Penny for my thoughts

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This is my godmother Penny, and she passed away a few days ago. This picture was taken back in 1985, so I would have been about 7 years old.

I have so many memories of playing with her younger sons Chris and Will, running around the house, playing games indoors or swinging from ropes in the garden if the weather was up to it. I remember silly things like how bouncy the dark green carpet was on the stairs, or finding hidden pebbles wrapped in aluminium foil in the bushes during a treasure hunt. I remember her and my mum sitting in the kitchen, drinking tea and talking about boring grown-up stuff. I remember how the doors were never shut in that house, there was always someone popping in to buy eggs or chat about one of the many village and church activities she was involved in.

A few years later, she had a terrible car accident and suffered severe brain damage. For days if not weeks she was in the intensive care unit and we were told that she may not survive. At that time my family no longer lived in the village but we travelled back from nearby Swindon to attend the evening prayer meetings organised for her in the church.

I remember that it wasn’t a structured event, it was just people gathering together in a difficult time. People would stand up when they felt like it and speak about their hopes, their prayers, their feelings, their wishes for the family… There were so many of them, I remember the church being so full of people.

Up until then, in my little 10 year-old brain, she had been my godmother Penny, and obviously mum and wife to her family, and one of my mum’s closest friends. She belonged to us. But sitting there in the church, feeling a little lost and confused at what exactly was happening, I realised just how many people’s lives she had touched, how many people loved her. She was their Penny too.

The mathematics of love are simple. One person’s love cannot be divided or subtracted from, it can only be multiplied and added to.

Just as a parent finds more love for each of their children, and for their partner, and for each member of their family, the same is true for every person we reach out and give our love to, be it a friend, a colleague, a stranger, whether we know them for a lifetime or for a few minutes. When love is given, it does not leave the giver, it is a link, an extension of ourselves to another person (and yes, animals count as persons too).

Penny at our wedding in 2003
Penny at our wedding in 2003

Penny survived her accident, although severely brain damaged and physically handicapped. Her family, and especially her amazing husband Raymond, cared for her every day, through some incredibly difficult times. Eventually she became able to speak a little and perform some actions like eating and drinking with a little help. I can’t even put into words how much I admire the way they never let go, kept going even though her progress was achingly slow and they had no guarantees of what she would or wouldn’t be able to do.

Raymond took her on holiday with him, despite the heavy and cumbersome wheelchairs and the constant need for attention. For over 20 years she remained a part of her family’s everyday life. She got to meet her grandchildren, be at birthday parties, see her kids grow and get married.

Ten years ago now – and I can hardly believe it was that long ago – Raymond and Penny came to my wedding. Raymond plays the organ for his local church and kindly accepted to play the music during the ceremony. Having them both there on that special day was so incredibly important to me. I’m not even sure I ever told them how happy it made me.

Weddings are curious things. They are one of the few occasions in life to have all the people you love in one place, and yet, when you are the ones getting married, you have virtually no time at all to spend with each one of them. That was the last time I saw Penny, and I barely spent a handful of minutes with her and Raymond.

The mathematics of time are simple. Your time cannot be added to or multiplied. It can only be divided, and it can also be subtracted from.

Use yours wisely.

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