I have been to three funerals recently. I suppose that is one of the things whch happens when we get older. We may be invited to Weddings and Christenings of the younger generations of our families and close friends but our comtemporaries are usually past that and it is their funerals we go to. These three events could not have been more different.
The first was for the 96 year old father of a local friend. As his wife’s health deteriorated they had struggled to cope and decided to accept an invitation to build a wooden chalet on my friend’s smallholding where she could support them. The wife died a few years ago and was buried in the graveyard of the local chapel. Every day the old man walked up the road to visit her grave and became a familiar sight in the community. Whilst visiting his son and daughter-in-law near London he became ill and died in hospital there. But his wish was to be buried with his wife. It was a very simple and informal ceremony. The Hearse arrived and members of his family, including his teenage grandson, pushed his coffin to the graveside and we followed. My friend, a retired vicar, invited us to share our memories of him, one of which, shared by the daughter-in-law he had been visiting, was of him being thrown out of a cocktail bar for being badly behaved – he was 95 at the time! One of the sons-in-law videoed the proceedings and fed it live to the man’s eldest son in Australia. When everyone who wanted to speak had done so the coffin, with his trademark red knitted hat on top, was lowered into the grave and most of us threw a handful of earth onto it. The wake was in his cabin. He had given strict instructions that we had to have Cornish Pasties from a shop he thought made the best ones (they had lived in Cornwall for a while before moving to Wales) and a boxful had been duly ordered and couriered here. The rest of the catering was done by the family and a next-door neighbour who used to be a professional baker. A lot of people crammed into rather a small space ate, drank wine, reminisced and raised a glass to him. It really felt as if WE buried him, all of us participating and contributing.
The second was that of the man who lived next door to my daughter when she lived with her husband. After they separated the neighbour still kept in touch and supported her. Each time I visited I would chat to him and I wanted to be able to pay my respects to him and say goodbye. He was an active member of the local Catholic Church, belonged to the Knights of St Columba (a lay order for men in the Catholic Church), an active member of the Royal British Legion and a Scout leader. There was a funeral Mass with some of his fellow Knights acting as bearers, another short service at the Crematorium with the Legion Standards aloft and then dipped and a wake in a Social Club near his home. There was a lot of ritual and it was very dignified but I felt like an observer not really involved. Maybe that was partly because I am not and never have been a member of a Catholic Church and was not clear what the procedure was or what the correct responses were. At the wake the various contingents – Family, Knights, Scouts, Legion (The other neighbours had left to go back to work) formed little groups in the big space, ate standard funeral fare, bought drinks from the bar and hardly mixed. It was no surprise that I didn’t know anyone there but other than the family neither did my daughter.
The third was for a 91 year old woman who lived about a mile from me in a bungalow on the farm she and her late husband had run and was now owned by her son and daughter-in-law. We gathered in the small non-conformist Chapel a couple of hundred yards from her home. The service was in a mixture of Welsh and English with one hymn in each language. The Minister did all the readings and gave the Eulogy but I felt he knew the woman he was talking about and respected her. Afterwards we all mingled in the graveyard and the family spoke to everyone. The burial was to be later in a family plot where the couple originally came from and their second son, who died of Meningitis at the age of 6 was buried as was her husband. She had asked to be reunited with them. I was unable to go to the wake in the village hall but know that the food would have been provided by family and friends and that there would be tea and coffee but no alcohol. I had walked to the service because my car was in the garage for repair and several people offered me a lift to the wake, then, when I explained I could not join them, to my home.
It made me appreciate again that whilst an urban life allows for lots of different social opportunities, the close knit rural one is where I feel I belong.