Today I attended the funeral of the lady I always knew as ‘Auntie Joan’.
She wasn’t actually my aunt. She was my dad’s cousin; the daughter of my grandmother’s sister. I believe that made her my second cousin, although these distanced blood ties can be confusing. It doesn’t really matter, because she was still Auntie Joan to me. She was particularly close to my dad, which was something that didn’t become apparent to me until much later on in life. My dad was an only child so had no siblings when he was growing up. Joan was about ten years older than him and I always got the sense that there was more of a brother/sister thing with them.
This is a lovely obituary. Says far more than I could probably say. She used to call me Sally-ann. I never did understand why and now I’ll never know. But that doesn’t matter either, because that was my thing. That’s my special, private memory.
It was a nice service in a very pretty little church which was just up the road from where I used to go to school. I haven’t driven down that road for… what, more than twenty five years? Anyway.
When the hearse arrived, Joan’s niece had made the decision to go for a willow wicker coffin and the moment I saw it, I knew it was the right choice. It was so… natural. So unassuming and modest. And it was beautifully wreathed in a very pretty garland. It was… like spring. It was like Joan. It was lovely. I said to Joanne that it was a lovely choice and she looked at me with tears in her eyes and said ‘I couldn’t put her in a box, Sarah. I just couldn’t do it.’ Her gratitude that at least one person understood her decision I think was one of the most touching things about the funeral. I’d only met her a couple of times before today, but in that brief, fleeting moment, the family blood that runs through both our veins – no matter how diluted it may be – beat with the same heart.
I cried during the service; not only for Joan, but for all the people I’ve lost. I think that’s what funerals do for you. They push your mortality into such sharp focus. I liked the Man In Charge. (I was confused. He was Father something or other, but it was a C of E church. That messed with my secular head – I thought C of E churches were overseen by Reverends). But during his little sermon, he said something that I don’t think I’ve ever heard a clergyman say with such honesty. This is heavily paraphrased.
‘When people die, sometimes someone will say something like “they’ve gone to a better place.” Well, perhaps they have and perhaps they haven’t. But as Christians, we believe that there is life beyond death; somewhere where you can live without constraint and without restriction. I can’t prove that to you scientifically of course, but it’s a comforting thought.’
I don’t align myself with any particular religion. I remain open minded on the subject. I appreciate that a lot of people take great comfort from their faith and I envy that. I’m naturally inquisitive and question everything. But it was nice to hear him say ‘I can’t prove anything: I’m not forcing this on you’.
He also used a very sweet analogy that made me smile. Again, heavily paraphrased.
‘Imagine that as Joan leaves this church, she is on a large ship, waving to you as she heads out into the calm, blue ocean. You are standing here on the shore, cheering and waving as she goes. She gets further and further away and you are still cheering, still waving and then a silence descends. But after a short time, you can hear, on the very edge of your awareness, the sound of people cheering far away. Those are the people who are greeting her as she arrives.’
I liked that analogy. I want a postcard, though.
Am very tired now in the way that only days when you put someone to rest can leave you. Tired, sanguine and a little melancholy (but not in a Little Horus kind of way). The tribute that was read out was the same one that gave me great comfort when my mother died and I leave this post with that thought.
ALL IS WELL
Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
I am I, and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other, that we still are.
Call me by my old familiar name,
Speak to me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference in your tone,
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me and if you want to, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was,
Let it be spoken without effect,
Without the trace of a shadow on it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was;
There is unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you,
For an interval,
Somewhere very near,
Just around the corner.
All is well.
— Henry Scott-Holland