Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Two Years...

Today is Tom's second Angel Anniversary. Two long years that have flown by. Does that make any sense?

Two years since I have felt his soft little hands in mine, squeezing gently and showing me, subtly, that he shared a bond with me that would be unbroken in spirit forever. Two years since I have breathed in the smell of his hair. Two years since I have looked into the biggest brown eyes - brown like Minstrels - and seen a twinkle in them despite everything...

And so, today, I thought I would post about his memorial stone in more detail...

Weirdly, a couple of months before Tom passed away, there was an article in a Sunday magazine about an organization called Memorials by Artists that specialised in making bespoke memorials, particularly for children. A sixth sense made me tear out the article and stash it away.

After 3 or 4 months of burying Tom, I decided that I would start looking into finding a suitable headstone for his grave and digging out the article, I contacted Memorials by Artists and made arrangements to go and visit and set the wheel in motion. No2 and I drove up to Snape in Suffolk to find the most amazing house and garden which served as an office. Examples of headstones were scattered gently around the grounds, blending into the natural setting beautifully. I knew straightaway that I was on the right path. I discussed my ideas with Harriet, the founder of the company, and I left it with her to find a suitable stone-mason to commission the work.

I knew I would like to use a stone that was found naturally in Britain and we opted on slate for its colouring and texture. I was looking for something that would look very natural and have an unfinished look to it.

I was soon put in touch with Robin Golden-Hann and I drove down to meet him at his studio in Hampshire. We talked about the look of the stone and the wording. He had thoughtfully set up a little carving job for No2 to have a go at while we were talking and encouraged him to add his personal ideas to the finished stone design. He felt that slate would be a good option and I left with the promise of drawings and quarry appointments to follow shortly. Robin was fantastic in interpreting my ideas into a working drawing and although we had a couple of attempts at getting the wording right, I was thrilled with final sketches.

By November we were ready to set off for Blaenau Ffestiniog in north Wales to the quarry to select the stone. I have never seen such a grey place. In a bizarre twist of fate, I had visited Ffestiniog on a school journey 30-odd years before - another sign that it was the right thing. Everywhere we looked, there were piles of greyness reaching up to the grey skies of a cold and wet November morning. No2 climbed up heaps of slate, collecting interestingly shaped bits of slate to bring home and copious amounts of quartz crystal that forms naturally alongside the slate deep in the earth. I still have lumps of it around the house as doorstops and suchlike. Our car was laden on the journey home! Having left the copies of the drawings with the quarry we left hopeful that they would find a piece of slate that would be suitable. We also selected a small piece of slate that I wanted carved to keep at home, a portable memorial.

The star is picked out with palladium leaf - silver in colour but won't tarnish like silver and is next to platinum on the periodic table.

The slate delivery seemed to take forever and by February I was getting nervous that it wouldn't arrive in time to be laid on Tom's first anniversary. The cemetery regulations stipulated that you couldn't install a permanant headstone for a whole year after the burial as you had to allow the ground to settle. Robin assured me that all would be on schedule and I was hugely relieved to hear that the slate was finally delivered to his workshop in the middle of March.

He sent me photos of the slate with the wording pencilled on and it looked exactly as I had imagined.

At the end of that month, we spent a few days on holiday in Wiltshire and on the way home, I called in to see Robin and the finished stone. It was perfect. No2 and I had asked Robin to carve a secret message on the part of the stone that would be underground and I often smile at the thought of that part, that is completely private and just ours.

Robin's letter-cutting is exquisite...

Tom's big love of dinosaurs and all things prehistoric fits in perfectly with the dragonfly - a primitive creature, around long before the dinosaurs, and also one that symbolises change and courage. There is a wonderful little book called Water Bugs and Dragonflies that explains death to children. I also remember being out walking with the boys in a forest at an RSPB site and the biggest, emerald green dragonfly landed on my leg as I was walking. It just seemed happy to be there.

Can you guess No2's input? Yep, he wanted Pippin's tail on the stone and so it curls round it at the bottom...

So, as planned, the stone was installed in time for Tom's first Angel Anniversary last year. I arranged a small service to be carried out by the minister at our church, who had conducted his funeral and who I have become good friends with. No2 had been inspired by the service at GOSH that we had attended the day before, to do a short reading and it felt as though the world fell silent to hear his words. This is what he read out:

We cannot judge a biography by its length,

by the number of pages in it:

We must judge it by the richness of the content.

Sometimes the 'unfinished' is among the most

beautiful of symphonies.

Victor Frankl

Along with the natural look of the stone, this feeling of unfinished summed up how I felt about Tom's short life. The stone stands out in the cemetery, as he stood out in his short life, and hopefully leaves a lasting impression on those who cast their eyes on it.

So, there is the whole story. A journey, if you like. In search of perfection and knowing all the while that there was only going to be one opportunity to do the right thing. I think I achieved all I set out to do. I am always surprised by the warmth of the stone, even in the depths of winter it seems to retain something that you just have to touch and gain comfort from.

I have taken the day off work and I have gained permission for an authorised absence for No2 from school. We are going to the zoo...


  1. Beautiful.And perfect.Just perfect!

  2. So hard to write a comment ... you are brave and determined and your love shines through, what a lucky boy Tom was to have a mum like you.
    The slate is glorious and most of all I like that you had a secret underground message for him to look at always.

  3. It's beautiful, and your love for him shows so much..

  4. Can't find the words. Sending hugs instead.

  5. Thank you.

    It says so much about you and your relationship with your son. You captured something special.

  6. This is a wonderfully brave and beautiful post. I've never struggled so much to find the words for a comment, so I shall follow Ali's lead and send hugs instead.

  7. That's a wonderful post. I had to give being AWOL a miss for this post. Just wanted to say that I'm thinking of you and No.2 (and Tom)and hope you have a good day.

    Take care xx

  8. That is the most beautiful headstone I have ever seen. It is such a lovely, natural and organic shape. I am sure your little boy would have approved of your choice.

  9. Tracy,
    You already know how much I admire your courage in writing so honestly about your precious memories of Tom. I am so pleased that you felt able to share the story of Tom's memorial because it speaks so clearly of your love for him. Who knows, perhaps one day this post will help another grieving parent to find the right memorial for their child - that would be a very great gift from you all.

  10. The stone is beautiful and so right. I think your choice of wording is fantastic.

    Again, thanks for sharing these precious and personal memories. It is a privelege to read them.

    Take care, and enjoy the zoo trip :o)

    N. xx

  11. I was struggling to leave a comment on your previous post, this one seems even harder!

    Your piece of art that you have created for Tom is beautiful and very personal!

    take care

    vanessa x

  12. What a wonderful tribute, full of love, warmth and speaks so strongly of a special boy and his special family. Its a beautiful memorial.
    Thinking of you and No.2, hope your day was full of fun and warm memories. Thanks for sharing them with us.

  13. My first visit here and I am in tears! I am about to go back and read your archives but I am so glad you called by and though I don't know you yet I am glad to have found you too.

    Thank you for sharing and I hope the day was peaceful .

  14. That is really beautiful and very moving. What a lovely idea to put a secret message on there.

  15. I too am a new visitor to you blog Tracy and did not know you had lost your dear son.. Tom's headstone is so beautiful and your words were extremely moving and although you hardly know me yet, I wanted you to know how much my thoughts are with you and your family and how much I admire your strength. Take care, Gx

  16. What a beautiful memorial stone, such an amazing tribute to your son. I love that you have one to have close to you at home.

  17. what a wonderful way to celebrate a special life - you are an inspiration with your strength and positivity - thank you for sharing it with us x

  18. Wow, I'm speechless........ the beauty of that stone, what a perfect loving way to remember...... everyone who sees your memorial to Tom will feel your love for him, and feel just as speechless as me............

  19. I have just found this link on your blog. The stone is absolutely beautiful. We are currently trying to get our heads around getting a headstone for our son. Unfortunately, here in Brittany, they are all granite of some sort and and the cemetery just looks so sad to my eyes. In New Zealand the cemeteries are grassed with simple and varied headstones.
    I am going to show this post to my wife. Truly beautiful.


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