Just a day previously she had been dancing with her husband. It was their passion for dance that inspired my husband and I to take to the ballroom some years ago.
The phone call from my father in law telling me of the sad news and the suddenness of it, was absolutely shocking.
My husband was not home. He was at my daughter's house helping her boyfriend erect a new shed in their recently paved back yard. I put on my trainers and ran. I ran all the way to my daughter's house. I was trying to imagine how I could possibly tell my husband that his mother was dead. When I arrived, he looked so pleased to see me turn up unexpectedly. The words that I had rehearsed over and over in my mind for the duration of my run felt so wrong as they came out of my mouth. It was incredibly hard to have to witness the look on my husband's face as the meaning of those words registered. To see his pain. To watch him slump.
He picked himself up. He explained to the shed building party what had happened. We turned our backs on their stunned faces and walked home. It took him no time at all to shower, pack and set off on the four hour journey to Brighton to be with his dad. I felt helpless.
Life carried on for me. I had to prepare a daughter for her first term at boarding school. Uniform and casual clothes complete with neatly stitched name labels were packed along with bedding and stationery and anything else we could think of that she might possibly need. I drove her to her boarding house and was proud of how well she settled herself into her room and boldly introduced herself to the other girls.
My two little ones were about to start their own school adventures - Addy as a year one and Dylan with his five mornings a week at preschool. I wondered when would be the best time to explain to them that their Grandma - the Grandma who shared story books with them and always made shortbread when we visited - their Grandma, had died. I did find the right moment. We set a photograph of her as the wallpaper on the family computer and Addy said she wanted to keep it there for ever and ever.
Meanwhile, funeral arrangements were made.
When all that could be done in Brighton had been done, my husband came home bringing his dad with him to stay with us for a few days. I was worried that the hustle and bustle of our family life might prove too much for one so recently bereaved but he seemed to enjoy the change of scenery and coped well with being surrounded by people. I was able to hug my father in law, which was all I had really wanted to do ever since that first devastating phone call. We cried together and shared memories. We even made grape jelly together with the harvest from the vines in my greenhouse. My husband returned to work and did his best to deal with the backlog of urgent matters demanding his attention.
The funeral was booked for Thursday 12th September. By coincidence, we already had planned to be in Brighton for the Saturday after this to take part in a Color Run. Advertised as the happiest 5K on the planet, this is a running event with colour stations along the route where brightly hued powdered paint is thrown at the participants. We had booked a table at a restaurant close to the event for us to all meet up for a meal. Unbooking this table in the light of the tragedy was so sad. In her usual meticulously well organised way, my mother in law had already made the famous shortbread to offer us when we went back to their house for our post meal coffee. Carefully wrapped and frozen ready for our visit was that last batch of shortbread she'd ever make. My father in law brought it with him when he came to stay. It was such a potent symbol of the woman we loved. We ate it with reverence - sadness and joy in equal measures. We made the decision to go ahead with the Color Run as planned - to run it for her.
We booked a nice hotel with spa for a couple of nights - figuring any chance to relax and unwind would be more than welcomed. We packed our running gear next to formal black attire.
When I told someone that my husband loved his mum, he replied that we all love our mums. This is probably true but the love my husband had for his mum was coloured with the deepest respect and admiration. He was inspired by her and truly adored the times when he saw her barefoot in her garden, jeans rolled up to reveal tanned legs. The photograph that I set as the wallpaper on the family computer for Addy's benefit did in some small way capture this side of her. My daughter used her photoshop skills to remove the background and the resulting image was quite beautiful - serene, knowing smile, kind eyes, relaxed. We used the image on the order of service for the funeral and it is probably how I will always remember the woman who welcomed me and my children into the family, thanked me for making her son happy and indulged my love of her raspberry trifle.
Myrtle Lillian Virgo
5th Dec 1934 - 29th Aug 2013