The funeral had been an unexpected affair.  The length of the nave at St. James was like a busy roadway, people coming and going in all directions, seeking seats to park themselves in.  Standing off to the side from where the choir sang, Jennifer, Elizabeth and Robin had a direct line of vision on those in attendance.

“My goodness, it appears as though all of Fleet Street has come to show their respects,” noted Elizabeth, her keen eye and connections to London’s elite apparent.  Fleet Street had been the home of England’s great publishing houses that had planted themselves there since the 16thcentury.  The name itself had become synonymous with the country’s newspaper industry.

Elizabeth then noted the forlorn, but well-fashioned figure of Amit Laghari, Alberta’s only superior at Society magazine, along with about a dozen of her former colleagues at the publication’s office.    She then noted publishers, editors, and writers from a dozen other publications crowding into one another, each seeking a pew somewhere near the front.

Fifteen minutes before the service was to begin, the sanctuary was full.  The three of them recognized neighbours, old friends from the time when Sandy was still alive, and individuals from the various causes Alberta had chosen to assist with feature stories in Society.  There were some celebrities who had been featured in the magazine’s pages, but, primarily, the church was full of the rank and file of England’s mainstream society.  

The service, unlike most Anglican events, was mercifully short.  This had been Alberta’s  wish, expressed to her children months earlier.  The message, delivered by the minister Alberta had known for two decades, spoke eloquently about her life’s many dimensions – family, marriage, publishing, the early months in Edinburgh, the death of Sandy, and her struggles with  health challenges during the past year.  He never informed the people in the sanctuary of the true nature of her Alzheimer’s – again, at her request.  

It was then that the choir, well acquainted with Alberta Alexander, sang a medley of some of her favourite religious music.  The lofty voices of the sopranos seemed to lift beyond the flat ceiling and pitched roof, and out into the heavens.  Both Jennifer and Robin, having been away from church for a number of years, were deeply moved by the quality of the voices and the acoustics of the sanctuary.

The minister informed the congregation that the final hymn had been a personal choice of Alberta’s.  There were others, over the years, that she had favoured, but as her end drew near the words of this particular hymn had carried the day for her.  She especially wanted the words dedicated to those nearest to her.  The text brought Elizabeth, and Alberta’s children into a place of deep longing.  It was beautiful, and lofty, and drew them forward.

Where the harps of angels ring,
And the blest forever sing,
In the palace of the King,
Meet me there;
Where in sweet communion blend
Heart with heart and friend with friend,
In a world that ne’er shall end,
Meet me there.

On the happy, golden shore,
Where the faithful part no more,
When the storms of life are o’er,
Meet me there;
Where the night dissolves away
Into pure and perfect day,
I am going home to stay—
Meet me there.

Refrain:
Meet me there, meet me there,
Where the tree of life is blooming,
Meet me there;
When the storms of life are o’er,
On the happy golden shore,
Where the faithful part no more,
Meet me there.

The reception following the service was held in the church parlour – a lavish room, oval shaped, filled to capacity.  It was intended to be brief, but so many people desired to tell her children of how Alberta had been instrumental in their lives.  She had pushed for their stories to be published, and they never forgot it – narratives of women in the military, of the dying off of the older World War II generation, of the horrors faced by the women of Afghanistan, and of how, in losing its world-wide reach, Britain had lost its way in that world.

“She pushed me very hard a few years ago to allow a large piece on Alzheimer’s and dementia,” noted Amit Laghari.  “It wasn’t the type of subject we would normally cover, but she insisted.  When I asked if she was acquainted with anyone suffering from the disease, she said no.  But, when I pressed concerning its importance to her, she replied, “Our magazine is called Society, Amit, and these diseases are about to become epidemic in Britain, especially as people live longer. People need to know about this.”

Laghari paused for a moment to hold his emotions in check.  “Of course, I published it,” he continued.  “I always followed Alberta’s hunches, and they were always right.  We had a higher response rate to that article than most.  Neither one of us could have predicted, at the time, that it would take her away from us.” He waved his hand from side to side, implying that he could speak no more, and moved off.

Eventually, Jennifer, Robin, and Elizabeth found their way back to Clerkenwell around the supper hour. Elizabeth had picked up some Chinese food, but no one felt very hungry.  They drank and remembered, but the loss in their spirits, from Alberta’s absence, was acute.  

After dark, Robin said he would like to go to the church gravesite to see the stone placed next to that of their father.  Elizabeth agreed to join him.  For Jennifer, it was too much.  Her heart heavy from all that had transpired in the last week, she sent them off, saying that she would be heading to bed and would see them at breakfast in the morning.

She sat in her mother’s favourite chair, situated by the heating element beneath the mantle.  It had been Sandy’s favourite, when he had been alive. She thought back to the hymn that had closed the service.  She sang what she remembered of it, with the words “Meet Me There” playing over and over in her mind.  In that moment, it didn’t matter to Jennifer whether heaven or God was real.  What consoled her was the reality that Alberta’s faith had been as steady as always in the weeks and months before her passing.  It was enough for her, and that was enough for her daughter.  

She asked the questions billions had asked before her.  Will I see her again?  Is there a kind of life after death?  Will Dad be there?  Will there be a place for me, for Robin?  And were the answers more important than what she already knew?  As with love, loyalty, or the essential goodness of human beings, the idea of something following death had tugged at humanity since the beginning.  That urge, that pull, might just be enough to give her hope that there would be a gathering, one day, of her family.

How foolish people were to believe that immortality meant never dying.  Our last breath is not the issue; our next breath is.  How we live will largely determine how we die.  Was Alberta’s own story not enough to prove that very point?  She lived as the finest example of womanhood that Jennifer had ever known.  But she could be like that, too – she could work at living a larger life that mattered, just like her mother.  Alberta not only left her an example, but a spirit, an expansive DNA that could adapt and grow and learn.

She went to the bookshelf beside the fire and pulled out the C. S. Lewis book, The Last Battle– one of the Chronicles of Narnia.  She remembered asking her parents to read out one passage above all others – one that had given her hope, and a sense of the future.  Jennifer found the page in an instant and found the section that Alberta had so carefully marked for her years earlier:

“And as he spoke, he no longer looked to them like a lion; but the thing that began to happen after that was so great and beautiful.  And for us this is the end of all the stories.  For them it was only the beginning of the real story.  All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page; now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read, which goes on forever, in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

It consoled her to know that her mother, and father, were living in that chapter.  She rubbed her thumb over the worn page that had been such a part of her life when young.  She could hear their voices, sometimes separate and sometimes together, reading the lines.  She had been swept up in imagining that great world, and felt the same way as she imagined it now.

Before she went to bed, Jennifer went out the side door to look out over her mother’s garden.  She drew in the smell and the very soul of it, as her mother had done for decades.  She went back inside, briefly, to turn on the kitchen light.  Its rays fell on the stone arrangement, and she went to it and sat down, picking up and running each stone through her fingers. But, as she looked on the stones, she saw the beautiful brass key that Alberta had worn about her neck since her honeymoon all those years ago.  How did it get there?

And then, she knew. Alberta’s last moments, her final walk out into the winter, had been for the purpose of laying the key on the stones and over Sandy’s lock.  Her last act was to be with her husband.  Her wish was now granted.

She rose to leave, but thought better of it.  On a whim, she grabbed her mother’s gardening hoe, pulled the rocks to the perimeter, and began digging.  Alberta had said she had buried the lock.  Did she?

It was only a minute later that metal struck metal, and she pried out the old brass lock that had once protected the secrets of their early love.  She moved it about in her hands, and then wiped its surface.  It was a heavy lock.  Her mother had been telling the truth, just as she had always done.

Jennifer picked up the key and slid it into the lock.  She then turned it, and it popped open.  The lock and key, together again – as they once were.  She placed them both back in the ground – complete – and covered them over. Then she rearranged the stones the best that her memory could recall.

Placing her hand on the stones and spreading her fingers, she said, “And the two shall become one.”

It was too much, and the emotions couldn’t be contained.  The thought of that unity, of the tug she felt at that very moment of two souls reunited, flushed her being with a healing sense of peace.

She stood, looking down one final time before heading inside, and said quietly: “I will meet you there.”

THE END