Saturday, 4 May 2013

After the bustling... the silence.


"Funerals are big business, everyone's dying to have them". It's a morbidly amusing, if true, statement, even if in somewhat poor taste. Never the less, it's true.

Dad's funeral cost a packet; and some of you reading this know just how expensive sending a loved one on their final journey can be.

But there's also a hidden expense. Your time. The effort involved in sending your loved one on that journey is not just measured in pounds, shillings, and pence; it's measured in those metaphorical pounds of flesh as well.

There's the time involved in organising the funeral; contracting the Funeral Directors, the place where the funeral will be held (in Dad's case, a crematorium, per his final wishes), getting the orders of service printed, making arrangements for all manner of other things, like a place for the wake, and so on. In all of this, if you've a small family, you have to try to fit your work around the myriad details - oh, and you have to let people know where and when the funeral is to take place as well. Our family were lucky: We rallied round, the tasks were parcelled out (I was remarkably lucky, I had very little to do, really), and then we were off to the races to get it all done in time.

In this regard, undertakers, to use a more traditional name for them, are rather good at taking up the reins of this administrative loading, of course - they're not called Funeral Directors these days for nothing, after all; they see this day in, day out, and take a considerable weight off the shoulders of the bereaved, in getting the minutia of sending your loved one on their final journey down to a few key decisions that you have to make, and organising it on your behalf. This leaves the after-funeral details to be organised by the family; either a small(ish) gathering at your home for the wake, when you have to organise food (snacks) and drinks (invariably by the boat load) all by yourself, or, in our case, contracting somewhere to hold a somewhat larger three-ringed circus of mourners for a more organised wake, where the catering and victualling is taken care of by the venue staff.

I wound up waking early yesterday. It was a nice, warm, sunny morning, and the forecast was for a bright summery day. It didn't feel right, somehow: Funerals are supposed to be cold, wet, and miserable days, suitable for nothing less than a full-on mood of sadness and sorrow. Not this one, but then Dad had wanted his funeral to be a celebration of his life, not misery at its' passing, so the weather was there to fulfil one of his final wishes. A rather nice touch by the weather, when you think about it.

I hadn't got that good a nights sleep, truth be told. Not really surprising, all things considered. I had, thankfully, taken the time, yesterday, to do a final check on my suit (clean and still sharply pressed out of it's wrapping), shoes (highly polished, close to the military standard that I learned over two decades ago in the T.A.), shirt clean and pressed, tie likewise, and so on; I even printed off two copies of the Eulogy I'd written for Dad onto cue cards (the second copy for a friend who had agreed to be my 'back up' if I found myself unable to deliver it myself at the service), figuring it would be easier to use those, than a sheet of A4.

Even so, I skipped breakfast, as I wanted to make sure I got to Mum before everything went into overdrive - frankly, while I'd been to funerals before, I'd never been so closely involved in getting one done, and didn't know what to expect; I've heard every possible story from amazingly easy to downright horror-like in description, and wanted the load on Mum to be as light as possible.So, when I mentioned that I'd skipped breakfast to get there on time, what did she do? She sat me down, and, brooking no argument, gave me a coffee and some toast and home-made marmalade. Mums are wonderful; they always look out for you, no matter what!

Anyhow, I shouldn't have worried. Everything went smoothly: As I mentioned, Funeral Directors are good at this: It's their profession, after all. The hearse, bearing Dad in his coffin, and the limousine (to cart us along to the service) arrived bang on time, and we trooped out to take our seats in the limo, via a brief stop at the back of the hearse to examine the flowers that lay by Dad's coffin.

We'd chosen to have everyone else meet us at the crematorium, so as to avoid a massive funeral cort├Ęge (convoy). In hindsight, this was a very wise move. Our route took us past the local high street, and we received what I can truly describe as the one mark of respect of the day from a passer-by that a stranger can bestow. He lowered his head, and drew the sign of the cross over his chest, as Dad's hearse and we passed by.

In not so distant times past, it used to be that most people would stop, remove head wear (known as 'doffing your cap'), nod their heads, and stand in silence as a hearse passed by; I'm old fashioned - I still do this: I consider such respect for the passing dead as an obligation to those who go on before us. In Dad's case, it was just the one person who performed this mark of respect for Dad, and I'd shake his hand for it, if I knew who he was.

The rest of the journey was smooth, slow, and amazingly, ten minutes early at the crematorium. I guess were were lucky with the traffic, which had been remarkably light, all things considered. And at that time I began to understand just how popular my old man was to a lot of people - there were cars parked all over the place, with some people hurrying up the road to the crematorium to get to the service on time, they having had to park several hundreds of metres away, due to the overcrowding of the parking on-site.

Arriving there, we had to wait for the previous service to finish and clear, before we could proceed. I took a quick and rough estimate of how many mourners were present for Dad, and counted well over a hundred - I though it was more, but it was difficult to get an accurate count, as they were all milling about, of course. Once inside the crematorium, it was standing room only for a great many of them, there being something like a hundred and fifty mourners present (we counted it out later) when they closed the doors and began the service. There were two Eulogies; one from his friends, extolling his virtues in his many hobbies and pastimes, and then I was up, with the family Eulogy.

I fluffed reading aloud what I'd written for the Eulogy in only two places (both of which I caught and corrected, thankfully), and managed to get myself seated again afterwards, without completely messing it up or loosing it, and then it was over, and we were outside, examining the flowers, and exchanging greetings with some close friends, before being driven in the limo to a local outdoor sports centre's club house and bar, for the wake.

It was a free bar, with snacks. I managed to secure a pint of Bombardier - a decent bitter, if not my preferred tipple of either Oxford Gold or Spitfire, and I mingled. I was greeted by more people than I can even remember - I'm normally good with faces, and lousy with names, but this time I was pretty much lousy with both. Big surprise. Anyhow, they all seemed to blend into a common form of "Hi, sorry for your loss, I'm (name), well done on the Eulogy", and I'd hand back a "Thanks, and thanks for coming" in return. A few that I'd met previously, or knew of through Dad or Mum, I'd talk to for longer, but this was not a time for me to stay in one place; at such a wake, I was very much expected to meet and greet all and sundry, so this I did: It helped take the pressure off Mum , who could then spend time with people she knew and wanted to talk to. In short, I ran a kind of interference for her to do what she needed to.

So, by the way, did my Sister and, as a result, we both wound up missing out of the snacks. Drinks, no: We both had those, but snacks? It was as if a plague of locusts had descended on the three tables-worth of bite-sized edibles, and whoosh, one moment they were there, and when we turned around again, all that there were was crumbs. Humph. And other, less printable, comments. Lesson learned: At my wake, there's likely to be a burger stand instead. Locust swarm that, if you can!

Towards the end of the wake, I found myself talking to some of my own close friends who'd known Dad, mentioning, in passing, my dark epithets about the plague of locusts - sorry, guests and the food - to quickly brushed-off crumbs off their own clothes and fairly amused expressions of sympathy on this sad lack of grub, and then, as the venue staff laid out the tea and coffee, I got my first decent laugh of the event, when one of my friends pulled the most remarkably comical face as she tried the coffee. Knowing her as I do, I was amazed she didn't do something more drastic - or messy - but merely commented, after a really memorable and hilarious expression of disgust crossed her face, that "This is NOT coffee. I don't know what it is, but it's NOT coffee!" Knowing her tastes on coffee to be similar to my own (OK, I'm a snob when it comes to coffee!), I decided to stick to the beer. Incidentally, the bar tab was, we discovered afterwards, over five hundred quid. Ouch.

Retiring to the family home after the wake, we were scheduled to be having a small gathering of relatives and a couple of our closer neighbours gather there for supper, before we all buggered off to our own homes again. I actually managed to snare a sandwich off Mum - didn't I say Mums are marvellous earlier? - and grabbed a much-needed hour or so's kip, before they decended for the meal.

It was a success, of course; everyone loves free grub, after all; but a family gathering, with a couple of close friends, after such an emotionally-charged day, was just the wind-down we all needed.

And today, after close to a month of running around like lunatics, playing catch-up with my Dad's life to write the Eulogy and do the man proiper justice, without seeming to rush it or leave out important details, I have a weekend to relax. To do my own thing. To get on with what I need to get on with.

And yet, I suddenly find that it's a strangely empty day.

I go back to work next Tuesday (the day after the May Bank Holiday), after a week of leave that was already booked before Dad passed away; I was intending to join a 4x4 weekend over at Salisbury Plains this weekend. That got the kybosh as events unfolded, of course. One of those things, regrettably. There'll be other 4x4 weekends, though. That week of leave was, instead, spent helping my better half move home, then coming back here to get the final details of Dad's funeral arrangements - like getting a new suit - in place, and making sure the Eulogy was just right.

So, I've not really had time to just stop, and relax. And now, when I can do my own thing, when I have no demands on my time, I find that I'm actually bored out of my tiny mind: I have no challenges to overcome, no tasks to accomplish, no-one I really need to go and see (that all having been done yesterday or in the last week, of course), absolutely nothing at all to do.

On reflection, I guess this is where the real battle begins: Life after Dad.

In many ways, this loss has brought us all closer together, but at the expense of a truly close loved one. Tragedies work like that, of course, but life must, after all is said and done, go on. Sad, but true, and one day at a time.

But first, I gotta find something to do, before I go completely bananas.

Oh yeah. I'm doing that right now, as I write another Blant entry!

SO... *looks around the living room for inspiration*... what next...?

So, here's day one.

Let's make it a good one.

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