    ReplyDelete