I’ve decided to write Izzy a letter.
I suspect it will be too long and rambling. I am pretty sure it will make her cry, though that isn’t my intention. I also hope she won’t read it for many years.
There are things I want to say to Izzy that I can’t tell a five-year-old. Things I won’t be able to say to her face, because I won’t be here. Being an older parent – no, a very old parent – I know that even if I live to be as old as my mother, who’s nearly 94, I’m unlikely to see Izzy into marriage, children, and total independence. So I’m going to write her a letter, and tell her what I know about life. Before it’s too late.
Last Monday I took Mum to Lynda Bellingham’s funeral. Mum was one of Lynda’s parents’ closest friends. They were near neighbours in Buckinghamshire, where Don Bellingham had taken up farming after he retired from his career as a pilot. We knew them well. My eldest child used to play with Lynda’s niece.
Lynda knew all about death. Don and Ruth died within a month of each other. Lynda’s sister Barbara also died a long, horrible ending, from cancer.
I suspect that’s one reason why Lynda became so philosophical about her own prognosis. She knew the end would arrive whenever it chose, and she was determined to make it as painless as possible, not for herself, but for her loved ones – her third, and only decent husband Michael, and her two handsome sons from her second marriage, Michael and Robbie. She had courage, stoicism and a terrific sense of humour. She was full of love and, as a result, hugely loved.
She planned the service herself, a wonderful mix of the public and the sometimes painfully private. She wanted it to be full of applause and laughter, so we packed the beautiful church in Crewkerne, Michael’s home town in Somerset, and applauded every eulogy, even the hymns, and we laughed, and even the broadminded Archdeacon smiled, at Lynda’s favourite bawdy jokes.
It was more show than funeral, which was exactly what she wanted. Lynda was processed out of the church to a standing ovation and Ethel Merman’s “There’s No Business like Show Business”. After the coffin was lowered into its final resting place, the sky above the graveyard erupted with fireworks. What a send-off.
Sure, there were news crews and photographers snapping the celebrity mourners, but there was nothing ostentatious or overblown – it was a touching tribute to a very good actress whose final tragic performance had touched millions. Theatrical, yes, for the ceremony was as sad, warm and funny as any piece of theatre. From Gyles Brandreth to Maureen Lipman, Jane McDonald, Denise Welch, Nicholas Grace and Christopher Biggins, it may have been a luvvie fest, but there was nothing contrived. All were genuinely close to her, and it made me realise just how deeply Lynda Bellingham was loved, and how much love she herself gave.
There were many touching moments. Lynda had wanted to spend one last Christmas with her family, but this was denied to her. So instead her family brought Christmas to her: the choir sang Away In A Manger. Her funny, adorably roguish husband Michael spoke with charming self-effacement about their relationship, which had been so brutally cut short.
The most moving part of all was when her two sons bravely and tearfully read out a letter from their mother. It was intensely personal, about how she felt about them, about her decision to give up chemotherapy, about how they should behave as adults without her.
“Sometimes the road you choose changes dramatically and we have to adapt pretty smartish or we get lost,” she wrote. “That is what I am trying to give you, I suppose. A view of life and in this case death.”
So that’s why I now want to write a letter to Izzy. Not to be read at my funeral, but so that she’ll always have something to watch over her. Even if, God willing, she won’t need it for a very long time.