Anyone who reads my blog will know that Chris has been my dearest friend, my soulmate and companion on a great many journeys. A love lasting for over 30 years. The last 2 and a half years have been unbearably awful, to see someone you love slipping away seemingly gradually but actually very quickly. Chris died peacefully on 27th October. I miss her more than words can say but am also glad that she no longer has to endure the horrors of amyloidosis. We are raising money for the National Amyloidosis Centre which needs money to research this rare disease. Please support the NAC: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Christina-Howarth-UCL-Amyloidosis-Research-Fund
We played Thunder Road (Hammersmith Odeon 1975 version) as we walked into the crematorium.
Lift Me Up
Ending with Born to Run. The man controlling the music looked a bit taken aback when we all turned round and said “Turn it up! Turn it up! Turn it up!”. He did.
For me, this is now the beginning of life without Chris. She’s everywhere throughout our house from the knick knacks to the photos to Bruce. I still have no idea what shape my life has without her but I’m immensely glad I was on the receiving end of her love and her zest for life.
We didn’t play this song at the funeral. I did try to sing it to Chris not long ago but she said it would make her cry too much: Drive All Night
“but baby they can’t hurt us now
‘Cause you’ve got, you’ve got, you’ve got my, my love, girl, you’ve got my love, girl
Through the wind, through the rain, the snow, the wind, the rain
You’ve got, you’ve got my, my love, oh girl you’ve got my love
You’ve got, you’ve got my love, oh girl you’ve got my love
You’ve got, you’ve got my love, oh girl you’ve got my love
Heart and soul, heart and soul, heart and soul, heart”
Andy (Chris’s brother) and I wrote this tribute together, which Andy read out with some great ad libs, we knitted it until we were both happy with the final version.
“When we asked Chris what she wanted at her funeral, she gave us two simple instructions:
- No religion, but a structure
- And Bruce
It’s not possible in the time we have together today to do justice to Chris’s enormously full and exciting life; her wide ranging interests and activities and the influence she has had on others over the course of her 63 years.
You will all have your different stories to tell, but what is very clear is that she made a huge impact on a great many people.
It all began on 22nd August 1953 when Chris was born to Jean and Charlie in Dartford and she was to become big sister to Gerry and Andy, and eventually auntie to Alex and Christy.
Chris did alright at school and when she left Sixth Form College she did what a lot of Dartford girls do:
Got a boyfriend;
A flat in Putney;
And a job on Oxford Street.
She liked the work, Peter Robinson and the first Top Shop. But even then she was looking for the next challenge and moved on to setting up jewellery mini shops in Biba, and then all over the country.
Somehow she then grabbed a chance to go to Paris and work as a nanny to a very trendy couple: She was a model and he was a photographer and Kenzo used to pop in for tea.
(I/Andy visited her for a week in 1977…and managed to miss the jubilee!)
She moved with them to New York and, through them, met a few celebs: including The Four Tops, Arnold Schwarzenegger (and his mum).
But in late 1978 she was back, had started nursing and by Christmas she was in the Anti Nazi League: immortalised in Mark Steel’s account of setting up Dartford ANL as “a nurse from the Women’s’ Group”. This was when Chris started to develop her political self.
Chris did her stretch in the SWP while she was nursing in Dartford and Sidcup, and we all know that’s not all that happened in Sidcup!
This is when she came out and threw herself into lesbian activism. And she has certainly been an active lesbian ever since.
But then Chris was ready for another challenge and moved to Bristol in 1986 to take up midwifery training. And Chris made new friends along the way.
And the politics continued: for example campaigns to Stop Clause 28 / Section 28.
By the way, at this time there was only one cat, Pussy.
After Bristol, Chris and Jak lived in Gower for a year.
Chris practiced midwifery at Morriston hospital and in the late 80s led a successful campaign to “get rid of the stupid midwifery hats”.
It doesn’t get more radical than that!
Changing the world, one step at a time!
But then its time for another challenge:
She moved to Todmorden in 1990, with Jak, Pussy and 3 more cats and did her degree course at University of Central Lancashire in Preston.
Chris continued to practice midwifery but had a small career break to nurse her mum through pancreatic cancer until the end.
But then it’s another new challenge: taking the bold step from NHS practice to take up a job as a midwifery lecturer at the University of Huddersfield: from delivering babies to delivering midwives.
It was here where she got her masters in 2007 and where she worked until she retired in 2013.
The cats continued: Bumbles, Luna, Cagney, Kedi, Kitten McGitten and Blue.
And they are all still in the garden at Todmorden.
Lastly Jim, or Jimbob, and Patcho, distinguishable because “Jim looks like Errol Flynn and Patcho looks like Jimmy Stewart!” (Yeah right, Chris!)
Other animal interests were donkeys, birds, wolves, foxes, reindeer and hares. On her last holiday abroad in Finland she was thrilled to drive huskies and reindeer.
Political interests were a driving force, whether it was marching for rights, marching against war, writing letters to prisoners via Amnesty International, Chris’s heart stretched to practical help and raising and giving money. Her involvements included Nicaragua Solidarity, Cuba, including a trip to Cuba.
Closer to home there was Horton Women’s Holiday Centre and Spiral women’s gatherings held over many years.
Chris loved music from all around the world, not just Bruce, and was an enthusiastic member of Hebden Bridge singing group for several years. But Chris certainly did love Bruce and saw him live 15 times.
And he was a great excuse for travelling around Europe!
Chris didn’t do anything by halves, whether it was Tequila slammers or cocktails, solstice parties, wild swimming, swimming across Windermere to raise money for MIND, zip wires, cycling across Devon, triathlons, hiking up mountains, snow shoeing, husky dog sledding, or Christmas.
The parties always involved lots of lovely food and drink, fire and light.
There were various partners in Chris’s life over the years – Bronwen, Rita, Jak, Janet and some quick flings! (Did I say she was an active lesbian?) Chris loved us, her family, her gay families, her friends, – the letters, the postcards, the cards, the gifts, the phone calls, the emails. She always knew the right thing to say even during the last few days of her life.
And the knickknacks: she claimed that she didn’t really want lots of knickknacks but we have boxes and boxes of them! Christmas candles anyone?
In the good times Chris was a heart stopping, pants dropping, house rocking, brain shocking, earth quaking, booty shaking, history making, love making, sexifying, electrifying nearly lifelong lover of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
“But there’s things that’ll knock you down you don’t even see coming”
And that was amyloidosis…..
Amyloidosis came just when Chris was looking forward to an active retirement with plans to travel the world, climb more mountains, and swim more. She moved to Borth, and even though she knew she was ill but didn’t know how ill or even what was wrong, she started rowing and getting stuck into Borth life.
The disease progressed very quickly.
Chris barely had time to come to terms with each new indignity before the next one came along. She lost her independence, and became resigned to not planning ahead, and eventually cancelling what would have been her 16th Springsteen gig.
It wasn’t at all the life she had wanted for herself. She spent 2 and half years of crashing endless fatigue and 2 and a half years feeling nauseous. And she very rarely complained. She knew all along that there wasn’t a cure.
It’s a reflection of how well loved Chris was that her friends in Borth and near and far –were so willing to help. Especially her dear friends Nomes, Catriona, Kate and Bronwen, who were there to look after and care for Chris as she became increasingly disabled by her illness.
In the week before she died, Chris had a haircut. It gave her back a deeper sense of herself and restored some dignity that seemed to be taken away from her in Morriston.
Chris died peacefully in her sleep in Tregaron hospital, a place where she felt, in her words “safe and cared for”.
We included a few Springsteen tracks today, but its difficult to pin down what her favourites were. Chances are if you asked her, it would be the track that was playing.”
Linda (humanist celebrant) said this:
“In the hollow of the evening, as you lay your head to rest
May the evening stars scatter a shining crown upon your breast
In the darkness of the morning as the sky struggles to light
May the rising sun caress and bless your soul for all your life.”
Ways to raise money for amyloidosis research:
My JustGiving page
UCL Amyloidosis Research Fund