There is nothing pleasant about seeing a ninety-six year old man in tears at his wife’s funeral. Uncle Bill bore up well, and showed evident pleasure greeting his various nieces and nephews outside the crematorium. The service, conducted by my cousin Tom, was kept light at Uncle Bill’s request, and it was good to see him nodding and smiling, laughing at one point, as Tom reminded us of happier times. The tears came afterwards, when we gathered to have tea and sandwiches and Uncle Bill was assailed by a stream of people offering condolences.
I’m glad to say he smiled again, and we made plans to meet in the summer (we being as many of the clan as can be assembled at one time) with photos to share, pencils to annotate, and memories to swap. His younger son, the one who lives in Melbourne, looks so like his father it’s a bit like time travel. He goes home tonight, so the jet lag he’s just getting over will be overlaid by the next long haul flights. But it was good to see him by his father’s side, and I’m sure he’d vote it worth the discomfort. Both sons are supportive, and the family is close. They are concerned for Uncle Bill, but while he mourns the loss of a wife, they have lost their mother, their children have lost their grandmother. That’s never easy, no matter how old you are. So mutual support all round will, I trust, be the order of the day. There are bound to be more tears, more moments of dislocation and aching loss, and that’s right too.
Uncle Bill and Aunt Ella were always touched by an unconscious glamour. For us growing up, and Cousin agrees, they were the JF and Jackie Kennedy of our family. They lead more exciting lives, had more exciting hobbies, and lived in Belfast, the Big City. In their twenties they cycled the coast of Ireland with a cycling club, carrying tents and goodness only knows what else with them. These were the days when bikes were heavy and tents were bulky; no lightweight aluminium frames in either, no windproof nylon pop up jobs to crawl into at the end of a tiring day. From bicycles they graduated to motor bikes, then Uncle Bill built himself a sports car from a kit. No one else in our family has ever had a sports car. This was Camelot indeed.
Uncle Bill, a professional photographer, captured many of these moments on film, so if the planned gathering happens, and I sincerely hope it will, we should be in for feast of pictures and memories. And I suspect there will tears in several pairs of eyes.