Dear Readers, some of you have been following the story of my parents’ last years since way back in 2016, when my Mum was taken into hospital while she was staying with me in London, so it seems appropriate to bring you with me to closing of the chapter. Dad was cremated yesterday in the crematorium at Weymouth, on a glorious spring day. This is not an occasion that you want to be late for, especially when there will only be two mourners actually at the event (my brother was self-isolating with a fever), and so we were there an hour early. It was so peaceful in the crematorium grounds: the only sounds were the cawing of crows in the cypresses, and ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ which was chosen by the previous party as their music for saying goodbye. How idiosyncratic these choices are! I don’t know what anyone who didn’t know Dad would have made of ours (of which more later).
You would not have to ask from which direction the prevailing wind blows in the cemetery – every tree, every sapling, is leaning decidedly to the left. I idly wonder how some of them are standing up at all. Trees have a lot of sense, though: they ‘know’ that they need to adapt or get blown over, and so they sacrifice perfection for survival. This may be a metaphor.
I watch as the coffin bearing the next person to be cremated is driven to the door, and then the hearse drives away. At 1.30 it returns with another coffin. This one contains the earthly remains of my dear old dad. Of course, he isn’t actually here: that much was clear within a few moments of his death. The carer and I both went to the window to open it, as if to let his spirit out, just as I’d felt compelled to do when Mum died.
I had to get up and take a quick walk to regain a vestige of composure, and I found myself under those cypresses. People who are grieving are strange, otherworldly creatures who do peculiar things, and so it was that I found myself touching the trunk of one tree, almost as if I expected it to be breathing. It took me back to when I lay my hand on my Dad’s stilled chest, but at the same time it reminded me of when he was alive, this big, solid, reliable man, as dependable as a great tree. And I found myself taking off my shoes and standing in the grass, toes among the daisies, as if rooting down into the soil. Such a feeling of peace came over me, as if I was being held, and maybe I was, though by what or who I cannot say.
And then it was time. There are so many restrictions around the rites for the dead at the moment – no more than ten people, hand sanitizer as standard, no hugging people from other households. And yet, as we walked in to Concerto de Aranjuez (Adagio), to honour Dad’s love of Spain (and also the way that he used to whistle along with less than complete accuracy), I could feel all the people watching the webcast from home – Dad’s sisters and their families, some of my friends, and of course my brother – and it was comforting in a way that I hadn’t expected. The vicar’s eulogy managed to catch the essence of Dad in all his variety. And when we walked back out into the sunshine, to the sound of the theme tune to ‘Last of the Summer Wine‘, I felt as if we had done the best that we could for Dad, for now.
Some of the peace of the day stayed with me as we started on the long trek home. It may not last, but then nothing does. My brother and I have often coped with the last few years by using humour, and this week we were remarking that we were orphans, but not the wide-eyed, sad Dickensian variety. Which kindly benefactor will adopt us, I mused, since we are grey-haired (and getting increasingly more so), old and a little on the podgy side? A friend of mine had the best answer:
‘Nature seems to be your nearest kindly benefactor’ she said.
And so it is.