Blog archive May 2006
priceless dialogue from my name is earl:
earl: baloney isn't your favorite food. animal crackers is!
randy: animal crackers is my favorite food shaped like an animal!
i tend to think randy gets the best lines.
this, always known as the 'four generations', is one of the key photographs of our family. left, my father; right, his mother my grandmother, centre, her mother my great-grandmother; and the baby is me. which means it's 1960. we're in my great-grandmother's house.
i'm the only one left now, which is why the photo has been given to me. great-grandmother died in 1965; but my grandmother died at easter last year. and now my father barely a year later.
well, the funeral on the 15th went as well as these things can. a lot more people in the church than we'd expected, but the service was a bit of a black hole for me, i was chiefly concerned that it went ok and how my mother was.
the interment afterwards was, strange to say, rather beautiful. for obvious reasons i couldn't take photographs but two images stand out - my father's coffin, flower-covered, lifted high on the shoulders of the pall-bearers against the trees and sky; and the coffin without flowers at the bottom of the deep grave, the polished brass nameplate on the oak, as the vicar spoke of 'ashes to ashes, dust to dust'; the grave some ten feet deep and precisely cut to size, with no shoring required - you can thank the thornbury clay for that. it took dad years of work to break it down in the garden into something more plant-friendly. the coffin seemed shockingly heavy, and we knew that wasn't dad - mum had decided on a solid oak coffin, wholly appropriate as he always bought solid wood furniture if at all possible. beautiful wood, but the pall-bearers struggled!
being from grimsby, dad had been a supporter of grimsby town football club along with most of the family. the club badge he usually wore is with him in the coffin. the club colours are black and white - we were stumped as to how to achieve this florally, but his brother got the florist to spray arum lilies black!
so i think we did the best we could for him.
when the ground has settled there will be a headstone, and maybe some plants from his garden on the grave.
one of the hard things is being surrounded by so much of dad's stuff that he just left, and will never return to. his watch is still next to his seat. it stopped on the 16th of march. on the 15th i had a brief phone conversation with him, to say i'd got home from austin. it was the last time he ever spoke clearly to me, before the pneumonia took his voice. when i came back from lee abbey a couple of days later he was ill upstairs. his watch remains where he left it the day we spoke.
the funeral is on monday 15th [...that's the first time i noticed the date symmetry...]. organising a funeral is like organising a wedding at a week's notice, at a time when people don't feel like making quick decisions at all. so much stuff to get rolling at once. sheer momentum got us through, but i crashed emotionally today - fear of arrangements coming unstuck.
one of the first decisions was burial or cremation - his only words on the subject, years ago, were that he wouldn't be around so didn't care! we preferred burial, because it felt more loving and gives us a place to remember him. thornbury cemetery is a pleasant spot, in the fields outside the historic end of town near the church and castle - i used to sit and sketch there, and it pleases me that he will be buried in the middle of one of my pictures. my mother and i went to pick the actual plot. the old graveyard attendant put it in his book, and we went to the town hall to tell the clerks who said at once, oh you're the monday one. small town life eh?
this afternoon i went to view the body with my youngest brother. i knew i'd regret either doing it or not doing it, but preferred to risk the regrets of seeing. it wasn't easy. i had hoped that he would look more himself, in his own clothes and without the medical apparatus. but he looked less himself. that grim waxwork, ten years older than when i last saw him alive two weeks ago. my brother and i had the same thought - that it threw into stark relief the living dad we had known. i will not remember him thus - the mind recoils to better times, and in that sense it did some good. into his shirt pocket we tucked a picture mum had given us, of them together in her sister's garden c. 1968. in spite of the horror, it was a wrench to leave.
seeing death makes you realise what an astonishing thing life is - pink and swarming and full. the raw materials are so very much less without it.
my father died just after 5am today. i am heading back down to bristol to be with my mother, probably won't be back for a week. may not get much internet access. thanks for all your prayers anyhow.