Nothing will be as bad as the day of the funeral. It’s a huge responsibility and you only get one shot at it. So many things could go wrong, which would be upsetting, not only for me, but also for the others who had come to mourn.
In the weeks between the mum’s death and the funeral, I was driven by nervous energy. I couldn’t stop cleaning. I couldn’t sit still for more than a few minutes. But, once the day was over, the nervous energy disappeared and I collapsed. Brother and his partner stayed overnight. As soon as they left and I was on my own, I felt so tired I didn’t know what to do with myself, as they say. In the end I went to bed and read and slept and that lasted the whole weekend. And I still do feel very tired, although not as much as I did.
But. I do think mum would’ve been pleased with her funeral. She was so old that many of her friends and relatives have died, but even so there was a sizeable crowd at the service. I didn’t realise how many had come until I stood up to give my ‘eulogy’. I looked back down the chapel and saw that, although it wasn’t full – it holds about 100 people – it didn’t feel empty either. Not only family came, but friends of mine came down from London and people came from her Care Home. In the end, only a couple of people were unable to make it.
The flowers were all lovely and there was a good display. The celebrant was a pleasant chap – he didn’t have the same presence as the woman who presided over dad’s service and who has sadly left the district – but he was good hearted and had a gentle sense of humour. Mum loved poetry so we had to have a poem! My nephew read the one we had chosen; it wasn’t too mawkish or sentimental and we thought it summed mum up quite well. Nephew got a bit choked up but got through the reading ok.
I knew I’d be ok reading out the piece I’d written, because I always can do it if I have to. It made people laugh, as I’d intended, gentle laughter at mum’s idiosyncrasies. I’m going to add it onto the end of this post. It wasn’t easy to write as mum and I didn’t have the smoothest of relationships but I think in the end it struck the right note. Certainly, people mentioned that they’d enjoyed it.
Finally, we went back to a pub restaurant for The Wake. The place was recommended to me by a woman in the bank when I went to close mum’s accounts. A complete stranger, she mentioned she’d had her own father’s Wake there. It turned out to be a perfect recommendation. Just the right private space for us to gather together, talk and laugh, have a drink and something to eat. The evening before, while I was writing my speech, Brother had made a montage of old photos, which unfortunately we didn’t take a photo of, while his partner created an album of photos of mum and dad having fun at fancy dress parties or in their costumes for the shows and pantomimes they performed in. People seemed to enjoy looking at them all. Everyone said that, although it was sad occasion, it was also the celebration of a long life, well-lived. So yes. I think mum would have been pleased.
Here’s my little speech:
Mum made it to 98 and a half! It’s a shame she didn’t get her telegramme from the Queen. However, looking through her papers I found she had received a letter from Buckingham Palace only a few years ago. Before I read it out, I’ll just remind you that mum and dad’s wedding anniversary was 29th April – the same date that Will and Kate chose for their wedding… It is actually signed by a lady in waiting, not the Queen herself!…….
The Queen wishes me to write and thank you for your letter in which you say that you and your husband were married on the 29th April 1944. Her Majesty was very sorry to learn of the recent death of your husband and sends you her sincere sympathy at this sad time.
The Queen was particularly touched by your kind message of good wishes for the wedding of Prince William and Miss Catherine Middleton and much appreciated your thought for the young couple.
I hope that you will be comforted by many happy memories as you recall your own wedding day on 29th April, and I am to thank you again for your thoughtfulness in writing as you did.
It would have been Mum’s own idea to write this letter to the Queen. As they say in Australia, she wasn’t backwards in coming forwards. I’m not sure if she was hoping for an invite to the wedding but as many of us know, she did manage to get to the wedding of Harry and Meghan. For those of you who don’t know, I’ll tell you what happened….
Even though mum hadn’t been able to go anywhere by herself for years, she went out of the Care Home and there was a bus. The bus took her to the church. There were loads of people around but the security guards let her go in although, she assured me, she did sit right at the back!
I quizzed her about it several times, but she seemed so convinced of the truth of her story that in the end, I could only say ‘what a lovely memory for you’, and she agreed that it was.
But the memory she returned to again and again was the night she met dad and then their first date the following evening. Her life could be pretty much divided into before and after that. Not that they were an obvious couple. Dad was a practical sort of guy – a man of few words as he liked to say – whereas Mum was very verbal. She liked words; she was proud of her ability to spell very well; she enjoyed puns and liked playing scrabble and doing crosswords.
She was also proud of her skills as a shorthand typist. Once when we were watching an episode of Foyle’s Law on TV, the main characters were in one of the war ministries, and they passed a young woman walking along a corridor. Mum said proudly: that was me! I had security clearance. I could take individual dictation, not just stay in the typing pool. Like many women of her age, if she’d had the same chances that became normal for later generations, I’m sure she might have gone onto something more than typing, like teaching for example – or even some kind of performing, acting or singing. She always liked the fact that her mother’s family were ‘theatrical’. And she never liked Vera Lynn – said she was nothing special, and had just been lucky. The implication being that, if mum had had the same contacts, it might have been her who ended up as a big star. And who knows? After all, she managed to make it to Harry and Meghan’s wedding.
While we were growing up, money was tight, dad worked long hours and mum worked too, as a shorthand typist. They almost never went out. But as soon as the kids were off their hands, then they were out dancing nearly every night and once they retired down here, there was no stopping them. They got really involved with the community at the Laburnum Centre. They performed in shows – ‘for the old people’, they went to fancy dress nights and away on holiday abroad. They really had a lot of fun until the arthritis that affected her mobility and her hands too, took over.
When we were kids, we always did have a holiday, usually in a caravan or self-catering apartment, and always visiting different parts of England – except for one memorable year when we went to Scotland. Mum had Scottish blood and also Cornish ancestry. She was proud of them both and liked the fact that she came from each end of the British Isles. But she always felt disappointed that she knew very little about her family, especially her father’s family who don’t seem to have kept in touch. Her mother had anecdotes about her Cornish forebears and I did discover the farm where mum’s great-grandmother was born. Some friends of mine (who sadly can’t be here today) visited the farm. They cheekily drove straight down the entrance drive and spoke to the current farmer. Mum was thrilled when I told her.
The last few years, I spent quite a bit of time with mum. I got to hear quite a few anecdotes which she might not have shared with me when I was younger – it was like she began to chat to me more like she used to chat to her sisters. Sometimes I felt like saying: too much information! But I did get to see another side of her; I got to know the lively, adventurous young woman she must have been before she began the serious business of bringing up her family – or then the cheerful, smiling woman who had lots of fun down here with dad. And that has been a real gift for me.
I also know that although she did miss dad, her final years weren’t unhappy. She was lucky with lots of care and support from friends and carers who became friends. As she reached such a venerable age, she finally couldn’t manage to stay at home alone and then, when I couldn’t manage to look after her, even with help, we were very lucky to find a home from home in Arun Lodge, where I know she charmed everyone with her continual jokes and comical phrases and puns.
I hope she’s still smiling and happy, I’m sure she’s dancing with dad once again.