We go to a funeral.
A father. A grandfather. A husband. A friend.
It rains as we cross the street and enter the church, drizzly and damp but not soaking, and I think maybe I should have watered the garden last night after all.
Tricky squirms and is released early from his stroller but then he starts his vocabulary practice in the middle of the first speech and so C and I take turns holding him in the Crying Room. When it is my turn I think how odd it is that I am watching the flow of all those tears from this side of the glass, the familiar waves of grief washing over the faces of this man’s family and friends.
It is a beautiful service, warm and celebratory, a monument to their love. Photographs flash up on the screen, him as a little curly headed moppet, big eyes and peach face, as a dashing young man with a mischievous gleam in his eye, as a husband with his young pretty wife encircled in his arms, as a father, a grandfather…
...we see him on boats and by water and hear stories of early married life in a boatshed and living on a Chinese junk and stories before that of his father and grandfather and stories of risks and reaching and inspired ideas and beautiful failures. I have only ever known him as an old man in a wheel chair but there he is, dashing and handsome.
A few years ago his wife and I talked about his sickness and its most recent destructive rampage, and I was sorry and said so and she took my hand.
But when I look at him, she said, I still see the man I married.
And we both cried at that, because even love can’t stop this. And now I see him too.
This is not a completely unexpected event, he was eighty years old and had MS for the last twenty years, gradually losing all the strength and mobility we see flashing up on the screen (but never his mind) until in those final days it is his eyebrows that are singled out for their expressive ways.
But he is such a strong presence, a giant on whose shoulders so many people are standing, and such a loved presence, and such a loss, and so when his curly headed moppet of a grandson reads a letter to thank his grandfather for bringing sailing into their family and to tell him he will always think of him when he sails I hug my baby too hard and we both cry.
And because we are human, and funerals are strange reflective events where we can’t help but mirror our own experiences, our own fears of death and loss and our own memories of grief, I think of my mother and her last days.
For outside the world keeps turning and life keeps spinning and the rain keeps falling and time ticks on but in that chair by the bed a whole life can play out in your head from one minute to the next. Hours of silence except for the unsteady rise and fall of their breath are noisy with past conversations, remembered words hashed and squeezed for significance and meaning.
And clear moments, lucid moments, small gestures and statements become polished stones lovingly passed from hand to hand…he said that thing about…she told me about this… she asked Dad if she could just have a tiny smell of his Easter egg and then she bit it!
And we sit in the dark, waiting our turn to say goodbye. The dark of grief and fear and death impending.
But also anger and resentment, not always aimed solely at the disease.
How can you leave us like this? You’re ready but we’re not.
Nursing a loved one to their death is a hard painful journey and I see this reflected on the faces of his family but as prolonged and difficult and heartrending as it is, it is also a bestowal of grace.
And this too shines around them.
A dying person bestows this last precious gift on all those who love him or her. All those who tend, who clean and caress, who lovingly brush their hair or massage their feet or hold their sparrow thin hand in theirs and breathe their air and sigh their name and say over and over in a thousand different ways: I love you.
It is still raining when we leave and C has to get the car for us.
Tricky and I huddle by the steps and I kiss his chubby cheeks and he brushes his eyelashes against mine.
Rain is splashing against the walls and tiny droplets gather on our faces.