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News for the Bees

In Celtic mythology, Honeybees were perceived as messengers between this world and the spirit realm and were associated with wisdom gathered from the other side. For centuries, beekeepers across Europe have kept up this ancient tradition of honeybees being emissaries through "telling the bees".

This is where the beekeeper told their bees of any family events. Marriages, new births and especially deaths were marked by decorating the hive and voicing what had happened.

Strangely, the swarm arrived in late summer. Jocelyn saw it forming from the lounge, a huge mass of specks swirling and writhing, suspended fifteen feet from the ground. Gently she opened the door to where Richard was sleeping. Today his greying hair seemed almost white, haloed against the pillow, translucent in the sun from the open window. She would let him sleep on; she could tell him about the bees later that afternoon. She went into the kitchen and made herself a mug of tea.

After the stroke Richard had given up his honeybees and donated his favourite, last remaining hive to a novice apiarist called Bridget. But one year on Richard’s condition was deteriorating. Now Jocelyn nursed him downstairs, having converted the dining room into a sick bay. She’d been advised by the doctor but was anxious to disbelieve that the end was getting nearer.

Jocelyn looked out at the garden. The bees were no longer flying around but had settled in an apple tree. Studying the oblong mass, she wondered where they might go next. She thought to call Bridget, just in case she wanted a second colony. Later she took some tea in to Richard but stopped abruptly by his bed. He was still asleep but crawling on his chest Jocelyn recognised a queen honeybee, along with a few attendant bees. Jocelyn gasped, knowing the swarm would likely rush in to protect their queen. Diving toward Richard, she tried to catch and expel the monarch into the garden.

But the bees flew away just as the phone rang. And, in the time it took for Jocelyn to check outside, the entire swarm had dissipated as if by magic.

The day of Richard’s funeral the weather was cheerfully sunny in a cruel contrast to Jocelyn’s grief. The autumn light fell softly over the wicker casket while the floral tributes seemed to buzz with bees. All at once the casket was alive with them, encased in a living, singing insect blanket.

‘Oh!’ Jocelyn cried, clasping a hand to her mouth. The swarm had formed momentarily into a heart shape over Richards coffin.

It was a full four minutes before the bees left the deceased, melding into the atmosphere. Only then, at half-past three, were the pall bearers able to take Richard into the chapel.

Bridget found Jocelyn at home some days later. She had called round with some honey from the hive Richard had given her.

‘But I thought you lost that colony?’ Jocelyn said, ‘You told me it swarmed the very day I saw those bees in the garden.’

Bridget took a deep breath. ‘About twenty minutes after you called the bees returned to the hive.’

‘I’m glad,’ Jocelyn said, ‘but hang on! Do you think they came here to see Richard?’

‘Well, I did tell them how ill he had become, but that’s not all. At Richard’s funeral, you remember the bees on the casket?’

‘Of course, I’ll never forget it.’

‘My son was gardening near my bees that day. He saw a swarm leave the hive at quarter past three and return at just after three forty-five.’

Jocelyn’s eyes widened. ‘The funeral was at that time! Are you saying they came out a second time specifically to see Richard off? How on earth did they know where he was?’

‘Isn’t it amazing?’ Bridget said. ‘You see, I also told them about the funeral, including the time and where the chapel was.’

‘What made you do that?’ Jocelyn’s features held a surprised wonder, while Bridget’s eyes quickly misted over.

‘Richard advised me to tell them all about important events. He said they like to know these things.’ She paused before saying, ‘Do you think they wanted to say goodbye to him?’

Jocelyn picked up the jar of golden honey and tears sprang to her eyes. The corners of her mouth twitched slightly when eventually she spoke. ‘I think they might have been telling him about a much sweeter world,’ she said, ‘and I do so hope they’ve led him to it.’