Approaching the first anniversary of losing his wife, and after his first Christmas without her, Jim Buchan pays tribute to his “soul mate” Mary.
“I first saw Mary while attending the Baptist church youth parties in Fraserburgh and Peterhead in 1973.
“I liked her right away but thought she was too old for me! Happily, I discovered we were more or less the same age.”
Their first date was at a youth social evening at a house in Fraserburgh and from then on the young couple – 18 and 17 – felt their relationship would be long term.
“We were walking along Princes Street in Edinburgh in September 1974. I pointed out a ring in the window of a jeweller’s shop and asked her if we should get it. She said yes, and the rest is history,” said Jim.
Having met through church, their faith continued to underpin their lives together.
When Mary passed away on January 4 2023, Jim, son Philip and son-in-law Richard all played in the band at her funeral service.
“Having faith doesn’t make the grief less,” said Jim. “But I can hope for a reunion with Mary one day, in Heaven.”
Mary was born on December 18 1956. One of three children from fisherman and factory worker George Melvin and his wife Isabella, she attended Buchanhaven Primary before moving on to Peterhead Academy.
Mary attended York Street Hall Brethern church and worked as a butcher’s assistant at the weekends, before becoming full-time staff when she initially left school.
Jim worked in a factory until he began studying for his offshore and mechanical engineering qualification at Robert Gordon Institute of Technology.
Mary then started working in the telephone exchange.
“Back then it was still the cord exchange, but when it became digital Mary was actually one of the people tasked with introducing others to the new system,” said Jim.
Sent to Orkney and Shetland to train telephone operators on the new digital exchange, Mary’s patience and knowledge were called upon.
Becoming a mum
Jim graduated in 1977 and the couple got married. After two years in Aberdeen’s Union Grove, while Jim qualified as a teacher, they moved to Galashiels for his first teaching role at Earlston High School.
Their daughter Fiona was born that first year in the Borders, with Linda coming along in 1984.
When Jim’s work brought him back north, they relocated to Kemnay where son Philip completed their family in 1989.
It was after the birth of their son that underlying health issues became more prominent.
Always “kind of tired”, and regularly anaemic, Mary started becoming so exhausted she would crawl on her hands and knees to look after Philip.
“She was remarkable actually,” said Jim. “She never complained but it was clear something was wrong.”
Undeterred by health challenges
A biopsy identified a problem with her liver – primary biliary cirrhosis – which would be managed for many years with the help of medication and regular blood tests.
On returning north the couple started attending Bridge of Don Baptist Church but eventually found a “spiritual home” in Kemnay Church of Scotland. Both involved in church activities Mary especially loved to help cater for children’s events.
While Mary’s health issues were stable she was able to work from home.
Starting in the Borders she became a machine knitter, testing prototype patterns for a company called Ardfern. This continued when she returned to Aberdeenshire with a sack load of wool being couriered to their home every few weeks.
Love of children
When Philip started attending Alehousewells School Mary became a volunteer, later becoming employed as a classroom assistant.
Involved in early intervention work, visiting children and their families at home to help reintroduce pupils back into school after a time away, she was “effortlessly patient” and kind. She also introduced a homework club which true to Mary’s character, had to include some element of fun and games too.
“Mary’s compassion and patience is one of the things I think about most. She had the ability to connect with children, and adults, so well. She was sympathetic and understanding. I feel very lucky to have had Mary as my wife,” said Jim.
On Hogmanay 2016 life forever changed for Jim and Mary with the birth of Philip’s first child – their first grandchild – Aria.
Grandson Murray came along in October 2019.
Never a fan of “granny” Mary opted to be called grandma. However, inheriting her mischievous nature, whenever they would drive away they would tease her.
“‘Bye granny Buchan’, they’d shout. I think she secretly loved it. She would run after them every time,” said Jim.
Sadly Mary passed away on January 4 just weeks before the arrival of her second granddaughter Ada, born on January 30.
Though she was feeling unwell, and had been experiencing worsening symptoms, the family never expected to lose her.
“We’d had a lovely Christmas but Mary had been under the weather. Despite our prompts to call 111 she was reluctant,” explained Jim.
“However, as her feet became more and more swollen she did email her consultant on the 3rd of January. He saw it at 10pm that night and replied to come into hospital the next day where a bed would be ready. He felt her symptoms warranted quick actions.
“Sadly Mary didn’t see that reply as she passed away the next morning.”
A celebration of her life took place on January 13 at her church in Kemnay.
Christmas without you
Now, almost a year on the family have just navigated Christmas without her.
In his blog Jim wrote about the first festivities without the love of his life.
“I know that she would have loved to be part of today’s routine – including morning Santa presents and then at Philip and Laura’s to see the kids’ Santa presents.
He went on to say she would have loved the post-Christmas dinner game.
“Mary seemed to be always in the winning team – but not so this year,” he wrote.
Faith and grief
An elder in his church Jim expressed gratitude for the support of his friends, and for his faith, in learning to live without his wife.
He said: “There are so many happy memories… these are the things that keep us going.
“There is not a day that I do not think about Mary and there are some times when I dissolve into tears. Mostly when I’m alone with my thoughts. At other times it’s a smell, a sound, a photo… This is what I think it is to live with this thing called grief.
“When we married all those years ago we used the words ’till death us do part’. I now feel I know the full significance of that commitment and the reality of it coming to pass.
“This grief is like no other I have experienced but our shared faith means I don’t mourn as those with no hope. I can believe for a reunion one day.”