Yesterday I learned that a very dear member of our community in London passed away. This wonderful sister had so much positive influence in my life and I want to honor her, if only in this humble way.
We met M (we usually called her by her first name, I'm going to abbreviate here as I normally don't use full names on this blog for privacy reasons) at the Hyde Park chapel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on Exhibition road. She's the kind of person that makes you feel good just with her presence in the room. Her contentment, gratitude, and love just reached out of her and I always had such a distinct feeling about how happy she was to be there at church, worshipping and rubbing shoulders with fellow disciples. It felt like she was all of our grandmother.
A source of many a cute attack for me (and for the 12-18 year-old young women I knew through an assignment as a yw leader) was to sit in the audience and watch M in all her tender actions as the chorister for our congregation. The chapel is not un-intimidating, and due to its central location will often be found full of strangers coming to worship while on vacation or work in the city.
I remember M's daughter mentioning how carefully she would practice conducting the assigned hymns each week, and once I remember M herself mentioning to me at a ward get-together that she couldn't make one thing or another because she hadn't yet nailed the songs for the week and needed to practice. She was so dedicated and passionate about serving in that way, although I think that at the beginning it was something new and challenging for her.
The cute attacks themselves were because she was just. so. lovely. Inside and out. The way she carried herself, her carefully done, classy white locks crowning her smiling face. Her Sunday best meant thoughtfully chosen jewelry and outfits, but what I especially remember were the string of pearls around her neck and some pearl earrings too. When it was time for us all to sing, she would make her way from her seat on the stand and beam at us, and the pianist, arm held high in readiness and confidence. Not the prideful kind, but rather, the "I'm doing my best, and I'm going to make the most of it" sort of confidence. And then she'd lead the music!
Sometimes, as is often the case with many choristers in our church, she might have forgotten that it was announced that we'd only sing one or two verses instead of the usual four and catch herself marching on when the rest of the congregation had stopped singing. Those moments were so sweet and tender, and even then you just loved her even more - first the startled awareness, then a big smile at us, maybe an inner giggle, and then making her way back to her seat. I think we all loved her because she was so beautifully herself.
Once a month, we would hold a fast and testimony meeting, where instead of having assigned speakers, anyone is invited to walk to up to the stand and share their stories and their faith.
I LOVED it when M would give her testimony. She was adorable as always, and the way she shared her journey was so uplifting. From what I can remember, she had come from London to Germany to make a life for herself (studying English maybe?) as a young woman. She met her husband and they had a daughter, another amazing woman we were blessed to know in our congregation! I believe he was Tongan, and M shared with us how her heart was opened to the gospel of Jesus Christ while visiting his side of the family in Tonga.
I don't remember the exact details, but I do remember how she told it. With a sparkle in her eye, and gratitude radiating from her. When I interacted with her, I could sense this direct, honest, German sensibility if you will, and overlaying that, an almost joviality. She didn't take herself too seriously, able to laugh and see her humanity in a loving way. This came through each time she bravely shared her testimony from the pulpit and we were edified every time.
Besides during the first hour of church where all our congregation would be together, I had the privilege of spending time with M when I had an assignment helping with a family history class. She was in the class. It was a small room, computers lining both sides, and I would sit by her as we navigated the family history software. She brought in a photo or two, one of her very handsome husband, if I remember correctly, and I helped her figure out how to add it to her family tree. We added names or sorted out details, but what I remember most about spending time with M is just how lovely it always was. Despite living in London for decades, you could still hear the German in her accent, although her inflections and the way she talked certainly felt British (in an old-fashioned, proper sort of way) too. Her speech had a melody to it, her voice going up in surprise or down to share something kind of funny, focused and sincere when sharing her gratitude. Her sentences sounded like little songs.
There are a lot of small memories I have of her, maybe sitting beside her in Sunday school classes or relief society (the women's group), or sharing a laugh on a Temple trip (the photos in this post of her and her daughter are from one such ward Temple trip). I remember being in a Sunday school lesson one day, full to the brim of both regular attendees and visitors, and she had a cough that would just not leave her alone! She desperately didn't want to disrupt the class, so she tried to cough quietly until eventually she had to excuse herself into the bathroom. It was right next to our room, though, and we could still hear that sweetheart coughing away. I didn't want to disrupt the class either, and we had both been sitting in the front, but I eventually got up the nerve and found a cup in an adjoining room and when she came out we stood by the water fountain as she sipped. It was such a small thing, but she is the kind of person that you want to bend over backwards for because she's the kind of person doing that for others.
She missed a week here and there over the four years we lived in London, either traveling or being sick, and her absence was always felt. When she came back, she was just so happy to be there and it made me happy too. She loved God and this gospel and was doing her absolute best to do right by that. That integrity was so visible in her actions and her speech. She came at the world from a place of purity and love and you could feel it.
I'm so happy that she has been reunited with her husband and many other family and friends. I write this for her, my way of saying "thank you" for sharing your beautiful soul and healing so many of our hearts.