This was my contribution to Kate’s funeral service, which took place at Kingston Cemetery and Crematorium on 31 July 2017:
I first met Kate at university in October 1979. She was 18; I was 20. We each had lots of red hair. We drank beer, went to many gigs together and became firm friends. I loved her as ‘one of the lads’.
By 1984 we were sharing with others a cockroach-infested Haringey flat. There was even a mouse called Hercules. But soon I decided to make a fresh start. At one final party we almost got together, but she vacillated so I left.
We didn’t meet again until 1990 when, by coincidence, we found ourselves drinking in the same central London pub. We both had much less hair. She was painfully thin, getting over a broken relationship; I was joyfully playing the field. I first knew she cared when she cried, fearing me lost on the mountains of Skye! Soon I realised she was ‘the one’.
I moved into her maisonette, proposed in Cologne and we married in October 1994. Many of you were at our wedding reception in Hampton Wick presided over by Harvey, our supposedly benevolent pookah. He slept in our bed until I despatched him last week.
We moved to our present house just before Reuben was born. Kate was a natural mother, Reuben blossomed and life was hectic but good. Then she began to suffer bouts of ill health: RSI, arthritis, labyrinthitis, a broken ankle, two frozen shoulders, a slipped disc. She realised she was partially sighted. Serious childhood illness had given her great stoicism and fortitude – and so she pushed on through.
I was building a career; too often I put work ahead of her and Reuben. She struggled with depression and I struggled to understand. Finally in 2010 wisdom prevailed and I took early retirement. In 2011 she enjoyed a wonderful 50th birthday party in the same venue as tonight’s wake. For the first time I appreciated how many people loved her deeply. I don’t think she ever did.
Two years ago she persuaded me I was borderline Aspergers, after reading all the books and making me read them too! She joined a support group for people with Aspie partners. Thanks to Kate I can warn you that we Aspies may not always process grief like neurotypicals.
We consciously tried to strengthen our relationship in readiness for retirement together. But first Kate wanted the workplace success that had so often eluded her. She achieved this at Kingston’s School of Education and latterly at KCL where she was appointed by Becky Francis, now head of the Institute of Education.
Becky wrote to me:
‘She will be hugely missed by her colleagues, as a professional, and as a friend. We shall remember her with warmth, admiration and gratitude.’
A beautiful letter from her present bosses concludes:
‘Above all, Kate was a thoughtful, generous, gentle and calm person, and a wonderful human being who we enjoyed spending time with. She will be deeply missed by everyone who had the pleasure of working with her.’
The nightmare began with a routine mammogram last June. We descended deeper and deeper into hell and Kate had no respite. We guessed her mastectomy had been unsuccessful from a call during our final Valentine’s Day meal. She endured endless chemo sessions and blood transfusions with her trademark bravery and stoicism. We diverted each other as best we could through innumerable games of online scrabble. She loved it when she won!
In little more than a year she lay dying. The final indignity was spending her last ever birthday in hospital. I had booked lunch at the French Table and ordered a cake from Nancy, having omitted each of those essential prerequisites on previous occasions. Too late!
During her final hours I leant over to kiss her and whispered ‘I love you so much’. She couldn’t speak any longer, but her eyes opened briefly and she grinned. I think she must have been waiting for that.
I’ve chosen this poem by Dylan Thomas because, when we first met in 1979, Thomas was my favourite poet – and the poems I wrote for Kate were heavily influenced by him.
Thomas was just 19 when he wrote this – the same age as Reuben – but, even though I am three times that age, it neatly encapsulates my attitude to Kate’s death.