Of course the person I really want to talk it over with is Aunt. And in a way I am, but it is a rather one-sided conversation where I ask if she was pleased with how it went, and hope the silence is an approving one.
The sun shone, the skies were blue, the church was full of light. Her coffin of seagrass looked lovely. Too big, but lovely. Such a little body inside. The florists had done a perfect job with the flowers; subtle pastel colours; roses, hyacinths and tulips, with bunches of dried lavender tied to the sides of the coffin and her pale blue sun hat sitting on the top.
The church was full. There were regular members of the congregation, neighbours, friends from further away, family. My cousin Tom gave the tribute for the family and his emotions nearly got the better of him. Tissues were being passed along rows. He remembered to give Linda a special mention, though he played fast and loose with the number of Aunt’s siblings and the age gap between Aunt and Mother.
But it was Aunt’s special friend, Margaret, who made the service so memorable. She is 93, has leukaemia, has had leukaemia for some years. A tiny frail woman with an energy that seems to belong to someone else. She and Aunt became friends the first time Aunt attended the church. Margaret was a missionary in Africa, but hails originally from Armagh. She was astounding; funny, warm, witty and full of love for Aunt and gratitude for their friendship. When she signed off, looking down at the coffin and saying “see you soon,” there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. If she had a fan club we’d all be paid up members now. She wasn’t coming to the cemetery for the burial, and couldn’t stay for the ‘substantial’ refreshments specified in Aunt’s will, so she was all but mobbed by the family outside the church, and the minister who had gone ahead must have been wondering what was keeping us.
The undertakers, the same ones who arranged Mother’s funeral, were again wonderful. It’s a family firm, and they know how to walk the fine line of professionalism and friendliness. I don’t think that’s a skill that can be taught.
I can’t say I was looking forward to the burial. The last interment I attended there was that of my father’s ashes back in 1991. His spot is near the cemetery entrance with lorries thundering by just a few yards away. I don’t visit as I have no sense of him being there. I think he’d have hated it. But when Aunt bought her plot, either by luck or design, she couldn’t have got somewhere more perfect. It’s beside a tree and next to a field. There’s a bird box on the tree and all the while we were there a robin sang lustily.
It seemed odd to take pictures, but we had agreed to send some to Uncle Bill. I can’t say I did a very good job, and I didn’t even think of taking any at the hotel later.
As the minister pronounced the final words and her coffin was lowered into the ground, blue tits flew low above the grave, passing repeatedly as though doing her honour.
We threw rose petals onto the coffin, stayed a short while longer, my nephews and I walking over to look at where Dad’s ashes are buried, then it was time to join the other mourners at the hotel, where the mood became more upbeat. But I’ll not write about that now. Perhaps it can go in another post.