Twas the night before the funeral and all through the house
Relatives huddled to drink and to grouse
The suits and the dresses were hung up that night
While sis and I grumbled our hair looked like shite.
Yes – the night before the funeral, was a bit like a surreal version of Christmas – mum and dad’s small house heaving with relatives and children. Irish uncles were plonked in the living room exchanging ribald stories about ‘this feckin’ idiot’ and ‘she became a nun’ all fuelled by copious amounts of whisky. ‘They all look like Father Ted’ said Husband in wonder. The Boy looked like he’d been put through a car wash he was so fluffy and clean. ‘Dad won’t let me wear his pants’ he grumbled. The Girl was bathed and pj’d and she too was moaning that ‘daddy brushed my hair TWICE.’ Normally her hair looks as though she’s been brawling with a giant hedgehog.
The following morning sis and I rushed back from the hairdresser r (‘Going anywhere nice? To a funeral.’ SILENCE), the black car arrived and we all piled in to collect mum from the undertaker. Then dad panicked about not having flowers for mum’s coffin. I thought about a similar situation on my wedding day. I’d paid £15 for each corsage and within five minutes dad managed to sit on his. So on the way to the Registry Office dad rushed into a florist and had a rose plus a bit of greenery pinned to his suit – all for a fiver. Mum pursed her lips and contented herself with rolling her eyes and muttering ‘eejit’ under her breath. Now I was watching dad choosing roses for his wife’s coffin.
At the crematorium everyone was waiting. I saw my dearest friend who’d schlepped down from London, and took her hand to come in with the family. The service was short – I read a eulogy to mum and then sat down shakily. The Girl was weeping silently and I cuddled her and fussed with a tissue. ‘I’m crying like a grownup mummy’ she explained. ‘So water comes out of my eyes but I don’t make lots of noise.’ Then the blue curtains whisked shut and mum’s coffin slid silently into the crematorium. We were ushered outside to look at the flowers, and then my sister and I had to receive a line of guests. I started to feel seriously sorry for the Queen – what do you say? My level of conversation was reduced to: ‘Are you coming to the wake? Yes it is a shame’ and ‘Who are you exactly?’
I had to shake slippery hands with several ageing representatives of the Legion of Mary. One elderly lady gripped my hand and said: ‘I hope she’s in heaven before the devil knows she’s dead.’ Er – me too. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw The Boy playing with The Girl who was telling everyone: ‘I have a granny but she’s dead.’
On we rolled to the wake where everyone was starving. I sat next to my motor mouth Auntie V. Kind, but obsessed with gossip and dieting, she started on me at once. ‘Do you have a diet sheet? I’m trying to get my daughter on one – she’s the size of a feckin house.’ I explained that I didn’t have a diet sheet and wondered how I could tell her politely that she was probably projecting her own body issues onto her daughter. Realised I couldn’t. And that I didn’t care. So I went and ate three sausage rolls instead. Auntie V looked at me with the amazement of someone who has always regarded food as though it were a pipe bomb.
I’m wearing mum’s pearl bracelet and one day I’ll pass it on to the Girl. Dad is surrounded by friends who have promised to keep an eye on him. Life goes on. But I’m still waiting for something to hit me.