When does the winter end? 1st February? 1st March? The Vernal Equinox? Maybe it is a state of mind rather than a chronological or a meteorological point.
‘When the winter ends’, was what the lady had said that the very last time I had seen her.
Living in sheltered accommodation at the edge of a small seaside village, she tended to be reclusive, preferring her own company to that of her neighbours (some of whom were, admittedly, garrulous). Her main interest in life was her son, whose occasional appearance were the moments for which she lived.
‘He’ll come to see me’, she said, ‘when the winter ends’.
There had been a momentary temptation to point out to her that he lived in Belfast, which was less than thirty miles away, and which was a place that I visited at least twice a month (and if a parishioner were in one of the Belfast hospitals, at least twice a week). Certainly, it was January, but the weather that year had been mild and dry. Sensitivity and common sense prevailed, what point was there in causing unnecessary upset?
‘I was going to come when the winter ended’, he said when I met him. His car was parked outside her house; the undertaker had just left.
The police had phoned me that Saturday morning, they believed something had happened to her and they would like a clergyman present when they forced the door.
The woman’s body was lying on the hearth rug, the paper she was twisting as fire lighters still in her hands. The heart attack that had taken her must have been sudden and massive.
The funeral on the following Monday in the church in the village had been respectably attended, the son’s presence brought friends from Belfast uninhibited by the thought that it was still winter.
What went through his mind as he sat in the front row with the coffin a few feet away? Maybe he really believed his own story, that driving from Belfast in winter months was hazardous – despite the fact that our area had an abundance of people who drove to and from the city for their daily work.
I never saw or heard from him again. A furniture van came and removed her few pieces of furniture and it was soon as though she had never existed.
When will the winter end? The question is about a mindset rather than a date on a calendar.