One of my uncles was cremated yesterday. He was dead. Leukemia. My sister told me the news when I was in Prague the other week; the text took eleven hours to come to my phone. Bad news travels slowly.
These are the main occasions for family gatherings now, as my parents’ immediate families are all getting well into their seventies and eighties. Still it’s always nice to catch up with the innumerable uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews, nieces and various other clan members, see who’s had more children, who’s living where, who’s likely to be next. You know.
I went with my cousin Shazza and her parents, one of my dad’s many brothers and his wife. We went in convoy with Shazza’s husband and a large part of the South Wales branch of the family following us. Those of us in our faction met up at a Garden Centre cafe atop a bleak hill overlooking the channel on one side and the municipal burial grounds on the other. It was race day too, so the tang of horse sweat and bookies’ aftershave scented the late morning air.
Family bonds were confirmed over coffee and tea, new family members welcomed and old friendships rekindled. After half an hour or so we made our way down the hill to the crematorium and gathered outside, meeting up with the rest of the family. Hundreds of us. Friends too. Uncle Wilf, as the celebrant was later to admit in the course of his elegy, wasn’t the most devoted husband or father in the world, and saw more of his drinking pals than he did his children, all of whom were there. Mags, the divorced widow was there too, but she was always part of the family landscape long before they married, and to many of us is as good as a blood relative anyway.
The bulk of his drinking pals were there too, along with Gus & Hazel, the landlord and landlady of his local, who could well have been the saddest to see him go, for reasons of their own. Wandering around the clientele of the Albino Stag, shaking hands, hugging and cracking jokes of long familiarity as seemed appropriate to each I was asked by a few nervous looking locals if ‘my girl’ was going to attend. No, she wasn’t. ‘My girl’, my oldest daughter, is in the police, and a few outstanding warrants could have been executed if she’d been there, was the worry, I think. She never mixes business with grief or pleasure though, my girl.
When we trooped into the chapel I Have a Dream by ABBA was playing. I think ABBA songs should be mandatory at funerals, personally. It was a humanist ceremony. Auntie Mags sat facing the coffin red faced and slightly tearful, and we all chuckled as Wilf was described quite accurately as, among other things, a human disaster area. His life was nicely precised in thirty minutes, enlivened by two Queen songs, which I don’t care much for, but it was Wilf’s funeral not mine so I’m not about to complain.
My dad was desperate for a pee towards the end, so I escorted him out to the lavs out the back. Then I had to turn all the taps on because he was howling that he couldn’t go after all. It worked.
Then we went back to the pub for a drink. All good. Bye Wilf.