We walk inside. Genevieve is nervous about her address. Too long? Too short? Too plain? Too fancy? Is Ruth there in the words? I soothe: Ruth will be there. Ruth will be everywhere.
Genevieve says she's promised herself she won't break down. I joke that she had better not, because people will, of course, boo. Genevieve starts. I instantly say, sorry, I imagined I was being funny. Okay, you break down. So what? You loved her.
Genevieve leaves to talk to Ruth's husband Matt and her sister Justine. I wander outside. Groups form, drag on last cigarettes, make tinny small talk about work, partners, bad movies, good food.
Minutes pass. More and more people congregate. Most wear black, many carry babies. Faces you saw last week, faces you haven't seen in years. Helen appears. I apologise for not being on time earlier; Brixton tube was shut, today of all days. A queue forms. I check the time: 10.55. We go in.
Justine and Matt welcome us with warm hugs, meant kisses. We file to our seats. I count: 12 rows. Purple flowers lie scattered, candles scent the air lavender. It begins. We celebrate Ruth, dead from cancer at 33. We will remember, try to figure Ruth out. My Ruth. Their Ruth. Our Ruth.
Here's one Ruth, bright and fierce, reflected in a reading from Pippi Longstocking, the book she adored as a child, the book her family read to her as she lay in the hospice. Perfect symmetry: the story of an independent Miss, "the only girl in the world who may do exactly what she wants."
And over here: the Ruth who "was allergic to authority". And there: the Ruth who hated rudeness. And this Ruth, too, the Ruth of the Old Testament book, dedicated to her women friends. Ruth's father stands, reads the Biblical verses, first in Hebrew, then in English.
At the lectern Matt recalls meeting his Ruth at the Cambridge University Labour club; Ruth the younger, Ruth the head-over-heels. She was, what, 19? She dazzled in a sexy tartan mini-skirt and told him how "cool and hard" she thought he was. "As if," Matt says. There is laughter and more, the memory of good times, lest we forget them and play the past false.
Matt summons the major and the minor; chance remarks Ruth made, her political beliefs, how she tried to balance the gift of their children, Lola and Joe, with the pain of being taken from them. She so wanted to watch her babies grow.
And Ruth is, as predicted, everywhere; such a cruel comfort. She walks among us, a soothing presence, in the recitation of "Phantasia for Elvira Shatayev". Like the poem, she asks us not to worry. Practical Ruth. And romantic Ruth, dreaming through "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face", the song her brother-in-law sings now, as he originally sang it at Ruth and Matt's wedding.
Genevieve does crack, momentarily. Everyone understands.
Babies squall. Adults weep. A couple clutch hands and sob. The deep, sore, selfish sobbing that is as much for ourselves as for the missing.
Justine reads from Ruth's Observer column, "Before I Say Goodbye". Justine conjures Ruth, the "I" that blinked out, and reads about the day Ruth found out she would die. Justine reads about the sheer bloody inconvenience of it. Justine reads and the lines are alive. Each word hums with the spirit of the adventurer Ruth was - perhaps still is - and, for a second, the world rights itself. We hear Ruth's voice and she sounds sorted. Angry, but sorted. A proper grace note. Justine pauses, signs the column off: "I know life will go on... It's just that I will miss it so."
Ruth's mother steps up last, takes a piece of paper and softly reads "Blackwater Woods". Full circle: she brought her here, she sends her out. It is the way of things.
Then the lights dim and music plays. And suddenly there Ruth is, the girl herself, up on the screen at the front of the hall, a trick of the light.
Ruth in her garden, hair cropped close because of the chemotherapy.
Ruth the chubby baby in a cute hat.
Ruth on her tricycle, legs pedalling.
Ruth the sultry teenager, short of skirt and bright of lip, posed against a poster, staring right at you.
Ruth bent double laughing at a joke we'll never hear.
Ruth the bride with her beloved Matt, her curls for once tamed and roped with petals.
Ruth relaxed, happy in the heat of a summer's day.
Ruth, sweaty and ecstatic in her hospital bed, holding her twins, a job well done.
Around and around the pictures turn, illuminating the dark, snapshots from something cut short; this is our daughter, our sister, our wife, our mother, our grievously mourned friend. On and on the photographs whirl until we end where we began: Ruth in her garden, frozen still, face to the sun. Ruth is smiling. She is here and she is not here.Reuse content