April

 

I’d been trying to remember a quote I heard for someone dearly departed, which went along the lines of, “try not to be sad that they’re gone, but be happy that they were here”.  No words can ever really make you feel better, or cover how those closest must be hurting, but you know everything carries on, the unstoppable juggernaut of life relentlessly marches on. On Friday 8th September, Ma’s sister, April Weller, succumbed to her illnesses while in hospital, leaving Ma, (Lavender), as the last of the Courtney Bennett siblings. April had an accident while on holiday in the U.S a few years back, which needed surgery, with a wire cage being used to hold her leg together as part of the solution. Later down the line this wire cage caused complications, infections were becoming a repeated problem, eventually resulting in the leg having to be amputated. Despite all of this, April was ever upbeat and positive in her outlook, and her Catholic faith remained rock solid. She was determined that she would make this year’s pilgrimage to Lourdes, regardless of having lost her leg, and the Lourdes pilgrimage people made sure it happened.

April and Uncle Leslie were taken by ‘Jumbulance’ to Lourdes, Ma went with the medics charter coach and plane. Ma and April had been going on the Lourdes pilgrimage for some years, but this year it was looking as if it may not be able to happen owing to April’s ill health, her strength of faith, sheer determination, and the fantastic assistance of the Arundel/Brighton Lourdes Pilgrimage team, made sure it did happen.

Ma n April at Lourdes 2011

April and Lavender at Lourdes 2015

Only two weeks ago I saw a postcard on Facebook, and instantly recognised a very young April Courtney Bennett in a garden at St Martha’s Convent, Rottingdean. I printed it out, and when myself and Ma went to visit her next, took the photo along. April told us it was her first day at the convent school, around 1935, she would have been 5 years old, and the photo was staged for a postcard. She didn’t have a uniform yet, so they kitted her out in a borrowed one for the photo shoot. She also recognised some of the others in the picture, one of whom she recalled was Angela. Ma, (Lavender Courtney Bennett), joined the school sometime around 1938, with the threat of war looming, and it was from here that they both picked up their Catholic faith, which they have carried with them ever since.

April at St Martha’s convent, Rottingdean. (“2nd left) Circa 1935

 

The C.B’s:-Ma, April, David, Peter, and Jim at St Martha’s circa 1938

April and Ma were always very close, and I imagine their time at St Martha’s had a lot to do with that. They were at Southlands Hospital in Shoreham together in the 1950’s, training as nurses. In later years when they had both married, one of my earliest memories is of going by train to Hove with Ma, travelling in the guards carriage with the pram, then once at April’s, one of them would be taken for her driving lesson, while the other looked after all the children, and vice versa. I can still picture a sand pit in the basement, a faint memory of black and white tiled steps, and the concertina gates of the lift at Hove station. They both passed first time, and their driving instructor, Mr Doo, would go on to teach us all to drive many years later.

Further on, after a terrible case of seasickness while sailing to France in the teeth of a gale, I had to be farmed out to April and Leslie’s place in Hove Park Road whenever the parents went on boat trips across the channel. It seemed a very peaceful place compared to our noisy home, talking to Trevessa years later, she told me that April very rarely raised her voice, and taught them all not to raise their voices either. That has always been the thing about April, she radiates a kind of peace and tranquillity, and you can see that in her children, doubtless they have passed that on to their children too, all of whom April was so incredibly proud, and rightly so.

Leslie, middle of back row, April front left, Ma front right, Uncle Peter back right

As well as having a strong religious faith, April and Ma inherited their mother’s relentless industry with needle craft, knitting or sewing. Neither family has been short of jumpers, hats, or scarfs, and to that end, they began getting involved with friends in what we later laughingly called their, ‘Stitching and Bitching’ Tuesday’s, gathering at each others places alternately, to chat and make things. They all enjoyed a well told joke, so if I had come across something which made me laugh, often rude, I’d print it out and give it to Ma to take along. You knew it was a winner if you heard April laugh, not because that was unusual, it wasn’t, but she had a glorious laugh, her head would rock back, a kind of shriek would be the precursor to the following bellow of laughter, and it was totally infectious. The joke would never be read out loud, but passed around, so that one by one, the Sewing Sisters would wait their turn, and those that had read it already, would wait with interest to hear the ’pay off’. These sessions kept going until recently, but sadly with April’s illness, and other factors, came more or less to an end a while back.

While April was in the Sussex County hospital, Leslie was making the trip in everyday to visit, parking at Bristol Gate, and climbing the steep hill each time. Whether this had an effect or not, Leslie ended up in hospital himself, having suffered a stroke. On Friday, 8th September, came the worst of all news, April had passed away, with family around her. Ma had gone to visit, but got there too late. I don’t think we realised just how bad April must have been, but I’ll struggle with the fact I didn’t insist on driving her in. Ma had been visiting April by bus for so long, other than the couple of times when I drove her. I packed her off with some fresh pineapple chunks, as April had said she’d rather have that, than the tinned stuff they served up.  When I picked Ma up from the footbridge, she told me she had been too late. We drove back quietly, I know how close they have always been, and how devastated she must be, as will Leslie and the family. She will be missed, and greatly, but she will be remembered well. For now it’s the difficult process of becoming used to that fact, while trying to tap in to some of April’s quiet, determined, positivity.

 

May you rest in peace Auntie April.

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3 Responses to “April”

  1. thewellery Says:

    What a lovely piece . Thank you for this

    • wolfeeboy Says:

      April will be missed terribly, but left us all with wonderful memories. Thank you again for your lovely and thoughtful card for Ma, it meant a great deal to her.

  2. Michelle phillpot Says:

    A really lovely piece and so heart warming xxxx

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