HEATHER JEAN MUNRO
1944 - 2013
As Heather's brother John Munro and on behalf of our sister Jocelyn Desmond I would like to invite you to a Memorial Ceremony for Heather in the chapel of the Non-Catholic Cemetery for Foreigners (Cimitero Acattolico, Via Caio Cestio, 6, Rome) at 2:30 pm on Friday 6 September. After the ceremony - in line with Heather's wishes - her ashes will be scattered around a tree in the Cemetery and a small plaque will be erected.
You are welcome to bring flowers or, alternatively, you might like to make a donation to the Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome that Heather loved so much or to the non-profit organization Ars Vivendi whose doctors and nurses looked after Heather with care and compassion over her last days. Details of these organisations are written below.
There is no need to reply to this message -- just come on the day if you can. If you can't make it to the Ceremony you will still be welcome to visit Heather's tree at a later date.
HEATHER JEAN MUNRO
1944 - 2013
Io, John Munro, insieme a Jocelyn Desmond, vorrei invitarvi alla cerimonia commemorativa di nostra sorella Heather, presso la cappella del Cimitero acattolico per gli stranieri a Testaccio (Cimitero Acattolico, Via Caio Cestio 6, Roma) alle 14.30 di Venerdì 6 Settembre. Dopo la cerimonia, d'accordo con il volere di Heather, le sue ceneri saranno sparse intorno ad un albero nel cimitero e una piccola placca sarà in sua memoria.
Siete tutti invitati a portare fiori se lo desiderate, ma in alternativa saranno bene accette anche le offerte al Cimitero Acattolico che Heather tanto amava, o alla cooperativa Ars Vivendi di cui fanno parte i medici e le infermiere che si sono occupati di Heather con cura e compassione nei suoi ultimi giorni. I dettagli di queste organizzazioni sono elencate qui di seguito.
Non c'é bisogno di rispondere a questo messaggio: se vi é possibile sarete i benvenuti in quella data, altrimenti potrete visitare l'albero di Heather in futuro.
Cimitero Acattolico per gli Stranieri al Testaccio
Cooperativa Sociale Ars Vivendi
|Fond Memories of Heather|
|Announcement of Memorial Ceremony (click to see Word document)|
On 9/7/2013 Nicole Bahbout writes:
|On August 5th, 2014, a year after Heather's passing, Mandy writes...|
We were a bit sudued in the Cemetery today thinking about a year having gone by but are cheered by the fact that despite her absence we have still finished a couple of projects she would have liked this year: the restoration of the Garden Room (started while Heather was still with us) and the publication of the history of the cemetery in English and Italian...she always said we needed an authoritative history and now we have one. She never saw it but it follows her ethos exactly!
I checked the area around Heather's tree today: several geraniums, some mini carnations, a hybiscus, two capers and a couple of other plants I don't know the name of were flourishing there this morning. It's comforting to know she is still in people’s thoughts.
Lots of love to you all,
P.S. Congratulations to Jacky on her new book.
|Just been to visit Heather, it's such a beautiful shimmering day here in Rome
and the cemetery was swaying gently in all its sun-steeped glory.
I sat for a long time beside her having chats through waves of tears and memories,
feel exhausted but peaceful.
Brought her some fresh flowers and left her a little note, here are a couple of pictures.
Mandy I was so sorry to have missed you, I wept all over your lovely colleague instead!
Much love to all
From Dan Keller
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Jacky and Nicole, for the beautiful way you have shared this sad yet beautiful occasion with us, and for the love (and heartfelt writing) with which you have memorialized Heather. I share Sue's feeling of being "helpless and too far away," but your photos and words are indeed a "...wonderful ribbon ...as the reality of the loss of Heather is really beginning to impact." Here's another tiny Heather vignette... They are crowding in on me as I review the many cherished memories. It was in the early days of Tivoli Leathers, when -- way out on the Tiburtina -- Jack had that big glass store. We were all part-time workers there, setting up display cases and merchandise, etc. My sister Katy and I were struggling to match up the gorgeous leather gloves and baffled by the shortage of right hands. It was Heather, of course, who set us straight -- in golf you wear only one glove, on the left hand if you're right-handed. With a peremptory sniff, she set everything right and moved on to the next challenge. Somehow Heather always knew everything. Truthfully, I cannot imagine Rome without her. Di nuovo grazie, e tanti baci, Dan
Jacky -- Voglio ringraziare tutte le persone che sono state vicine a Heather durante questi ultimi due anni… ma soprattutto Anne e Angelo, che l’hanno accompagnata a tutti gli appuntamenti di chemioterapia. Sono stati veramente una squadra: Angelo la accompagnava in ospedale con la macchina, fermandosi per prendere un gelato o un caffè. So che Angelo la tirava sempre su di morale. Anne invece si sedeva accanto a Heather mentre faceva la cura, e chiacchieravano per ore. Purtroppo Anne non può esserci oggi, ma so che si considera molto fortunata per aver potuto passare queste ore con Heather nell’ultimo anno.
I’d like to thank all the people who supported Heather through her illness over the past couple of years, particularly Angelo and Anne, who accompanied Heather to every chemotherapy session and stayed next to her through such a difficult time. Sadly Anne can’t be with us today but I know she feels very grateful to have spent so many hours with Heather over the past year. Angelo and Anne were a team: Angelo would drive Heather to the hospital and pick her up afterwards, stopping for an ice cream or a coffee on the way... I know Angelo always kept Heather’s spirits up. And Anne would sit with Heather while she had her chemo, keeping her company and chatting for hours. Their support means so much to those of us who weren’t nearby. And thank you to Mandy, for taking on a great responsibility and doing so much over the past few weeks to make sure all Heather’s wishes are met. I know what a huge job it is and I’m very grateful.
When my mum was heavily pregnant with me, and my dad was away on business, she and Heather went out one night for dinner near Piazza di Spagna. Apparently, it was the terrible suspension on Heather’s old Fiat Panda, which on their way home sent my mum into labour. Heather drove straight to the hospital and spent the night there with her. She was there for my mum when I was born, and it was a huge privilege for me to have been there when Heather died.
I know I speak for Nicole as well when I say that Heather was family. She was our Aunty Heather. She was the only person to dress up as Father Christmas and successfully convince me he must be real. For years I couldn’t work out who it was behind the beard. It was only when I was about 12, having just had the “birds and the bees” talk with my mum, that she finally revealed to me who it was. Learning that Father Christmas was really Heather in a beard was a big part of me growing up.
When I was 6 she saved our family sailing holiday when Nicole, who had the loudest cry I’ve still ever heard from a child, threw her dummy overboard. Everyone panicked, as the only thing that kept Nicole quiet bobbed away in the jellyfish-infested sea. Heather made the most heroic of decisions to dive into the water, getting badly stung, but coming back safely with the precious dummy in her hand.
Heather was also a hero years later when I was struggling to study for my GCSE History exam – I had a strange form of narcolepsy where I’d fall asleep as soon as I opened my history book. I hated history, I hated my teacher, and yet I have this amazing memory of sitting on Giglio in front of Heather and the same history book that made me fall asleep – and being completely captivated by the causes of World War 1. Heather was patient and passionate about the subject, and for a couple of hours that Easter, I was too.
If there’s one thing about Heather it’s that she was engaged – all the time. She participated in life, 100% wholeheartedly. She wasn’t one to hold back or shy away. Whether it was a political discussion about Berlusconi or a personal problem, Heather would never not have an opinion. I think I’ll always have her voice in my head when I’m feeling lazy on Giglio… I can just hear the strident footsteps of her jandals or flip flops approaching, and her saying “well, have you been in the sea yet?”
Heather was bossy. But sometimes that paid off. In 1972, when she and my mum started their Italian adventure together, sharing a flat on the Appia Nuova, Heather dragged my reluctant 24-year old mum out of bed to go to a job interview with a man who turned out to be my dad… So Nicole and I have a lot to thank Heather – and her bossiness – for.
And it’s that grinta – that determination of Heather’s to do things her own way – that will always stay with me. One of the last things she said to me, when I told her that Darren and I had found an engagement ring I loved but that Darren would have to save up for, she gave me her cheeky smile and said, “good for you!” And that’s what I’ll always carry with me – Heather’s bolshie walk, her bright red nail polish and a cheeky smile that says, “good for you!”
Nicole -- When I remember Heather I remember her boundless energy; her fearless, unflinching honesty. She looked life firmly in the eye and she dove in head first. There was no hiding from Heather – she never missed a trick. And though I know that wasn’t necessarily always her most popular quality, for me it turned out to be the greatest gift she ever gave. I couldn’t hide from her, and she saw me. She saw me even when I was in a dark place. She saw me through the darkest of times.
You see, Heather wasn’t afraid of truth – no matter how difficult. She wasn’t afraid to give it, or to receive it either. More than that, she absolutely demanded it - and that takes courage. She gave me courage.
She once said to me – just a few months ago in fact, I think it was around Easter. She said:
‘Nicole, you just keep hold of what you know to be true and be true to yourself. Never be afraid to speak up. And everything else can go to hell.’
(Actually I’m not sure if the wording of that was ‘everything’ or ‘everyone’ – a combination of the above, most likely).
At the very end she asked me for one last truth – perhaps the hardest truth there is. And the strength, grace and courage she showed in the face of that truth was absolutely extraordinary. She fixed her own death with that inimitable, matter-of-fact stare of hers, and in doing so she firmly stripped it of its power. I was so anxious about how I was going to face her fear, I was so terrified of not being able to comfort her…and instead, she took away MY fear.
That strength, that courage of hers, was her last gift to me. I can almost physically feel it, here in my chest - like something warm and solid, something constant nestled in among all the loss – and I just wish I could thank her for leaving that most wonderful part of herself with me. I will carry with me forever.
I want to say thank you, again, to the group of people who gave so much at the end, and all the time before that too. Angelo, thank you so much for all your infinite, humbling love and support to Heather. Mandy, for the amazing job you have done and continue to do….Julie, for being an absolute rock – and Anne, who unfortunately couldn’t be here. And thank you all so much for being here today.
Heather’s funeral was a wonderful, peaceful send-off.
It was a stiflingly hot day; the sun came streaming down through the cemetery trees in that thick molten haze that only a Roman sky can conjure. We picked through the pretty patchwork of leaf-mottled marble statues and tombstones towards the chapel, where sure enough, a beautiful big cat was sitting at the foot of the steps. Tail tucked neatly around her paws, green eyes gazing solemnly out at us, waiting to greet everyone.
The turnout was fantastic – I don’t have the exact numbers but the chapel was full to the brim, with some people spilling outside onto the steps. The urn was placed in a wreath on the altar, and Heather’s brother John opened the ceremony with a most animated and colourful speech – for which he practiced hard to even include a few words in Italian! He read a few lines from John Keats’ Ode on Indolence, a poet who Heather loved, and who is buried in the same cemetery not far from where her tree now stands.
Jacky then very bravely took the stand, and she was absolutely brilliant – she had the whole place sobbing and laughing in equal measure. She managed to reduce me to a hopeless, hiccupping mess, from which I only just managed to recover in time to say my bit. Angelo delivered a really moving piece addressed directly to Heather and read a poem for her in Italian. Mandy gave a wonderful snapshot of the lovely lady that she was, and all the love and energy she poured into her work at the cemetery.
The ceremony was closed with a few words from the Reverend, who happened to be from Palmerston North in New Zealand – a tiny town where my mother’s family comes from.
Everyone then filed out and back down a path to the little plot where Heather’s tree was planted – a pretty little Italian cypress standing ever so straight, reaching upwards to punctuate the piercing blue sky. Then, as everyone gathered around, a beautiful, haunting sound lifted like a plume of smoke and hung on the air above our heads...I looked around and realised that the Reverend’s wife had started to sing. It was a ‘Waiata’ lament in Maori – I am trying to hunt down the name and the lyrics of the song, which I will then pass on to you all – but it really was such a beautiful, pure, simple sound. The Reverend explained that this is an important part of Maori culture, in which the woman apparently always has the last word. Heather would most certainly have approved!
Heather’s ashes were then scattered at the foot of the tree, and people were invited to help cover them with earth. I stepped forward to take part with Jacky in tow, and when I stood up and turned back again I had to stop myself from searching for her face in the crowd. It’s been a very strange feeling, which I know some of you have also shared, of reaching endlessly for the phone to call or send her a message to tell her what’s been happening, fill her in on a funny anecdote or ask her which poem she’d like me to read out for her. I remember getting back to London after she died and getting as far as to type her name into my phone to send her a text asking if she minded that I’d taken the two cat-shaped paperweights from her flat. When I turned back after scattering the earth under her tree I half expected to see her standing just a little bit apart, behind everyone, hands on hips and a half smile on her face as she looked on to make sure everything was going according to schedule.
After some lingering and chatting, a large group came back to our house, where everyone came together with much jollity over several glasses of wine. I stumbled into the kitchen at one point to find John poised proudly with arms held aloft, leading a very loud sing-a-long of something somewhat unidentifiable – which Angelo was very obligingly (and tunelessly) doing his best to take part in from across the wide linguistic gulf that was cheerfully dismissed by both to the realms of inconsequence.
The group gradually shrank down to nine of us as the afternoon wore on, and we headed out for dinner at a nearby restaurant where I’ve shared many a meal with Heather over the years. All I can say is that there was a magical air of suspension enveloping our table throughout that dinner – the hours flew by as we shared so many stories, and laughed, and everyone else around us seemed to disappear. It was so wonderful to be able to connect with Candy, whose whole life was so shaped by Heather, as ours was.
Auntie, mother, lifelong friend.
Anyone who thinks that Heather never had a family of her own is very much mistaken.
As there were an uneven nine of us, there was, incidentally, one empty chair at the table. And the sense of her presence was as strong as ever. I’d like to imagine at least that she was sitting there listening, throwing her head back and laughing, her lovely long fingers lingering along the stem of a glass of red wine.
I am waiting to get a copy of John and Mandy’s speeches and am working on an English translation of Angelo’s as well. For the time being I have attached a transcript of what Jacky and I said, as well as a few photographs – some are of the ceremony and some are from among those we found in her flat.
As ever, please all feel free to pitch in with more pictures, or to add any stories or details I might have missed from the funeral.
With all my love,