Rena’s final written message to me was contained in two cards: one for my birthday (7th July) and the other for our anniversary (10th July). I know she was determined to write the cards out herself and it must have been a great effort, and her message was “All I want is for us to be together”. She was talking in part about her planned move to be with me in Devon.
Rena made it to Devon in the end. The funeral care people moved her from the hospice in London to Newton Abbot and then on to the funeral on 27th July at Torquay crematorium. Rena had finally arrived at where she wanted to be, although sadly not under these circumstances. She was and always would be a ‘Tottenham girl’ – as she described herself, and had we settled in a flat in Devon together she would have returned to Tottenham often.
Because the funeral was in Devon a number of people could not be with us at the service, and some have said it was a pity as they would have liked to hear the tribute. I wrote the tribute a day or two before the funeral and, thinking I would not be able to speak, gave a copy to Rev. John Luscombe, who led the service and agreed to read it out if I was unable. In the event I managed to get through it, with a few lengthy pauses. It was very difficult but I was very glad I was able to do it myself.
As with all of these things it could have been better, but I’ve reproduced below the actual text I read out on the day without alteration or editing.
I select greetings cards on the basis of design and the match between the image and the person I’m sending the card to. For me, the fewer words the better. Rena was the opposite. She spent hours and often days finding just the right card with just the right words; words that she wanted to tell me but didn’t know how. Like me she was not sentimental, but she told me that every word was true and was what she really wanted to say. I’ve saved most of the birthday, Christmas and anniversary cards she sent me over many years. By the way, until we were were married, according to Rena our anniversary was the 14th of February; I have no idea where that came from.
Rena’s cards tell a narrative of heartfelt feelings over the years and I learned from them what she thought of me and why she loved me. I told her often how much I loved her of course, and she knew why.
Like me, she strove to improve herself, to gain knowledge and understanding and to aim to be a better person. Like me, she enjoyed quality: she liked to look her best, she liked to eat in a good restaurant and stay in a good hotel – and even the simple and everyday – she liked a good cappuccino in our favourite coffee shop. She was not mediocre and she was not dull. Like me she was unconventional, and she and I knew that some people found our lifestyle slightly odd. She was empathic and got on with people very well; she did not judge or base her thoughts on first impressions. She was natural and unpretentious.
Rena had her demons and she has done some bad things in her life. But who here can truthfully say they haven’t? I knew Rena was tormented in her last week, but I repeated to her time and again over two days and nights that she has done far more good for far more people than bad. And that is the best we can expect of anyone. In the first few days of her coma I knew she was listening to me and others. She knew I forgave her and by the third night she relaxed and we celebrated our wedding anniversary, which is a moment I shall never forget.
What I think is remarkable is that Rena survived the terrible traumas in her life. Never knowing her mother – who died when she was just two years old, being uprooted at a young age to move to a strange country, suffering a dreadful experience as a teenager and later in life losing her first born son Marlon. These left scars that never fully healed.
She also raised four boys effectively as a single parent whilst at the same time holding down a full time job with less than average pay. Despite all the hardships she suffered she was, for most of the time anyway, a happy, joyous, cheerful person who punched well above her size. Literally – when it came to some of the young lads in Tottenham who made a nuisance of themselves, but for whom she would always have a pot of food ready.
Rena is the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known. I’ve known her for thirty years and we’ve been together for 25 years. There are hundreds of stories I could tell you about the hundreds of wonderful moments we shared in London, Devon, The USA and the West Indies. I might get to tell you some of them in the years to come, in return for a beer.
Over many years and through difficult times and good times we grew to love each other even more closely than we did at the beginning. On 1st January 2000 Rena was alone with me at midnight in my tenth floor flat in south London, overlooking the city and the west end. We could see the amazing millennium fireworks display from every barge placed along the Thames. We were together and incredibly happy, and I think by then, or at least not long afterwards, we had reached a point where we knew each other so well we knew what the other was thinking. Our relationship had become effortless, open, trusting and very deep.
Into the millennium our relationship was so strong that we knew there was no need to get married. But that didn’t stop us from talking about it. There came a time in 2006 when we were both in a lot of pain and felt ourselves to be alone together against the world. I had lost a lot of money and all hope of ever owning a home. We came to realise that all we had of any value was each other, and eventually came around to marriage. Rena was not one for ostentation; she didn’t want a grand wedding. It may therefore seem odd when I tell you she liked the idea of getting married in Las Vegas, even if it was just the two of us. Our budget of £50 wouldn’t stretch to Vegas so Newton Abbot it was! And we got change!
Getting married in 2013 was the start of our new life. Rena has a new passport – it’s only a few months old. We were going to visit Auntie Sachee in New York. We would probably make our way to Las Vegas, and hopefully San Fransisco.
We planned a new life together, probably in Devon but there were one or two other places where I could get work – Glasgow, Nottingham or New York. We wanted many of you in this room to be part of our new life, as guests at our home. We would rent a flat, or possibly a small terraced house. We would need two bedrooms – one for guests. I found some 2-bed flats she liked, and we desperately wanted to be together and sharing the same home. We would have been good hosts; you would have been well fed and you would have wanted to come back.
Back in New York in the 90’s we met a lot of Rena’s relatives. Auntie Sachee threw a party for us and there must have been thirty or so people dancing, chatting and having fun. I’ve been in touch with some of them in recent weeks. They’ve sent me a couple of stories.
Rena’s mum died in 1953. After she died Rena and her brother Rudy lived with their grandparents. At the weekend Rena would sleepover at her Auntie Sachee’s house a few blocks away. One evening Auntie Sachee and Rena had an argument and Rena said she wanted to go home. Auntie Sachee said you have to stay with me for the night like you always do at weekends. But Rena had other ideas: she snuck out in the night. Auntie Sachee discovered she had gone and ran outside to try to find her, falling over in the process. She eventually found her – at home with her dad. She must have been six years old at the time.
Rena was a good natural dancer, as anyone who has seen the brief video taken last summer will know. If her grandpa had his way she would never have danced: Auntie Sachee told me the story of her and Rena doing the hula hoop in the house when grandpa came home and ticked them off; ‘why’ said grandpa: because girls are not supposed to dance.
I hope your dancing now babe and full of joy and mischievous fun as you were most of the time I knew you.
9th March 1951 – 13th July 2015.
I love you always.