Mum’s funeral was last Friday. We chose to have a small service at the crematorium in the morning followed by a larger thanksgiving service at the church in the afternoon.
I’ve been to a few funerals before now. The first I ever went to was my Grandma’s. I was only eight and all I can remember is walking into a lamppost on the way there, and hiding upstairs when everyone came round to the house afterwards. The second was my step-granddad’s. I was 14 by this point and I remember being panicked about missing a maths lesson because it was close to my first GCSE exam. The third was the funeral for my friend’s Dad. I was 17, the church was full, she sang and her brother played the piano. It was beautiful.
On Friday morning, we stood outside the crematorium for about 10-15 minutes before we went in. It was cold and people arrived in small handfuls, there were around 30 family and close friends in total. We sat there as Mum was carried in silently by six of our friends. We opted for a simple wooden coffin; we’ve never placed a huge value on ‘things’ in our household. One aunt came up with the idea of having flowers near Mum’s coffin for people to place on top if they wanted to, which nearly everyone did. I didn’t, though – I placed a letter that I had written to Mum the night before and had folded into an origami crane. Initially, I didn’t really understand the purpose of the flowers, but I found it touching to watch each person place a flower on the coffin and say their goodbyes.
At the afternoon thanksgiving service, Dad and I stood with the stewards to welcome people at the door. Hundreds of people came, which we had prepared for, and I had sort of assumed I wouldn’t recognise a lot of people there. I was surprised that I knew most of them – but then Mum’s been dying for months and we’ve had a lot of visitors in and out of the house over that time. There were a few people I didn’t recognise who clearly knew me, which was a little odd, but not unexpected. Generally, it was really lovely to see people, including some we hadn’t seen in a long time.
The service involved a couple of talks, a slideshow of memories of Mum, a short sermon, two hymns and some prayers. I found out quite a bit about Mum that I didn’t know, which was actually really nice – it’s always fun to hear about your parent’s early lives! I’d put together over 300 photos to roll at the start and end of the service, too (Mum was so ginger when she was younger!).
It was a strange event. There was quite a lot of laughter and tears. I didn’t feel able to cry through either service. I don’t really do public crying, and it felt almost like our family was hosting this event for others to publicly express their sorrow and grief. My brothers didn’t cry all day, either.
We stood at the door again after the service to say goodbye to people. Lots of people say ‘I’m sorry’, but I don’t really know why because they haven’t done anything wrong and it’s not their fault that Mum died. I’m really lucky that I had some fabulous friends around me checking I was okay – it’s quite exhausting seeing, talking to, and hugging that many people. Once we were home, Dad wondered out loud how many of them we will never see again.
So, the funeral is over, Mum is cremated, and the extended family have all gone home. For the first time in weeks, there are no visitors in the house (which is a big deal when you have two or three nearly every day for months on end), and the silence is allowed to settle. Everyone is moving on with their lives. A new palliative care consultant is taking Mum’s place in the office. Her book club will continue to meet, band will continue to practice and church will continue to have coffee mornings, all without Mum.
My life is on hold a bit at the moment, I’ve taken a leave of absence from university until January. Hopefully it will give me the time I need to get my head back on the ground, reignite my passion for learning and find my motivation to attend lectures. Uni feels like a bit of a strange place right now – as Dad said to me, I’ve never been at uni without a poorly Mum. I’d previously learned to ‘maybe’ in response to every social invitation, to keep my phone on me at all times and to check in with home daily. Getting out of that mindset is going to take some re-learning.
As each day goes by, there are more things I want to tell her, and it still isn’t sinking in that I can’t. I’m just sort of wandering around attempting to complete ‘to do’ lists, and sleeping a lot. People keep telling me to just take everything one day at a time, and that’s what I’m trying to do.