Back at the house, we ordered take-away pizza. By we, I mean O. I am not long home after the funeral. It was great. As a send-off to the afterlife, you couldn’t wish for more.
The wicker coffin and the flowers were beautiful. That was the moment when I think I really began to comprehend that Caroline is dead. This is it. There will be no more random meetings in local shops; no more exchanged texts or gifts of squash. Caroline is dead. But. The crematorium is a distance away. O had first organised a fleet of limousines and then, in an inspired and radical moment hired a Routemaster instead. We traveled in style behind the hearse. The front of the bus said “Goodbye Caroline”. In the two hundred history of Albin’s this was their first Routemaster cortège. They took photographs. For once, I didn’t.
On the way we chatted, exchanged Carloine stories, commented on the weather, admired O in red suede and full frontal personality.
It was cold, damp and grey at the crematorium. We shivered after the warmth of the bus and huddled close. Other people huddled putside the chapel. Ours, or another funeral party? We eyed each other doubtfully until O moved forward and into their embarce.
The chapel was full; standing room only at the back. It began. C came in carried on the shoulders of Albin’s men. We were silent. It was true. This wasn’t an elaborate practical joke. After today Caroline would be rendered back to the earth. Sobriety.
Three addresses. I enjoyed them all, but my favourite lines are from her brother who spoke of his extensive postcard collection started by a postcard of a gorilla from Caroline in Gibralter; “Fancy seeing you here!”, and from her brother-in-law “Her love of Cumberland sausages distinguished her from other vegetarians.”
Family members sang solos. Lesser mortals sniffed and wiped our eyes. The order of service is a joyous celebration. A document to treasure. We file out and into the cold again. We make introductions. Friends, neighbours, colleagues, relatives. We are all there. We excahnge stories. Back on the bus and it hurtles now, heading for a restaurant patronised by Caroline and O, where the staff are also grieving, but happy to serve drinks and nibbles to the funeral party.
I am thinking of going home, so is another neighbour. We start to plan, and then it becomes clear O intends we go back together. We drink more wine.
So it goes.
At the house, Caroline’s absence is more marked. True, we have been saying all afternoon that the one person we need to make this party go with a swing is Caroline, but the lack of her in the house makes me, and I suspect, others, tearful.
Champagne; celebrate a life! This is a good move. we cheer up and again exchange our stories, talk of now, realise, even if we don’t say it, that life goes on. Memories of Caroline are carried with us. She lives by our memories. small comfort to O who faces a life alone after being one half of a very united whole.
But for all that, it was a great day, a day to remember, a day to celebrate as well as to mourn. Get the funeral right and the memories will folow.
Goodbye Caroline. I shall miss you. xxxx