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.

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