a sunny funeral
this is back in the ‘eighties so i’m long over it now. although perhaps i wouldn’t be writing this if i were completely, one hundred percent, over it. you never really get over it, the death of your parents. you adapt i suppose. i loved my mother despite her ill-treatment of me as a child, a result of the pressure she was under and what my dad used to describe then as her being ‘nervy’. we might say neurotic now. three black cars left our house that afternoon. it was may, under a sunny sky. my dad was always very different from me. a tall dark-haired man, he was described by my sister after his death almost twenty years later as ‘a giant of a man’, a reference as much to his physical stature as his activities as a lifelong political activist, socialist and trade union negotiator. my mother sometimes described herself as a union widow.
she died while i was in paris. i had just gained my master’s degree and was teaching in a provincial art school. i’d taken a group of foundation students to do the usual rounds; jeu de paume, musée d’orsay, pompidou centre etc. it had been a fun weekend. when i got back to my flat late sunday evening i found a terse note on the floor inside the door from one of my colleagues; ‘please phone your father immediately’. i knew what it was immediately. after calling my dad, who gave me the news that she’d died of a heart attack sometime on friday evening, i couldn’t face a night in the flat alone and went to stay with friends on the other side of town, near the station.
the taxi arrived and i got in the front next to the driver, a young guy in his mid-twenties. immediately after giving him the destination he turned on the music. really loud heavy rock. “CAN-YOU-TURN-THE-MUSIC-OFF-PLEASE!” he looked at me as if i was a lunatic or he was about to punch me. “i’m sorry. i just heard my mother has died”. the rest of the journey was silent. see, recent bereavement is a weapon you can use to get your own way. i spent a couple of hours with my friends, mostly in silence, drinking jameson’s and listening to coltrane.
the next day, after a rail journey i can’t remember, i arrived at my parents’ house. my older brother was there and we sat, the three of us, exchanging trivia, tiptoeing around the elephant in the room, or in this case, on the patio. we were taking the sun. a pleasant afternoon enjoying my dad’s small but lovingly tended garden. the atmosphere was relaxed, almost cheerful, in an eery sort of a way. my other sibling, my sister, arrived the next day. so it was the three of us; me, my dad, my sister, sitting in the back seat of a funeral limousine my brother was behind in a car with his wife.
as the hearse containing my mother in her coffin pulled ahead of our car to leave the close, my father, who had been worryingly silent all morning suddenly spoke; “she always wanted to go first”.
my sister laughed. so did i. we thought it was black humour.
it was only years later that i started to wonder.