We attended my cousin’s funeral yesterday. Only a few years younger than my mum, he was really more like an uncle to me. A sweet and deeply kind man, he lived a simple life with the ones he loved and it feels dreadfully unfair that the last few years of his life were plagued with illness. So many beautiful words were shared about him at his funeral, it made me wish he was there to hear them. And I’ve communed with death enough to know that he was there, but for those of us left behind it’s not enough. We want them here, in the flesh, breathing, smiling, holding our hands.
After leaving the crematorium we went to look at the flowers laid out in the garden. On the way back to the car Mum said she wished she’d taken a photo so I ran back to snap a few shots with my phone. In that moment I was thinking only of my mum, but after taking the pictures I reflected on how even though I didn’t have photos of the flowers laid out at another crematorium, I could still remember the white lilies and freesias, and the roses I’d laid out myself. Walking back to the car, with not a soul around me, I turned a corner to find the most perfect grey feather lying on the ground at my feet. It actually made my heart jump. “Oh,” I smiled, “I was wondering where you were.” It never fails to amaze me how they keep in touch with us. I continue to find the feathers in the most important moments and the most needed moments. Always the feathers, sometimes seeming to appear out of thin air.
In the pub afterwards we shared drinks and stories, looking at photos and getting to know the members of D’s family we hadn’t met before. As my sister and I gingerly sipped our halves of Guinness we started planning our own funeral (as you do). Because, you see, we’ve already decided that we will be popping our clogs on the same day. By then we’ll have reached the end of our nineties and having outlived everyone else we’ll be ready to get in the car and drive off a cliff, Thelma & Louise style. We both agreed that we’d want to have a gathering beforehand so we could hear the kind words that everyone shared. We’d kiss our children and grandchildren goodbye and tell them not to miss us too much because we’d see them on the other side soon enough.
Abby said she wanted to be laid out in a white dress — like the Lady of Shalott — on a huge pile of branches. This would then be floated out into the middle of a lake at which point a burning arrow would be shot, setting the pyre alight. I agreed this was a stellar idea, and the conversation continued with the discussion of a joint pyre and whether or not we’d have prayers or meditation at the ceremony (Abby wants prayers, I want meditation — there will be both). When my sister said no one would be allowed to wear black I nodded in emphatic agreement.
All this might sound a bit morbid or inappropriate considering we were at a funeral, but I actually found it incredibly comforting. Death has to be one of the last taboos we have, something we all have to face when our loved ones take their leave, hopefully in timely and expected ways but often not. Learning we’re all going to die is so shocking. I remember the finality of my pet rabbit dying and trying to untangle the idea that it was permanent, that we couldn’t make her “better”. I can still remember trying to imagine what being dead was like — would it be an abyss of black nothingness? I don’t recall putting much stock in the clouds-and-harps of heaven, but as I got older, and started reading more new age-y books, I began to formulate theories about what comes next. In some twisty way I can’t wait to find out, but I’m happy for the big reveal to be 50 years from now.
Last week Noah and I were reenacting Frozen-lite with his dolls and at some point one of the girl dolls died only to come alive again with true love’s kiss (he watches a lot of Disney films). Even then I wondered what it was going to be like for our tender sweet boy to learn about death — how can we possibly explain it to him? Through the smiles and tears of yesterday’s gathering, my heart was warmed when I saw D’s grandson clutching the hand of his grandmother during the ceremony. These little people make everything better, they really do. Noah was playing at nursery all day, and I’m glad that for now he believes in Father Christmas and fairies and true love’s kiss. There’s plenty of time for the big reveals of life… just not yet, not yet.
(For D: I have no doubt that you’re reading this from the big golf course in the sky. Rest in peace, dear cousin x)