It was a bright, crisp, autumn afternoon, the sun still high in the sky. I put my hand in front of my face to shade my eyes from it. Nobody else did, and I wondered if they thought I was saluting.
“Private committal”, I had said on the Order Of Service, so it was only a small group of us. Two of The Mother’s brothers, and their wives; the third brother was too sick to travel. A nephew, a couple of nieces, and my children standing by.
The Child Who Likes Animals was taking a great interest. “She will be buried next to Grandpa,” he kept saying, no matter how many times people explained that, no, Grandpa’s grave had been made specially deep so Grandma could be slotted neatly on top in her matching wicker coffin. When the funeral director had us, the mourners, stand well back by the hearse as the coffin was carried over the damp grass to the temporary trestles at the graveside, The Child Who Likes Animals had ignored him completely, had run circles around them and peered down into the hole. He was the only mourner who saw the bottom of the grave, before the coffin went in.
“Earth to earth,” said the priest, in her hard-edged New England accent. I don’t mean that to sound like a bad thing: she is a very good priest, but her public-speaking voice is firm, and clear, every syllable carefully divided and enunciated. “Ashes to ashes; dust to dust.” She sprinkled soil from a small plastic takeaway container, finely-divided to be straightforward to sprinkle in.
“Take as long as you want,” said the funeral director, after the ceremony had finished. We stood, not really knowing exactly what to do, or how long to wait before leaving. I thanked the priest, and the director; the pallbearers, two old men and two young women, had drifted away discreetly as soon as the body had been lowered into the ground. We stood, chatted a little, said how nice the flowers were, and it was something of an anticlimax. When she had died, in a hospital room, it felt inappropriate some how to be the last one to leave the room and leave her body, on its own, slowly cooling. At the graveside, it felt the same.
This is also something of an anticlimatic way to end this post. When my father died, this blog was on pause, but I wrote about watching him die straight away. The Mother’s death was four weeks ago, and so far, I haven’t written anything about it, about what led up to it, about the sudden shift in realisation that a life will be ending, not in months or years but in a few hours or days. This, though, might be a good point to start writing about it: the end of the process, not the end of the legal and formal processes, but the end of the ritual part.