Margaret Hill 1924-2012

Margaret Hill

If anyone is pulling the strings of the Higgs-Boson, it’s my mother. She had been trying to figure out the universe, or at least where the perimeter fence might be, since she was a child, and she died the week the H-B put in an appearance. No coincidence.

It couldn’t have been easy, speculating on space and time and what might be ‘out there’ when your education and social position told you to keep your eyes lowered and get good at knitting. Mum was born into an Irish catholic family that had come over to Yorkshire to escape the potato famine, and set its roots in a Bradford pub called the Harp of Erin. There, she danced on the tables until the local Bobby popped his nose round the door, when she dived under them to wait until he popped it back out again. When mum was just seven years old, her own mother died of a brain tumour that could probably now be treated. Had Ellen Conboy survived, life would have undoubtedly been different, but in what way? Would she have had more opportunity to maximise her education? Would she have met my dad? Would I be here?

Some of those imponderables are as immense as the ones Cern is grappling with, at least for those of us directly affected. But physics also presents us with mind-stretching alternatives; suggesting that worlds exist in which every possible choice has been made, and all forks in the road explored. Somewhere, then, my mother is Brian Cox, Captain Kirk (or maybe Janeway), Sally Ride. I’m betting she’s also been on Strictly Come Dancing, written novels, and joined the feminist movement. At the very least, there has to be a world in which she had more of the advantages of life but lost none of the ones she had in ours.

So last week we were gathered at the Limes again. Same group, same purpose, different green plastic bottle. This time we all knew what to do – a sad consequence of repetition – and so drifted easily from one stage of the event to the next. Catholicism had long ago lost its grip on my mother. She told me she had been excommunicated but I never discovered why, although arguing about where the justice was in repealing the fish-on-Friday rule while millions scrubbed the toilets in purgatory for sniffing gravy might have been a contributory factor.

In celebration of what she was, aspired to be, perhaps is – in an alternative universe, we sank her ashes into the place near where my dad’s cherry tree is thriving. Then we planted a mock orange shrub for her to feed. These two colourful, scented heralds of Spring marked the entrance to every path or driveway of every house they moved to, just as soon as they were able to drop anchor, and here they will do the same. There are lights on the tree, a windchime, and lanterns by the door. There are people at the Limes who will remember who is there. But their composition, the atoms that hung together long enough to be called Margaret and Donald, those are back where they came from, part of that universe my mother was always trying to fathom. Maybe she’s found the perimeter fence. I bet there’s a shrub there now.

Our music was provided by Dave Brown who sang lovely Irish ballads for us and never minded that he was the background.

Our reading came from ‘Search’ which is one of the stories in ‘Sum: tales from the afterlives’ by David Eagleman. Irreverent, poignant, funny, but always gentle.

Donald Sunderland Hill: a very fitting send-off

tree with candles

October 26th was a remarkable day. It was the day we hand-delivered our dad to life’s engine of renewal on his first step back to the stuff of stars. We held our ceremony at the residential home where he had lived the last year with Mum. She grasping less and less of the substance of life, and he falling foul of a need to take care of her at the expense of his own health, despite having no need to do so. The people we invited: a small group of family who had laughed with him through most of our lives; and friends who had laughed, danced, and reminisced with them both, gathered with staff from the home and elsewhere to help us send him on his way. We had a cherry tree to plant, and the home had kindly dug the hole for us earlier in the day. We had candles to light up the darkening evening, and we had strings of solar lights to sparkle through nights to come, outside the lounge window where Mum sits with her cup of tea.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have my dad. At least not as readily to hand as we had expected. Seeing the lovely food, and the gathering guests, Mum had beamed and asked ‘Is this a party?’  We reminded her that, no, it was for Dad, because he was gone now. ‘Oh,’ she said, appearing to take this on. A moment passed. ‘So how’s your dad getting here, then?’ My sister did not miss a beat. ‘He’s already here,’ she told her. But neither of us had checked, and he wasn’t. And so it came to pass that my sister and nephew raced off down the road to the funeral director’s office, while I held the fort with the Vera Lynn/Ken Macintosh mega mix.  They returned some 20 minutes later with our dad in a bag, weaving nonchalantly through the small assembly and placing him discreetly in position for his curtain-call. That he almost missed his own funeral would have creased him up with laughter. It very nearly finished us off for sobriety, and it was hard to delete from imagination the Benny Hill soundtrack that must surely have been playing in some cosmic theatre of the absurd. He would have loved it, and regretted only that there was no stuffed-shirt present who might have failed to see the funny side. Puncturing pomposity was a hobby verging on job description.

tree with candles

By the end of the day, we had rested our Dad in a place close to Mum’s favourite position in her preferred lounge. There is a tree that will blossom in spring with the blooms they brought to every house they lived in, and in due course, it will be joined by their other favourite, a Mock Orange, when Mum’s turn comes around. She has already said this is what she wants. A wonderful afternoon spent with lovely, gentle, people; good food, music of an era that brought us to liberation and never went away, and soft rounded wine to mellow the soul. He would have loved that too.