It is a beautiful evening. The marina is quiet; MasterB is curled up opposite me and purring; birds are trilling, the sun is beginning to set. I am glad of the calm and the sun. Both feel respectful and right.
Mother died this morning. It was early, half past six; the time in days past when she used to get up. The connection here failed and I did not learn of her death for a further two hours. I lost the butter. Somehow between the call and coffee I misplaced it. I found it tonight in a cupboard where it does not belong.
I took my time. MasterB had some shore leave, and then I went to see her. My nephews were already there, but left me for some minutes alone with her. I drew back the closed curtains and let the light in. Mother loved daylight. She opened her curtains at night before she went to bed so that it would fill the room in the morning. For a moment it looked like she was breathing, but she was too flat, too still. I anointed her forehead with lavender oil and kissed her, told her again that I loved her. When the boys came back, it seemed natural to include her in our conversation, lying there as she was between us. Her face was recognisable, but less like herself and more like John Milton’s death mask.
It was time to go, to let the undertakers come and collect her. Once more the boys let me have some time alone with her, just a few moments, another goodbye.
We went to the station to meet the train and Nephew’s wife. Then went to lunch in a wonderful pub none of us has ever been to before. We ate, drank, were moderately merry, and started outlining what we want in the funeral.
The phone rang, it was the undertaker. I met him a couple of years ago, a nice man and a dog lover. Mother would approve. He advised me about death certificates and registers and we arranged to meet him in an hour. I spent half an hour calling and making appointments and then we we piled into Other Nephew’s car and went to discuss coffins and practicalities.
The family Labrador was in the car park, so he was loved and fussed by all of us before we went inside. His predecessor’s ashes are in a little urn adorned by a model of a yellow Labrador asking to play, and his portrait hangs in the hall. It was curiously relaxing. And funny. At one point four of us were pouring over pictures of cardboard coffins, picking out the most tasteless ones. Who in the world would choose a coffin showing fish and chips in newspaper? We were fairly sure of what we wanted, having seen it two years ago. Our nice undertaker went to make sure we could see the range he had in stock and we went on reading. I was fascinated, in a slightly appalled way, by the teddy bear where you zip your loved ones’ ashes inside.
Back at the home we stood in Mother’s room to discuss more practicalities. Other Nephew took her clock, Nephew and Wife left with photos to scan for the funeral order of service, and her bible. Outside, Nephew handed me a card and a present. Today is my birthday. It has been an unforgettable one, and somehow, it feels right that Mother died today. It has been a painful privilege these last few days to be with her as she was dying. She showed dignity, graciousness and gratitude. I am immensely proud of her. Her death doesn’t stop me loving her. For me, she was, and remains, the best mum in the world.