Remember the Funerals post here?
Here is its companion. I ended that post having attended three funerals in my life, between the ages of approx 30 and 40. It seems from comments received on that post, that I wasn’t alone in being excluded from family funerals as a child.
The next funeral I went to was my father’s. I wrote about my last visit to see him here. There is something about death that takes you totally unawares and knocks your legs from under you.
As a kid I often worried what would happen to me if I became orphaned. My mum and dad, and Good Dog Tarquin of course, were my world. I couldn’t envisage one without that security bubble. But with age, and so-called independence, work, and a relationship of your own with someone, that fear recedes.
As an adult you know, or at least expect, that one day you will have to cope with the death of your parents. Sensibly you tell yourself that day will happen, and once they are in their 70s, you think it isn’t that far away. Although not imminent. But you know you will be able to cope with it as a grown-up.
So when my father did die, even though I knew it was going to happen, I was stunned. In fact, I probably didn’t feel anything straightaway as it fell to me to sort out everything. My mother was nominally the executor, but she hadn’t a clue what to do, and why should she? I was around and was happy to handle all the paperwork – all she had to do was sign the forms and letters.
I went to the Registrar with the letter from the GP to get the death certificate to start moving the paperwork. I opened the letter to see what the GP had written. It didn’t make any sense to me, and I asked the Registrar what it meant. It was some vague woffly term that implied he had died from cancer all over his body. Well that isn’t what kills you. It may be what leads to the death, but I wanted to know what had happened. The Registar said it was probably heart, lungs, liver, kidneys – whatever – that had failed, and that GPs in the community weren’t as precise as hospital doctors.
There was a slight admonition that I shouldn’t have opened the letter as it was addressed to her. Well hell!! Who cares? It was my father and I WANTED to see the cause of death. What a load of crappy bureaucracy. I should add that there had been no post-mortem examination as he had been seen in the local hospital by a doctor in the previous week. So there we were, from suspected colorectal cancer (Stage 3 by my guessing from the minimal info from the geriatrician over the ‘phone) to death a few weeks later.
The funeral came and went. Although my mother was technically the starring player, I was Best Supporting Role, and dressed up accordingly. Black Cerruti suit, jet necklace, nice black (Wolford) tights and smart black shoes. Black lace gloves too. As, ‘Gloves and no hat, but never hat and no gloves,’ for those churchgoers out there.
When I returned to Spain, I felt, well, flat. Very flat. I didn’t really know what to do with myself apart from speak to my mother every day on the ‘phone when she rang up worried about one thing or another. My partner started spending increasing time on ‘planes visiting my mother to sort things out. ‘Siempre esta volando en el aire,’ as my Spanish neighbour said – he’s always flying in the air. And he was.
Then one night I started to have a panic attack. Thinking about my past, my parents, realising my dad had died, and just wondering where life was going and I was suddenly lying there breathing horribly quickly and too fast. For anyone who doesn’t know – panic attacks don’t kill. But they aren’t too good when they are happening and they can be frightening for the person lying next to you. And they continued. Every now and again, or maybe, quite often, I would start one. But when they were over, there was actually a feeling of relief. I guess they are a way of relieving stress.
When my mother died – I couldn’t face going back to do the honours. Practically, we couldn’t both go because of the animals. I really couldn’t handle going back to their home, to the same church, and – one parent less. Exactly the same scenario except the mother who had stood next to me at my father’s funeral would be in that wooden box up front. So while I made the arrangements over the ‘phone, Partner agreed to go and be the Star. Meet rellies he’d not met before.
It was after her death though that the desolation kicked in. If I had felt that some of my past had been wiped out when my father died – it felt like it had all gone when my mother joined him. It was as though the first part of your life, your early and formative years, no longer existed. With them gone, so had those first precious and childish years. And while it wasn’t the idyllic childhood they had told me it was, it was the only one I had. All contact with that had gone. Just memories. No more.
Thinking of my mother was split between two views, her later cranky years in life – and those lovely early ones when she soothed my brow and fed me beef tea, picked me up from school on Wednesday lunchtimes (half day) to go for lunch at the Strafford Arms and eat egg mayonnaise and grissini, bought me Famous Five books – the list is endless. I read quotes on the internet about ‘you’ll never know how much you miss your mother until she isn’t there’ – and realised they were true. Gah! I hate sloppy stuff like that!!
And, although I had a partner, I felt so alone. Isolated. Where was my support now? There wasn’t any? It was silly really, because I had been financially and emotionally independent for years. I had been the one trying to help them in their later years. But old habits die hard, and I felt frightened. They weren’t there for me to go back to when something was wrong (and feed me beef tea and soothe my brow). They just weren’t there. And half my life had died with them. I still miss my mum. And I still feel alone. Perhaps it comes of being an only child.