My grandma's funeral today and I alternated between feeling sad my gran was gone, having happy memories about her and hoping my dad would do something funny so I'd have a story for my new Edinburgh show. Funerals bring up complex emotions.
Doris was a popular and vivacious woman, who looked out for everyone but herself and it seemed a little unfair that her funeral was sparsely attended, but of course, this was because she'd made it to 102 and all of her contemporaries were gone. I suppose it's better to attend lots of funerals than have lots of people attend your own in a way, but those selfish pre-deceasing friends made her look like she had not surrounded herself with other people. When in fact nothing could be further from the truth. But the family made it along, my sister bursting into tears every few minutes, my brother and I more stoical, my dad saying that this was not a time for tears.
Ironically enough my sister got through her reading without breaking down, whereas the emotion hit my dad just as he started speaking about his mother-in-law.
There was some laughter too. Mainly when during the slightly unfamiliar first hymn no one cold hear the tape due to one mourner singing rather loudly and everyone ending up being in different places. It was a welcome moment of levity. We knew we shouldn't laugh, but of course that just made the laughter all the more glorious. We tried to hold it in, not all together successfully. I knew if Doris was there then she'd have been laughing at that as well.
There were pictures of my gran on the order of service and also dotted around the house (along with her card from the Queen which she'd got on her 100th birthday). It was strange to see pictures of Doris as a young woman. I hadn't really seen these before (as far as I remembered). There's a studio portrait where she must have been about 20, which would have been taken in the 1930s. I thought about that day - how it must have been quite a special occasion for her - obviously some people had cameras by then, but it was surely still a rarity to get your picture taken. I doubt they got many shots at it. She sits demure and confident on a chair. I was fascinated by all the details, the chair, the carpet, her shoes and bracelet. And all that you couldn't see, the photographer and the camera, the studio. All presumably gone now. But I felt like I got a little echo of how she would have felt in that moment and the moments that surrounded it. In Middlesbrough, between the wars, with so much of her life stretching ahead of her. Eighty years have passed, yet I am connected to it by a photo and by the woman in it. It's hard to imagine our grandparents were ever twenty. But there she is.
My mum spoke movingly about her own mother, acknowledging that had she been born in a later time she would have had more opportunities than she got, wondering what she would have been. She reminded me of the weekly comics that my grandparents used to send, rolled together and wrapped in brown paper. My brother and sister and me would take it in turns to open it. I got "Whizzer and Chips". Mum also told the story of grandma and grandad turning me upside down when I was choking on fruit pastilles. Before adding "Twenty-eight years old, he was at the time." Bang! She even had time for jokes.
The curtains closed around the coffin, like her life had been a play and this was the rather disappointing, unanimated and unnecessary last scene. Then we left her behind.
We went to a local pub, our own mortality being put into sharp focus as my dad looked for somewhere to park the car, tried to stop outside a bus stop. I told him that he probably couldn't stay there so he pulled away, driving along to a blind bend on the wrong side of the road. A car came round but fortunately slowly enough to stop. If he'd kill my wife and I, I wonder if the crematorium could have fitted in a quick four for one deal. It'd be a shame for the family to have to make another trip.
Luckily Doris was the only one we ended up seeing off today. I will miss her - though I already missed her because she wasn't really Doris any more towards the end. She was the heart of our family, but helped to create all the still beating hearts of many of the people at the funeral.
I know so little, really, about that woman in the photo, but I know what an amazing person she was and how much I loved her.