Today I attended the funeral of a woman that I never knew in life. In fact the first time I met Flora Margaret Walsh, she had been dead for mere seconds. Flora was killed in a tragic accident when the forces of nature reasserted its dominance over our modern way of life. A forty tonne Oak tree, that likely started its life as a discarded acorn many years before Flora’s birth almost seventy years ago, was uprooted by freak 80mph winds, the roots gave way in soil, waterlogged from weeks of un seasonal rain, and the tree crushed the car of the unsuspecting Flora, taking a life, and blocking a road for almost twenty four hours.
The medics assured me that Flora was killed instantly and likely knew nothing about it, and as reassuring as this is, it does mean that the horrific sound of the tree crunching the car, will toll as a death bell in my mind for the rest of my life.
Since witnessing the accident I have found myself thinking, “was there anymore I could have done?” I know for sure, that there wasn’t. I watched two fire engines full of firemen, unable to do any more over the following hour, than support the tree and make the car safe for the other emergency services. It would be hours later before Flora could be removed from the car after a team of specialised tree surgeons dismantled the oak with a series of very calculated cuts. But still, time and time again I come back to that moment and examine every decision and action I made.
I have since joked that I now have a mild case of Dendrophobia, a word that I didn’t even know existed a month ago, but in all seriousness, for the last month I have found driving around the country roads of the area I live, on the edge of the New Forest, particularly difficult. Used to having to drive with your eyes peeled to the side of the road, scanning for Deer, Pigs, Cows, Sheep, and Ponies, I now find myself watching every tree with a fearful anticipation. The worst has been at night, when I can’t see the trees, can’t see them moving in the wind. I know they are there. I know that they are moving.
It’s no exaggeration when I say that I potentially owe my life and that of my son, to a small branch that fell in front of my car and made me navigate around it. It was this that made me pay more attention to the uprising of the wind and the movement of the trees at the side of the road. Without it, I’m not sure that I would have seen the tree fall and I wouldn’t have been able to stop in time. It’s strange that I didn’t remember this at the time, only later when giving my statement to the police officer.
I find myself feeling guilty. I feel guilty that I have spent a month struggling with something that happened to someone else. I feel guilty every time someone asks me how I’m feeling. Because honestly, I feel sad. Yes I have images in my mind of what I saw in the car, yes I’ve seen the tree taking its tumble night after night, yes I’ve heard the re-occurring crunch of wood on metal, but I’m alive, and Flora isn’t. I feel guilty every time the narrative appears to be about me, because it’s not about me, it’s about Flora, a woman who was on her way to visit her husband in hospital, and never made it. But I have to juxtapose this with the need to talk about it, I can’t hold this inside, writing about it is the means to help me understand and hopefully come to terms with what was a tragic moment in time.
Today couldn’t have been any different than a month ago, blue skies, no wind, and a warm low winter sun. I met Flora’s daughters, Lucy and Claire, and Claire asked if she could give me a hug. I had been in two minds about going to the funeral, I felt that I needed to go, it seemed that I might find some closure, felt that I should meet the family, but I didn’t feel quite right about it. However, in that brief moment, held in the arms of a woman that I now have only a small but tragic link with, as she said thank you to me, it lightened by heart, and I think she gave me the little extra strength that I needed to move forward.
I don’t recall ever crying at a funeral before, but I cried at Flora’s. I cried for her, I cried for her family, I cried for my family, and I cried for myself.
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in the giving that we receive, in pardoning that we are pardoned, and in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Flora is survived by her husband Martin, daughters Claire and Lucy, and 6 year old grandson Nye.