Sunday, 18 November 2012


The postman handed me a letter, the envelope of which, was stamped, authoritatively, with the name and address of a firm of solicitors. I admit it, I panicked. This was the first letter I have ever received from a lawyer, and I assumed it foreshadowed Trouble.

My mind raced. Every thought, word and deed that had occupied me over the preceding weeks jostled for position at the forefront of my conscience for examination. Most were instantly dismissed as irrelevant: the odd one or two set aside as unlikely to have, as yet, been brought to the attention of a solicitor...

I tore open the letter in dreadful anticipation to read:

Re: The Estate of  Elly Maria Pantekoek Deceased

And to receive a cheque for £167.60

This is how it happened.

Elly Maria Pantekoek was a brand new friend. I have few, and am therefore particularly aggrieved when one dies, but to be fair to Elly Maria, she had made it clear from the beginning that death was imminent, and would, in the event, be welcomed.

I am going to move to bullet points here to advance this story at a respectable pace.                  
  • Sister Elly Maria was Dutch, and a nun. 
  • She lived alone, following the rule of St Benedict, in a very large house, with a magnificent garden, with a poustina, some five miles from my home.
  • She was large, disabled, got about in an electric wheelchair, wore brightly coloured track suits, smoked, drank, kept a dog, questioned the catholic hierarchy in a way that might have offended them and quilted. A lot. She designed and made exquisite quilted banners to the glory of God and the benefit of the church.
  • She was kept mobile with the help of an army of carers, all of whom were devoted to her, and all of whom learned to quilt.
Having established, in a pretty two-dimensional way, what this amazing woman was like, I am going to tell  how I moved into her charming circle. I used to take Jesus to her. That is, as an Extraordinary Minister of Communion, I occasionally took her a consecrated host, in a silver pyx, and would say the liturgy of the Communion for The Sick with her, and administer the Host - to both of us, the Body of Christ. (A mystery peculiar to Catholic and Orthodox Christian traditions, and a beautiful one.) At first she terrified me. I didn't know quite to do with her unorthodoxy, her piercing questions, her abrupt manner - or her quilting. But I got used to it all, and came to respect and love her.

I asked her to make a banner  for our church for Easter 2010. Which she did, though she made me help, and frequently reminded me how little time I'd given her to do it in - especially as, three weeks before Easter, I was bound for the USA. 

On hearing this, Sr E M's eyes lit up, and she requested that I bring her back some 'fat quarters ' which are bundles of  squares of material. I could hardly refuse on the grounds that she might die before I returned, could I?

We called in on Sr Elly Maria on the way home from the airport... I left my husband in the car, and made my way into Elly Maria 's work room. She was delighted to see me (as I was her) and she left her computer to pour over the 'fat quarters ' that she had ordered and I had collected. She was over the moon , and I, pleased that I had been able to complete my commission.

'I am very busy with this,' Elly Maria said, returning to the tax return she was completing online,' Do you mind if I give Aidan a cheque to pay you? ' I wrestled with the possibility of Elly Maria's demise for the shortest possible amount of time, before replying that of course, I didn't mind! Waiting a couple of days wouldn't matter at all.

When I heard, a day later, that she had been rushed into hospital, I prayed fervently for her recovery, to no avail.

That was a year and a half ago, and, as is the way of it, the loss of my friend had become a memory I recalled only rarely, and I have to confess, with the edge of a smile, as I thought about  the tussle with my conscience over the money. So the cheque was received as a special gift, not so much a monetary one, but as a gush of affection for a wonderful women, summoned  to God when her work here was done.

' Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord. Let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace. Amen!'

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