Yesterday was my mother’s funeral. It’s over a month since she died and it’s taken a long time to come around. Apparently Nottingham must be a popular place to die. We were offered yesterday as the first ‘opportunity’ and the implication was we’d better grab it quick before somebody else claimed the spot. This gap has been good in the sense that it has given us plenty of time to get all the tasks associated with somebody dying completed, but bad, in the sense that, I’ve had a lot of time to think about things, not least of which was standing up in front of an admittedly small crowd to deliver the eulogy. I did not look forward to this one little bit. In my usual style I have attempted to reduce my stress levels through the use of humour wherever possible. Is it right to try and extract humour from this surprisingly emotional occasion? Perhaps not, but the key word there might be ‘try’. If the humour just happens without a person having to try to make it happen, then, well my view is you’d better sit back and enjoy it. Suffice it to say that the events surrounding and included in my mother’s funeral had quite a lot of humour. You judge whether the humour was appropriate.
So the day arrived, it had felt at times like it never would, but it did and it went as follows. The day of the funeral, before we leave Leeds, I enlarge the font and print off my eulogy after a battle with the printer. Come on printer, I know you’re temperamental but this is my mother’s funeral, so be a good printer and print these three pages out then I’ll leave you in peace. The printer cooperates. I read it through again as I wrote it a couple of weeks ago and haven’t looked at it since. Mrs Summerhouse, who I asked to read it and OK it, said it was great and there wouldn’t be a dry eye in the house. This is my worry that the eyes full of tears will be mine. I push the thought out of my head. I used to stand in front of far larger ‘audiences’ than the one that promises to be at the funeral (I think my record was 300+) and speak out in an articulate fashion. Furthermore, as those of you who have read my previous blogs on my relationship with my mother when she was alive will know, we were not close. The truth is I did not like my mother very much and no point denying it now, that would be hypocritical. So what are the chances of me being reduced to tears when reading out my eulogy?
The day promised to be quite complicated organisationally because I wanted to meet with our daughter and her partner at, what used to be, my mother’s house and for them to decide whether they wanted the one bit of nice furniture in the house, a glass fronted Welsh dresser. I hoped they did. The drive down the M1 – one of the last? – went fine but then, on leaving the house, and driving to the Crematorium things began to go badly awry. With two sat navs, five people and two dogs (they were as much use as the sat navs) we got horribly lost. Phone calls to the people already there didn’t help and we were going round in circles, up and down the same roads, starting to panic. We lost the children their car in front who we had been uselessly following, at a set of traffic lights. This was twenty five minutes past one and the funeral was due to start at 1.30. I was pretty sure we were supposed to be there right from the start, we couldn’t sneak in half way through. So there we sat waiting for the lights, close to panic, when my mother went by in a light grey / silver hearse (see photo above for close approximation). Nice colour I thought, so much nicer than black. I was 95% sure it was my mother because there were no following cars – just the hearse – and there were no flowers on the coffin – we were bringing these with us. To be honest we didn’t see the point of having lots of flowers on the coffin just for them to be burnt. Turns out they take them off but we didn’t know that at the time. Anyway whether it was my mother in there or not didn’t matter, it must be heading to the crematorium, after all, you don’t drive a hearse with a coffin in it round the streets just for the fun of it – do you?
So sat at the lights, as the hearse went by and the words – follow that hearse – were uttered by Mrs SH. It was like a scene from a film, you couldn’t have written it and if it had been a scene in a film you would have thought ridiculous, quite unbelievable. The lights change and we set off in pursuit of the hearse, after all how fast can a hearse go? Turns out very fast, I guess as at 1.25 they were late as well, so the hearse had disappeared but we thought we knew where it was heading.
We found the crematorium and arrived there at 1.30 on the dot. Our lot of mourners (and it wasn’t easy to find them, blimey there were a lot of people going up in smoke that day, there were parties of mourner all over the place) standing there gently drumming their feet and the celebrant telling us to relax, everything was fine, that is until she found out that my daughter wanted to speak and was unimpressed when she told her that her eulogy was 8 minutes long. Oh, she said, that’s very long, usually they are only 4 minutes. I could tell by the expression on my daughter’s face that we were going to get the full 8 minutes like it or not. We did. So it was a little rushed, to the point where the celebrant asked me which of the two remaining songs I wanted played – My Way or Cock-eyed Optimist (a little family joke). After all the agonising over the choice of songs, particularly these last two (the first was an uncontroversial Moonlight Sonata), I said I want them both, which is what we got. I got through my eulogy quite well which was a bit of a miracle because, in the rush, I left my glasses in the car and there was no time to go back and get them, so I read the eulogy wearing Mrs SH’s cheap QLM readers and I’ve included a picture ( above) of them so you can understand just how undignified I looked, if the rest of me had been dressed as a clown it would have fitted perfectly. My daughter said she thought the glasses on my face broke the ice which was nice although I couldn’t help thinking that this was a funeral service rather than a party and I wasn’t sure ice was supposed to broken. However, one of the congregation, is that the word, was heard to say that they were very fetching.
So got most of the way through my eulogy, pausing only to have a bit of a cry – who’d have thought it? I think that’s why people clapped, I didn’t know that people clapped at funerals. Maybe it was the letter that I finished with, I’ll tell you about that in a minute. So service over, the usual words of sympathy, what a wonderful woman etc etc., we went off to the pub, one of my mother’s favourites and where the landlord was a friend of hers, to what Mrs SH, being a good Catholic, insisted on calling the wake. There we laughed, well most of us (a couple of people clearly thought levity had no place at a funeral, well I say if you can’t take a joke, then you shouldn’t have come) about the choice of song – Cockeyed Optimist from South Pacific, I explained we couldn’t find a song entitled Confirmed Pessimist which my mother certainly was. After complimentary sherries and barley wines in honour of my mother, the conversation flowed freely. My favourite overheard snippet was – they’ve redone (the crematorium were we had just been) so they could take bigger people. The mind boggles. You mean taller? one person asked, no, you know, he indicated with his hands apart that he meant well, fatter. Not many people know that.
I will leave you with the letter I read out, at the end of the service, and to which I referred earlier. It was a letter from Severn Trent Water (who we had informed of my mother’s death a week or so ago), to my mother. It read and I quote verbatim – Welcome to Your new home. Congratulations on moving into your new home (her urn?). I hope you’re settling in well. (Blimey give her time). As a Severn Trent customer you’ll benefit from the lowest average household bills for water and sewerage in England and Wales. You’ll also enjoy a range of great services that we provide (the mind boggles). So that’s nice then.
As I said right at the beginning, is death funny? Should you try and make it so? Maybe, maybe not, but when humour just comes along unbidden (and none of the events in this blog were contrived), then just take it as a bonus. And dear readers this is my retirement life as of this moment.