Hiraeth

by Huw Jones

Chapter 22

The girls ran through the front door as soon as it was opened by Janet who stooped to collect the mail that had accumulated during their holiday. She put the mail on the table in the kitchen and went to the sink to fill up the kettle for a much-needed cup of tea. Huw and Gwyn brought in the suitcases and bags and collapsed at the kitchen table ready for a drink. Gwyn picked up the mail and did a quick sort between real mail and the circulars and other junk mail that had arrived. Suddenly, he frowned as he looked at a letter in his hand and handed it to Huw.

Huw opened it quickly and his face went as white as a sheet. "It's from the hospital. mam is very ill and they have been trying to phone us for the last few days without success. They want me to ring straight away." He looked at the date and said, "It's dated yesterday so it can only have arrived in this morning's post. I'll ring straight away." He ran into the living room and dialled the number on the letterhead of the hospital. Huw waited impatiently while the phone rang seven or eight times before it was finally answered.

"Could I speak to Dr Khan please," he asked with his voice and his hands shaking. He waited another half minute while the switchboard connected him.

"Dr Khan speaking."

"Oh, Dr Khan this is Huw Jones. I've received a letter today to say that my mam is very ill. We've been away on holiday which is why you haven't been able to reach me by phone. What's the news of my mam?" he asked anxiously.

"Huw, I am very sorry to have to tell you that your mother passed away this morning. She had a very serious chest infection which turned to pneumonia and in her weakened state we were unable to save her," said Dr Khan gently. Huw dropped the phone and fell stunned into an armchair. Gwyn had been watching and listening and he picked up the phone.

"Dr Khan. I'm Gwyn Evans and I'm Huw's foster-father and guardian. What's the situation with Mrs Jones?"

Dr Khan gave Gwyn the same account as he had to Huw. There were a few more exchanges on practical issues and Gwyn finally ended the conversation. He sat on the arm of the armchair pulling Huw to his chest and hugging him wordlessly.

"Cariad, I'll take you down to the hospital in the morning and you can see her if you want to and we'll sort out the practical arrangements. Let's go back and have that cup of tea." Huw got to his feet almost as if he were in a trance and they walked back into the kitchen with Gwyn's arm supporting him as he was very unsteady on his feet.

Gwyn quickly updated Janet on what had happened and Janet came round the table and hugged him. The twins didn't understand what was going on but they did understand that their big brother was in distress and so they both jumped up onto his lap and hugged him tightly. Despite all this warmth and affection, he felt numb and his face showed no expression.

He looked down at the kitchen table. "I know I should feel some sort of deep grief but I don't. Actually, I feel relief. I lost my mam over a year ago when she lost touch with reality. I didn't recognise that shell of mam that I saw in the hospital when she was unable to recognise me. It's a sad coincidence that the thing which killed my twin brother also took mam."

Janet looked at him with tears in her eyes. "We can never take the place of your mam and dad, but if you'll allow us to, we'll love you and try to be the second-best mam and dad in the world for you. And you've got two little sisters who love every bit of you."

"Mam and Dad, if you hadn't been there for me, I wouldn't be alive today. You've given me hope for the future and you've shown me that I'm not worthless. I'm part of the wonderful Evans family; I'm moving back to Wales, the place I love; I've rediscovered my Taid and Nain who I love very much; I'm reunited with my best friend in all the world and you're the best cook in the world!" He paused for breath, squeezed Janet's hand and grinned at her as he made the last statement. "Mam's passing means my last link with South Wales will be broken. I feel sort of guilty that I'm not in floods of tears but the truth is that it releases me to get on with my life."

Gwyn and Janet marvelled at his maturity and how well he had taken the news, although they would be watching him closely over the coming days. They chatted for another half hour or so about his mother and his plans for the future: short term and long term. Janet left them talking to start cooking an evening meal. It was a simple meal as they had eaten en route.

At the girls' insistence, Huw bathed them and got them ready for bed. He read them both a bedtime story -- they still insisted on one each -- tucked them in and kissed them goodnight. When he came back downstairs Janet smiled at him and handed him a cup of tea.

"You deserve that after such hard work with those two!" said Janet. "I can't tell you how much we appreciate how much time you give to the girls. You know they love you very much."

"I found Dafydd and Mair's loss so hard. Betsan and Haddie have filled that hole although I don't see them as substitutes - they're just two new sisters who love me and I love them."

They continued to chat but by nine o'clock he was exhausted. The journey and the devastating news which awaited their arrival had drained his every last scrap of energy. He wished Gwyn and Janet goodnight and said he would listen to the radio for a while and get to sleep ready for an early start for their journey down to South Wales.

He woke up at 7am and decided to be first in the bathroom and get breakfast ready for when Gwyn emerged. He thought a cooked breakfast would be a good idea to set them up for the journey so set about having it ready to go. He was pleased that David joined him at 7:30 and so they were breakfasted and en route by 8 o'clock. It was an easy journey and they were at the hospital by 10:30.

A male nurse whom Huw recognized from an earlier visit expressed his sympathy and took them into a chapel to see his mother who was laid out on a trolley at the front of the church. It was dimly lit and they stood for a moment at the back of the church.

"Go on Huw, bach," said Gwyn. "I'll wait here."

He walked slowly to the front of the church and stood beside the trolley. He hardly recognised the emaciated shell of his mother lying there peacefully, showing none of the anguish he had seen on his previous visits. He expected tears to come but the only thing he could feel was a sense of relief that she was released from the torment of a mind in turmoil. He realised now that she had died to him that day back in Aberfan when she was taken into hospital. He stood for several minutes before finally kissing her on the forehead and turning to join Gwyn.

To an unspoken question from Gwyn, he responded, "I'm fine. This has given me the chance to say goodbye to mam and to let go of her. I've got lots of happy memories and that's what I'm going to hang onto. I'm going to try to forget about the last few months and what she became during that time."

The rest of the day was spent with sorting out practical arrangements for the funeral. The previous evening Gwyn had asked the hospital to find a funeral director and to try and arrange a cremation for the following Friday. Fortunately they were able to, and so the only remaining issues were to register the death and to organise a funeral and thanksgiving service for her life at the church which she had attended for so many years.

They checked with the hospital who gave them the address and phone number of the local Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths. Gwyn called the Registrar's office and fortunately they had an appointment slot available. They quickly drove over and were able to register Dilys's death quickly and efficiently.

Huw was adamant that he wanted the focus to be at his mam's church and not the crematorium. They drove to the Minister's house to tell him the news. He was very shocked to hear of Dilys's death. He had visited her in hospital on a few occasions but, sadly, she didn't recognise him. Gwyn gave him the contact details for the funeral directors, for him to make the necessary arrangements. They chatted for some time about his mother and chose some hymns he would use in the service.

The final visit Huw dreaded. They arrived at his former neighbours Dick and Olwen and broke the news to them of her death. Olwen was very tearful because they had been friends for so many years. They insisted on providing the refreshments after the service, which in Wales was always known as the 'funeral tea'. Olwen said she would organise flowers for the church and Dick offered to drop the death certificate off at the funeral director's office which would allow them to proceed with the funeral. By late afternoon all the arrangements were made and Gwyn and Huw wearily made their way home.

The funeral took place the following Friday in the Methodist Chapel and Huw was amazed at the large number of people who turned out for the service. He was very grateful to the Minister who gave such a good address and appreciation of her life. He estimated that there were about 150 people at the service, including people sitting up in the balcony not normally used at any time other than Christmas. There were some lovely floral arrangements in the church and he made a mental note to thank Olwen later.

He sat with Gwyn and Janet Evans on his left and with Gareth and David on his right, down from Caernarfon for the day. Gwyn and Janet had left the girls with friends in Reading as they felt this would have been a very difficult event for them to understand. It was not a long service but it would stay in Huw's memory forever. He had chosen the same hymns that were sung at his father's funeral, bringing the events of that sad day back again.

For the first time since hearing of his mother's death, tears began to fall. It hit him that he was now an orphan. The wonderful mother and father who had loved him so much, his brother and sister whom he adored and the twin brother he never really knew were all dead. As the final strains of Calon Lân, his mother's favourite hymn, faded away, he reflected that this represented the final closure of a dark period in his life. He thought about the opening words of the hymn and resonated with the aspirations of the writer. "I don't seek a life of luxury- with gold and pearls. I ask for a happy heart, an honest heart, a pure heart." An English translation didn't do justice to the hymn so Huw was glad they sang it in Welsh.

The funeral directors then took the coffin away for a committal at the crematorium. Huw insisted that he did not want to go there and so the undertakers had said that he could arrange for the committal to take place without his involvement. One or two eyebrows had been raised in the congregation when they learned of this arrangement but people were fortunately too polite to say anything.

After the service, the group went back to Dick and Olwen Jones's house for refreshments together with twenty or so of his mother's closest friends. Huw was rather apprehensive about this because 'funeral teas' as they were known in South Wales could be extravagant and lengthy affairs. Olwen and Dick had paid attention to his feelings when he phoned to ask for their help and he was relieved to find that there was a simple light meal of sandwiches and the obligatory Welsh cakes, Bara Brith and endless cups of tea. After a half hour, the other friends from the church had left, together with Gareth and David who had to travel back to North Wales.

Huw, Gwyn and Janet sat down with Dick and Olwen to talk about the future. Huw had spent a lot of time on the phone with Olwen and so she had heard much of his news. He had asked her about his twin brother and she replied sadly that his mother had insisted nobody, including his Dad was to tell him. She was thrilled that the relationship with his Taid and Nain had been restored. She was delighted also that he was coming back home to Wales, but disappointed that he would be so far away.

Huw asked Dick and Olwen if they would organise the sale of the house next door once the legal formalities had been completed. There was still three months to run on the tenancy of the current occupants and so there was no rush for anything to happen. He explained that he hoped to pass his driving test and to use some of the proceeds of the house to buy a second-hand car. He thanked them profusely for all that they had done for him. He remembered to thank Olwen for the flowers and for the funeral tea she had provided. He tried every way he could to pay for the flowers and the tea but they both resisted his attempts and he knew that they would be upset if he protested too much. With hugs, kisses and promises to keep in touch, the three of them took their leave and started the journey back to Reading.

He was most surprised when they pulled into the drive in Reading as his last memory was paying the toll on the Severn Bridge. He had slept almost the whole journey. Janet had arranged for the girls to be accommodated overnight, so the three of them sat down to the fish and chips which they had picked up from the local fish shop when they got back to Reading.

He kissed them both good night at 10 o'clock and collapsed into bed. For a few minutes he replayed the events of the day in his mind which he thought had gone as well as any funeral could go. He would remember 25 th April 1969 as the date a devastating chapter of his life ended and the following day as the start of a new life.

He switched on his transistor radio, already tuned to Radio Luxembourg on 208 metres. The BBC now had a pop music station at last -- Radio 1 -- but he still liked listening to good old Radio Luxembourg. Reception of that station could be iffy as medium wave transmissions tended to fade in and out, but tonight it was quite clear. It was a pop chart show for that week and he was really pleased that the number 2 song in the charts that week was by Mary Hopkin, a Welsh folk singer from Pontardawe. It was a Lennon-McCartney composition, 'Goodbye'. As he became aware of the significance of the words, he smiled, his eyelids began to droop and he fell asleep.

Please don't wake me until late tomorrow comes,
And I will not be late.
Late today when it becomes tomorrow.
I will leave to go away.
Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye, goodbye my love goodbye.
Songs that lingered on my lips excite me now
And linger on my mind.
Leave your flowers at my door
I'll leave them for the one who waits behind.
Far away my lover sings a lonely song
And calls me to his side.
When the song of lonely love Invites me on
I must go to his side.
Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye, goodbye my love goodbye.

©Mary Hopkin Music (Lennon/McCartney) Listen here:

Then also listen to a Welsh choir singing Calon Lân

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