“ACTUALLY Mum, this is the second funeral I’ve been to,” said seven-year-old Billy, correcting my statement to an elderly relative at the gates of the cemetery. “I went to Uncle Joe’s, when I was a baby.”
I’d been explaining that seeing off their great-great Aunty Mary was the first time our children had been to a funeral, and how I hoped it wasn’t going to upset anyone.
We’d already been through the actual death part a week before, when I had the inevitable call that my 92-year-old great aunt had passed away. They said right away that they wanted to go to her funeral.
My great Aunty Mary was the last surviving relative of that generation across both sides of our families. Neither Bloke or I have any grandparents. They died more than a decade ago. So Aunty Mary and, until he died in 2004, her twin brother Uncle Joe, had been the only genuinely old relatives our children had ever known.
We had always visited her in her flat each time we headed to Newcastle to visit Grandma and Grandad.
They had smiled through years of cheek-tweaking, never quite being able to fully understand her Geordie accent but happy to accept the biscuits and comics she bought especially for their visits. They sent her drawings and she had photos of them all over her flat.
She had been ill for a while, and we’d detected that things weren’t well last May when she sent 11-year old Dougie a pink glittery birthday card for an eight-year-old girl. She still wrote ‘to Dougie’ inside, so she wasn’t completely do-lally.
When she died Billy was full of questions. We’d had a conversation when he had a phase of waking up crying about death some months ago. I had to remember what I’d said.
In a nutshell, I explained how she’d been poorly because her body had just got worn out, and that she was very, very old. And that some people thought that when you died, your soul, or your spirit went somewhere else where they met up with all the people they’d loved who had also died. I told him that when he was a baby, he’d been with me to a funeral for Uncle Joe, and that people had been sad because they weren’t going to see Joe again, but that Billy had cheered them up.
Then the older boys started asking about the funeral. Would they get to chuck soil into the grave? When the cremation happened, did you actually see the fire? Obviously, their only references came from films and TV and the rampant imaginations of teen boys.
I explained how at cremations they usually brought the coffin into the church first and then had a service to remember all the brilliant things about Aunty Mary.
I said that people, including me and their grandparents, might get upset and may even cry, but that was just what happened at funerals because people who loved someone were often sad to say goodbye and that everyone reacts in different ways.
Then I explained that an automatic curtain would probably pull around the coffin at the end. “Ah,” said Dougie. “Like in the Simpsons.”
The funeral went really well. They children all behaved brilliantly (although Bonnie was bribed with iced gem biscuits which she squished into the chair). One of their junior cousins shouted a huge ‘Hurray!” after the vicar’s final “Amen”, which lightened the mood somewhat.
Afterwards we had a wake at my parents’ house and the children got to met lots of relatives they couldn’t remember.
Bonnie found a new cousin Freya, (my cousin’s daughter), from Ireland, and the pair of them spent the afternoon looking suspiciously at each other or giggling and running around bonkers.
Thankfully, everyone seemed relieved there were children there.
I know Aunty Mary would have been delighted.