At bottom, every man knows perfectly well that he is a unique being, only once on this earth; and by no extraordinary chance will such a marvelously picturesque piece of diversity in unity as he is, ever be put together a second time.
Today was the funeral of both of my grandparents.
Funerals are strange occasions. Most notably because I do not ever know how to react. I let my mind wander. As explained in previous blogs, I prefer to celebrate the life of the person, rather than become overtaken by a morbid sense of intense loss. I feel privileged to have known my grandparents. They were fantastic people. And whilst I certainly feel like I have lost that, I am reminded how lucky I am to have been a part of their lives in the first place.
But still, I do not know how to react.
In the funeral procession, I sat in the back of the car. Up ahead were the two hearses and the undertaker. The first thing that popped into my head, was a scene in Only Fools and Horses, in which Del has got Rodney a job, and tells him he starts tomorrow. Rodney doesn’t know what he’s going to be doing but goes along anyway. A few scenes later, Del is stood in the market, and a funeral procession goes past. Del and his mates, and his Uncle lower their heads in respect. After the ingenius line to Uncle Albert, of “Unc, your taxis’ here“, they all notice Rodney at the front of the procession, in his new job as an undertaker whispering expletives in Del’s direction; so much so that he accidentally walks them down a one way street the wrong way, and the whole funeral procession has to turn round and go back the other way. Brilliance. I smiled to myself, as my thoughts brought me back to the car. I know that my grandparents would have smiled too. But the mood in that car was one of sorrow. It somehow seemed inappropriate to be making myself smile. And so a guilty feeling overtook me. As if there is a set way we should all react in that kind of situation.
We got to the Church, and went inside. The coffins sat side by side with “Mum” and “Dad” written beautifully in flowers. We all walked in; me, my dad, my sister, my cousins and aunts and uncles, friends of the family, and distant relatives, to the sound of my granddads favourite musician…… Al Jolson. Thankfully his appalling song choice was soon forgotten as my grandmas favourite musician, and markedly less awful came on….. Dean Martin. There were around 30 people altogether. I hope I know 30 people when i’m 85. I was surprised at the turn out. I met members of the family I had no idea existed. My grandmas 95 year old sister looks just like her. I met my new baby cousin for the first time too. He is extremely cute.
I couldn’t help but feel slightly odd, when the Priest read a passage from the Bible. I am paraphrasing him, but it was along the lines of: “If you love Jesus before you die, he will bring you to God’s kingdom“. I don’t love Jesus. I doubt he even existed. I don’t like the Bible at all. So reading between the lines, the Priest had just condemned me. Great. I tried to suppress my Atheist tendencies, but they were always there. Throughout a couple of hymns especially. It just seemed like a cult. Slightly uncomfortable. It’s funny how the mind moves away from things that actually matter. This was the day my grandparents were to be put to rest, and my mind spent a few minutes wanting to yell at the Priest for talking nonsense. How ludicrous. But this wasn’t my day, and I figured it gave comfort to many people in that room, which is not a bad thing.
I met a couple of my granddads old drinking buddies, from the Navy days during the War. They had known him since he was around 17. Apparently a pub opened in the 1930s, and all its members were given numbers. They all joined up in the 1940s sometime. My granddad was around number 500 when he joined. Every time someone died, the next person in line took their number. Like a league. Morbid isn’t it? My granddad was number 11 by the time he died. Whilst my granddad was number 11, his mate, who was at the funeral, is number 23…….. a child in comparison!!!
They were telling us how he used to leave the pub early, in the 1950s aswell as the 2000s, because he didn’t want to upset my grandma by being away too long. He doted on her. They said he has always been that way, since the day he met her. That, is incredible.
My dad is a good speaker. His brothers and sister don’t tend to do speeches. But my dad always does a good ‘un. He relayed to us a story of when they were kids, and my grandma and granddad took them on holiday. They got to a hill, just outside of Bath, on the way to Devon. The car wouldn’t get up the hill. This is before the days of the M5, so there was no motorway down to Devon. Just one or two roads. The car kept rolling back. It was only a few years later that my granma explained it was because they had loaded the trunk of the car with potatoes for the week. So many, that the car didn’t make it up the hill. That’s a lot of potatoes.
The organ player, was awful. Organs sound dreadful anyway. But this guy took it to a new extreme. I never saw who was playing it, but I presume it was an ape.
Apparently my grandma, on talking to my dad about John Lennon turning 70 soon had he still been alive, said “He was good footballer“. We presume she meant the ex-Leicester City player Neil Lennon. He’s 36. Not 70.
My granddads mate was telling us how they ran to Filbert Street one day, as 19 year olds, to watch a Leicester City match, and jumped the railings to avoid having to pay. But one of their mates got hung up by his shirt, on the top of the railing, and they couldn’t get him off. So they left him and ran. Genius!
We all then gathered together at a pub near to their house. His mate didn’t come, because he was finding it particularly difficult. Understandable, if you’ve known a bloke for 60 years, and now he’s gone. My aunt revealed to us, that my grandma had told her a secret. My grandma was born amidst a bit of a scandal. The man my dad and his siblings had been calling granddad, wasn’t their granddad. My grandma kept her real dad a secret, because in those days it would have been a scandal. She didn’t want my granddad to know she was born out of an affair between two married people, in the 1920s. The story confused me, and was incredibly fascinating. My grandmas side of the family were there. A lot of them though, are in Boston, in the US. My dad, on hearing that his granddad wasn’t actually his granddad, said whilst laughing “So the bloke who used to pick us up, with his fag on, whistling to himself, was actually just a random bloke, who probably didn’t know why we were calling him granddad?”
Hearing the stories about their lives; stories I had never heard before, made me realise just how many lives they had an influence on. Running to football matches, trying to get cars up hills, having the same mates for 60 years – all the memories these people must have, and it all ended, in about 40 minutes, in that little room at the back of the Church, on a slightly rainy day in December. I felt privileged and honoured to be related to them. The contrast between the grand significance of a life, and the apparent insignificance and subtlety of a funeral is startling. The funeral and the tears are not important. The lives and the memories are important. It made me think about the lives I have an influence on, even in the most trivial of ways. It made me reflect on just how important my friends are to me. I have always taken them for granted. They are always there, and it becomes routine to accept them as always being there. But they actually mean the World to me. Even the ones I have known a relatively short time. When I grow old, I hope my friends are recounting stories with smiles on their faces, to my children.