The Long Road
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am making my last earthly journey from Galway to Glasnevin Crematorium. There is a cortege of four cars and of course my own personal transport, a long black hearse. I hover over my earthly body, I barely recognise myself. My skin is a creamy yellow and my face is still and sedate. I look at what they dressed me in. Thoughtfully chosen but I hate to think of my favourite cardigan being burnt to a cinder. Still if it brings them comfort…
I wonder how they are doing. They have been incredible until now. The funeral home was exactly as I would have wanted it. Personal and touching. It’s nice to know they love me. It’s a pity we have to wait until our funerals to know how much we are appreciated.
The undertaker and his assistant are chatting and laughing up front and the radio is on low. It’s just another day’s work to them and yet when he is with my family he is a rock, gently guiding and directing. It must be a tough job, dealing with death and grief day in day out. It has to be hard to keep grounded and not let it get to you, especially when it’s a tragic death. Mine is no tragedy. I was old and my body was letting me down. The pain had become too much. I was ready to go. I hope in time my children will understand that. I had a good life with many blessings along the road.
I hover into the first car of the cortege. My son in law is driving and my daughter sits up front. My son and daughter in law are in the back. I am glad it’s Michael who’s driving. He’s least likely to become emotional. I can see tiredness and strain pinching all of their faces. Unlike the undertakers, they are silent, each lost in their own thoughts. My funeral music is playing on the C.D. player, talk about wallowing. I wish I could make them see it’s better this way. When we grieve, are we grieving for the person who has gone or are we grieving for our own loss?
I wonder how they will fare after today is over. My daughter is too self sufficient and that worries me. I am afraid she will choke down her grief and it will strangle her. She was the same when her mother died. Michael won’t be able to help her if she keeps it all in. He’s not great at dealing with emotions and if Shauna shuts him out that will suit him down to the ground. Maybe her daughter will be a comfort. She’s older now and a marvellous young woman. I hope she has the sense to see a bereavement counsellor. I left some details in my living will.
My son is always busy. He will throw himself into some project or other to stop himself from feeling and his wife will smooth his life over until his grief passes. They will jolly along as best they can. No doubt they will be back attending charity functions within a month. Perhaps that’s the best way. Life must go on.
I move on to the car carrying my grandchildren. There are six in this car and although they are tired from the stress and activities of the last few days they are delightfully young and exuberant. I hear them talking about me. One of my grandsons is relating a story about a time I brought him fishing when he was seven.
“Granny had been taking the mick out of Granda before we left saying he had no idea how to fish. His ego was at stake. We stayed out in the rain all day and there was no way he was leaving without a fish. The food was gone and I was getting whiney and bored. Granda spotted a man on a nearby boat with six trout and he paid him twenty quid for the smallest meanest looking one so we could go home with a fish and he wouldn’t lose face.” I made him promise he would never tell that story, I gave him another twenty to buy his silence, the brat. That fishing trip cost me a fortune.
My only granddaughter is kinder to me, she tells them of the books I bought her over the years, helping her to overcome her dyslexia. She has written a book herself now which she dedicated to me. I know she is heartbroken but she’s young and in love and will get over it.
Cheered by their stories I move on to my last remaining brother Mark, his wife Pat and their son Tom. I know my death is hard on my brother, there were five of us and now he is alone. He is facing his mortality. He looks old, but then he’s seventy two. Funny he never looked old to me before. I suppose we changed together. He is sombre looking but they are all talking.
“He went downhill very quickly in the end” Pat says, her ever cheerful self. No one makes any comment for a minute and Mark says “it was for the best, he was in a lot of pain.”
Tom is driving and he clicks his tongue impatiently. He has probably heard the same thing over and over for the last two days. He is distanced from the proceedings, annoyed at losing another day at work because his parents wanted him to drive. He should be off managing his vast business empire and has no time for mere mortals. My death was an inconvenience to him, I should have held on for another two days so the funeral was over the weekend. He is an only child and a selfish sod. His wife is no better, she couldn’t even be bothered to come today. I wonder how he will cope with Mark or Pat’s funerals.
The final car holds my four friends, all widows and widowers. Our card school. They are discussing my funeral arrangements. Ha! If they knew I could hear them they would be mortified. I hear Martin speak: “I’d never be cremated me, what if you need your body in heaven.”
Angela replies “I don’t want mine, the arthritis has me crippled.” Looking at her knotty fingers you know she is not joking. Brian points out that the worms and decay will get you in the ground, so it’s no different to cremation. It’s Shiela who surprises me:
“I think that was the most beautiful funeral I was ever at but I’d never have the nerve to do it myself” Brian wants to know why not and she explains that she’d be afraid not to have a church service followed by burial in case she was depriving herself of the afterlife. She hasn’t been inside a church in twenty years, except for weddings and funerals. Still she is afraid to denounce her church completely, especially now that she is getting old.
My friends are all pragmatic about death. They have all lost loved ones and they are nearing the end of their days. They will be sad for a while, they’ll think of me often but they know it’s part of life. They are old and wise. I don’t need to worry about them.
Finally we arrive in the city. The traffic is crippling and I see all of the drivers are anxious to try and stay in the cortege, the last thing they want to do now is get lost. The undertaker knows where he is going. He has made this journey many times before. He switches off the radio. It wouldn’t do for my family to know they had been listening to it. The conversation in the hearse stops now, all professionalism restored. As he pulls in to the car park his face becomes solemn.
They all gather in the car park. I am early. It’s a first and they all laugh about it. I was a notoriously bad timekeeper. I had received about ten watches as gifts over the years and now they will be divided out between the family, all unworn. They used to tell me I’d be late for my own funeral. It’s good to prove them wrong!
There is a half an hour wait before I am due in the chapel of rest. They all join queues for the toilets after the long journey. Then the smokers congregate to light up. Well most of them do. One or two of the grandchildren are tetchy, the smell of the smoke driving them crazy but they haven’t the nerve to light up in front of my son, an ex smoker.
My coffin is wheeled in the back door. I am next in line. My friends and family hover around the front entrance, tension mounting on their faces. Shauna suddenly remembers that they left the CD of my music in the car radio. Michael legs it over to where it is parked, glad to escape his wife’s strain for a moment. Just as he returns they are all called in.
I’m centre stage while some of my family and friends say a few kind words about me. As I see the pain etched on their features I reflect on my life. Was I a good father, husband, grandfather, friend? There are some things I’m not proud of and other things I am. I wonder will it actually matter in the end. There is no point in dwelling on regrets now. It’s too late for me.
I see an attendant signalling to my mourners that their time is up. They brace themselves. Most are crying but they give me a round of applause through their tears.
The curtain closes on my life.
I am just a memory.
©Tara Finnegan 12/7/2012