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A question of love

I've referred to this before but it's worth going back to. Charles Schultz, who designed the Charlie Brown and Snoopy cartoons, has a vision for living. He asks: can you name five Nobel Laureates? Five Olympic champions of the past? Five presidents and prime ministers of your own country? Five ministers for finance and foreign affairs?

You'll do it, but if you don't have a pub-quiz brain you'll have to think about it.

Now name five people who gave you encouragement at a time you needed it. Name five people who you know your life would be less complete without. Name five people who inspired you to get over your fears and make changes.

The second list, even for a pub-quiz brain, is easier to do and it shows what is important in life, what makes the difference between an enterprising life and a mere existence.

Thirty-eight years ago I was a flower girl in a white dress walking behind my aunt Elizabeth up an aisle. She had spent her morning preparing to be a bride but she put huge effort into getting me ready. I remember her working on my blonde curls as well as her own black ones. I remember her smiling and turning the winder on her jewellery box to make a ballerina dance. She was 23.

I wore a white dress again to her funeral recently. She was 60. I wanted to wear white to signify my love for this woman who gave love to everyone. As she was dying, I said to people that she and another aunt of mine, Claire, are twins to each other and angels in my childhood. A few days after her bypass surgery Claire was on her feet doing the hair of other coronary patients.

These two sisters-in-law, when they fell in love with my uncles, who I lived with, made me feel important too. They both knitted me ponchos, both had me as a flower girl and took me for days out. I made my way to Claire to say this. She is devastated having lost the sister life found for her. I told her I felt stupid in a white dress but wanted to connect the two times because they still exist. Somewhere my aunt is a bride waiting to be married and I am a flower girl. No good memories end.

Good people die young. This is not explainable or fair. Elizabeth's three children, all thirtysomething, are left. But they are not left alone. Their father, Kiernan, is with them and he told me more than once that he refuses not to see the blessing of loving such a woman because the 40 years he had her for were worth 80.

Elizabeth, in terms of love, lived to be 120. She put so much into everyone that there is enough to last their lifetime. Her youngest, Glenn, a great writer, spoke about being recipients of generosity. To be born her child is to be born lucky. He gave a eulogy so simple and so precisely her it will never be forgotten. He said no bad word could be spoken of her. He encouraged everyone to go to one good memory they had of her.

Hundreds of memories rose into the grieving air. A woman known for her simplicity and her affection died and the lives affected gathered. This was a packed funeral, full of stature. A woman achieved celebrity for her great capacity to give and to receive everything with a small smile and an ability to feed you in every way.

I loved her. It's hard to know how her family are surviving now. My own son wasn't well enough to travel after his accident. I left him with good people and when I got back home I hugged the breath out of him because I love him like my aunt Elizabeth loved her own.

Charles Schultz is right. You forget achievers' names, but you never forget the love-givers'.