How often since James died in 2005, have I understood the impact of those who make a difference for the future? The moving and emotional service for the Dedication of the Thames Memorial that I attended at All Hallows by the Tower church in London on 25 June 2019 is a prime example.
You may wonder – what’s the back story?
In 2008, Val Hills lost her son Daniel to the river Thames at Westminster. Quite apart from the trauma of her loss, as time went on, Val felt very strongly that there should be a memorial in London where grieving relatives could go to focus their grief and mourn the loss of a family member or friend.
It seems incredible, with the numerous lives that the Thames has taken, that there was no memorial already in place.
There is a memorial in Southwark Cathedral, specific to the Marchioness disaster.
We are fortunate that Kingston Council accommodated our request for a memorial plaque in James’s memory, to be placed at the riverside near Kingston Bridge.
But there was no single memorial that reflects the loss of life to the Thames for the past, present and future.
In her search for people to help realise her idea, Val was lucky to find retired policeman Rob Jeffries, who is the Honorary Curator of the Thames Police museum. He was able to offer Val some insight into how her son lost his life and also to set in motion the creation of an appropriate memorial. Rob himself admits he didn’t know how to get the practicalities underway, so he ‘phoned a friend’. The artist, Clare Newton, took on the project with enthusiasm and commitment and over a period of time, between Rob, Clare and others who helped along the way, sufficient funds were raised to produce the memorial.
In itself, it is a beautifully designed, symbolic piece of art that is very fitting.
The location of the memorial, in the oldest church in London, just a stone’s throw from the Thames is simply perfect.
We cannot affect the past but we can influence the future, through our actions. The generosity of spirit shown by Val, Rob, Clare, the Reverend Katherine Hedderly and all the other people who contributed their time and resources to creating this wonderful memorial should be highly praised by all of us.
The presence of representatives of the RNLI, the London Fire Brigade, the Port of London Authority, HM Coastguard, Company of Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames, Metropolitan Police Marine Unit and other organisations associated with the Thames and the safety of the river – each and all lent weight to the commemoration of the memorial.
There is no doubt how much all these individuals and associations Respect the Water.
But additionally, I feel the memorial’s value to the bereaved is inestimable.
I attended the dedication service with two dear friends who have also lost teenage children and we all agree that the memorial offers something special and unique to anyone who has lost a loved one. We have the insightful understanding of how it feels to live with loss on a daily basis. The oasis of calm represented by this ancient church, offering anyone pause to pray, reflect or meditate close to the memorial, offers a kind of support that will be difficult to equal elsewhere.
I share here the words from the Bible, (Isaiah 43: 1-3a, 18-19) read by Rob Jeffries; well chosen, comforting and entirely appropriate verses:
‘But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour. Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?’
The ‘new thing that springs forth’ – the memorial – will be observed and admired by those who pass through the doors of the ancient church for many years to come. I also like to think also that the ‘new thing that springs forth’ is the innate hope and optimism that the bereaved can embrace despite the burden of their grief.