My Dad died last month, on the 22nd April. It was heart failure due to his leukaemia on top of an underlying heart condition, but because the UK is in the middle of lockdown it’s taken this long for us to have a funeral. That and last week there was a point we wondered if we were going to manage to have it today.
We couldn’t have the funeral that he had designed, no church service in the village followed by a black limousine to the crematorium and then no crowded boozy wake in the pub or backyard of my parents house.
Instead the hearse and coffin came to the house for us to follow in The Princess’ car. Britney, The Jellicle, Bonsai Kaiju and The Smol Dragon saw us off from the driveway.
The funeral director was fifteen minutes early. None of us were ready, yet suddenly there was a mad rush to be ready earlier than the agreed upon time that was bizarrely familiar. My Dad would always be ready and waiting for us to hurry up anytime we were going anywhere during my childhood and adolescence. There he was in his coffin, tapping his foot and holding his coat, wondering why we weren’t ready yet.
I wasn’t surprised that the neighbours who live in the small group of six houses surrounding my parents place, at the bottom of a rural lane, had come out to stand by their gates. I’ve done it with my Dad a long time ago for a neighbour who’s funeral was family only. I figured that some of these neighbours were doing it like that and some would have been at the funeral had it been allowed. What I didn’t bring to mind was the networking of small Lincolnshire villages.
When we went further up the lane two former neighbours, who had since moved away were stood outside of the gate to their old house.
Then there were a few more, some I wondered if they’d just happened to be outside and then felt the need to stay, some had just tucked away folding stools as if they’d needed to sit whilst deliberately waiting.
My mind gently filled in some of the ghosts standing by gates that they had left years ago with their own deaths. The Colleys, the Davies, the Stotts…
The main road was the point that Mum and I started properly crying, it was absolutely lined, at appropriate social distances apart, with the friends and colleagues who, under normal circumstances, would have been in the church. They watched his coffin drive past. Dad would have absolutely loved it.
Britney and the Jellicle weren’t just wrangling the kids at home, they were fielding technical phone-calls about the live-streamed funeral service.
It was led by the vicar that would have been performing the funeral as it should have been. My Aunt, his sister, arrived with her husband and son, social distancing has never hurt quite so much as waving from a safe distance to my Aunt. We all filed in and took up positions on benches far apart.
There had been so many apologies from reasonably local former students about having to work and not being able to attend the virtual service that I wondered in some cases if they had asked for a lunchtime off work and had been denied by less IT savvy bosses. There were also a number of people who were just too far away but were able to ‘attend’ and send their well wishes after the service. Unsurprisingly there were a number of viewers signing in from France.
We walked in to Ewan McColl’s The Joy of Living, a lot of thought went into the music for the funeral and it was hard cutting the tracks down to just three. Yes three, instead of a contemplative hymn we had Joan Baez singing Suzanne. Both I and my Mum managed to speak. Dad had been pretty clear in one of our poetic/morbid conversations which poem he wanted me to read so I did. Mum composed her own goodbye and though we cried, we did actually manage to read them. The vicar, who both my sister and I when children described as “boring”, turns out to have a decent line in eulogies. Either he’s not as boring when you’re an adult as when you’re a teenager or he’s improved his delivery over the years. We walked out to Hallelujah, Mum letting Dad play Leonard Cohen to her in a way he rarely got to do in life.
Then we came home and drank whisky in front of a memorial video we’d made and were amazed that Dad had managed to raise £420 for Blood Cancer UK with his funeral announcement. It was not the funeral he’d wanted or planned for but I think he would have liked it.