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A Proper Goodbye

My UK ‘mum’ Val Hopkins died in May. It was quite sudden–the cancer the surgeons thought they’d removed came back suddenly. Just two weeks before I got the message that she was in hospice, she’d served me tea at her house.  Her passing was so swift. I didn’t get to say a proper goodbye. 

I rented a room from Val and her husband Harry when I first moved to England. I was vulnerable then–I’d just changed jobs, moved country, left my children behind and was on the verge of divorce. Val instinctively knew I needed care and support as I navigated my way to living on my own for the first time in my life. 

I wrote a poem ‘When I Go to the River Dart’ for her and read it at her funeral yesterday. Christ Church in Cheltenham was filled to capacity, a testament to Val’s friendly ways, warm smile and kindness. She will be missed.

When I Go to the River Dart

for Valerie Hopkins

I shall think of you and the children
you packed up and trundled off
for a week away every summer
boys and girls, rain and shine
dogs and men and boats and water
curving brown and green, joy
the colour of summer snapdragons.

I shall tow a caravan, peeking
over the steering wheel, my left hand
on the gear shift, thinking of your
Juliet, the honeymoon drive one
starry night, the man by your side
who would, in time, learn
the mechanics of folding a nappy one-
corner two-corner-three over the wind-
mill legs of your new born child.

I shall sit by the campfire at night
remembering your hearth, warm with flame
in the dark of winter—your stories
at an ironing board, three children
looking to you, plumped on little pillows
settled in for a rainy afternoon. You
listened to my stories, opened your home
to me as if I were yours. When at last
I find my way to the river, you’ll be
there in the children’s laughter, the sky –
blue or grey – the water, quietly darting away.

Val’s granddaughter Maddie Spooner sang ‘Close to You’ for Val’s funeral. I heard that song in my head last week when I was writing an acrostic poem on retreat in Cornwall, at Sancreed Holy Well. The line beginning with ‘C’ reads ‘Close to you’. Serendipity. Coincidence. Who knows? So lovely to think Val’s spirit might have been near me last week. I hope you enjoy this version from the BBC, 1971.

1 thought on “A Proper Goodbye”

  1. A beautiful post, Lania. And your poem When I Go to the River Dart is so lovely. Though I didn’t know Valerie, you’ve brought to life here a wonderful warmth and a cherishing spirit. Beautiful tribute to someone who welcomed you so kindly and supportively….

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