A Sprig of Rosemary

The old lady in a wheelchair held a sprig of rosemary between her clasped hands. She was very still. She had been married in a church only a mile or so away 60 years previously. She greeted her many friends with a smile which was almost imperceptible but contained great warmth. The gathering was about to attend the funeral of her husband.

‘Rosemary for remembrance?’ I asked their daughter. ‘Yes’, she said, ‘I was lucky to find a plant in bloom this morning.’

An ancient tradition. I have never seen it observed at funerals before – just a small twig of the herb from a garden, symbolising and, I believe treasuring, the memories of a long lifetime together. It is, indeed, older than the Book of Common Prayer Order for the Burial of the Dead, much of which was used with conviction and attention today by the priest, almost certainly a retired vicar, slightly donnish and patrician, and absolutely sure of touch. He made the Prayer Book words new and St Paul’s promise of resurrection live. I have never attended a funeral service to compare with this, either in a church or crematorium – where this was held.

As the clergyman spoke, the old lady’s gaze was gently on her husband’s coffin. In her mind’s eye she may have looked back to their wedding day 60 years ago, and to their many years of hard work on the land. If she were to see this post she might well object to the word ‘old’ – not out of vanity but because what was there today in her and the husband we mourn, was rich and present life and love. It really was.

May St Paul’s promise be valid for all of us and may she be comforted.

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6 Responses to A Sprig of Rosemary

  1. churchmouse says:

    Llew, I’m so pleased to read that this widow found a proper clergyman to perform the funeral rites.

    I had only read about rosemary in this context a long time ago — it was good to read that the tradition is still alive.

    May I take this opportunity to wish you and Mrs Llew a happy St George’s Day and a very happy Easter.

    My very best wishes to you both
    Churchmouse

  2. lleweton says:

    Thank you Churchmouse, and Mrs Llew’s and my regards to you both. Your comment about St George’s Day took my thoughts – and I already sense the scorn of metropolitan intelligentsia – to the song ‘There’ll Always Be an England’. And from that song to ‘It’s a Lovely Day Tomorrow’. Both were performed by Vera Lynn.

    I remember standing with my father on a sunny hill on the outskirts of a bomb stricken Plymouth in 1940 – or maybe 1941 – and a neighbour greeting us: ‘It’s a lovely day tomorrow’, he said, in a friendly and everyday way. I can only have been five years old but my memory is clear and I have never forgotten it. Perhaps I registered the words because the song was already being performed on the wireless.

    • churchmouse says:

      Thank you, Llew — what a beautiful Easter holiday! We have been taking advantage of the sunshine to get out into the garden — weekend relaxation followed by some spring tidying yesterday!

      Never mind ‘the scorn of metropolitan intelligentsia’ — none of whom could hold a candle to Dame Vera. It is apparent from your poignant recollection that she kept the spirits of Englishmen and women up during the war. It’s pretty amazing that you, your father (presumably) and your neighbour were on the same wavelength, so to speak, during an awful time. Yet, who nowadays would greet someone with a positive song lyric in the midst of devastation? It shows you how our mindset has changed — not for the better, I might add.

      If you have more wartime memories, please share them, if you are able. I would look forward to reading them.

      • lleweton says:

        Hallo Churchmouse: thank you for your comment here and on the other posts. I’m letting them dwell in my thoughts at the moment and will reply in a while. I think the metropolitan intelligentsia must be gnashing their teeth after today (the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton). It won’t, however, stop them in their unending attempts to gnaw away at the traditions which have protected our freedom. Referring briefly to the war, a figure of fun then was the petty official : ‘Put that light out’ – or a shopkeeper doling out his goodies: ‘Don’t you know there’s a war on?’ I can’t remember when I first heard the term ‘pocket Hitler’. It was certainly around that time. Pocket Hitlers seem to be in the ascendant at the moment. I hope they had a setback today.

        —– Original Message —–

  3. Beverley Bee says:

    I have really enjoyed reading these thoughts. I was born three months before the beginning of the second world war, in Auckland, New Zealand, but we were very affected by the war down here. I really love Vera Lynn and her music, and last Christmas persuaded my husband to buy me her CD with all her special songs on it.
    I am delighted that she has chosen a special young N.Z. woman to take her place as the sweetheart of the forces — Hayley Westenra [actually not sure about the spelling !!]. Everyone I know watched the Royal wedding last night with great joy.
    We pray that they have enduring happiness together. We were very glad our Prime Minister and his wife could be there. It was certainly a wonderful occasion. Its a time for truth I believe, and the courage to stand up and be counted in proclaiming the truth. Good people have been walked on for too long.

  4. lleweton says:

    Yes Beverley, thank you. I agree.The whole occasion seems to have pulled our traditions back into focus: where they should be, at the heart of the freedoms we have fought for and cherish.

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