She left her heart…

My mother had six months to plan her funeral.  As she said to Phil, whom she met for the first (and only) time at her last Christmas, “I’ve received my death sentence, you know.”  As a near-to-introductory remark, it was quite a show-stopper.  She spent a lot of time poring over the Bible, choosing the reading and even longer deciding on the hymns.  There was nothing untoward about any of the service, but the rest of the arrangements were rather more complicated.

My mother was married twice and widowed twice.  My father died when she was forty-six and she married again six years later.  Her second husband died ten years later when she was only sixty-two.  In each instance there was a double grave ready for her too – “double graves all over Suffolk,” as she put it.  She lived next to us for the last fifteen years of her life, half an hour’s drive from where she’d lived with my stepfather.  So, planning her funeral, she was in a quandary.  She reluctantly decided that there was no possibility of including her first husband in the reckoning.  After all this time, she didn’t really want her funeral in Wrentham where she used to live.  Most of her friends had died or moved from there and she didn’t know the minister, whereas she and our Rector here were good friends.

I must remember to tell you about when he visited her a week or two after she came out of hospital.

The final decision she came to was to have her funeral service here and then be buried with Wilf in Wrentham.  This was logical and really quite sensible, in its way.

You know when you go to a funeral in a church and then are invited back to the house or a local hotel afterwards, but the immediate family has gone off to the crematorium and you have to wait an hour awkwardly before they come back?  I didn’t want that to happen.  If there’s one thing I learned from my mother, and actually there were others, it was to put guests first.  So it was decided that the best option was to have the funeral in our church in the morning, then everyone come back here for lunch, then book the undertaker to return a couple of hours later and drive over to Wrentham for the burial.  The day before the event, I and various other people spent preparing food and then I was up again at 5 am cooking again, with an obsessive fear that there would not be enough.   Weeza thought I was a bit cracked and I probably was.  The funeral went smoothly, not that I remember anything about it, though it seemed a bit odd to walk out leaving the coffin behind.  The Rector murmured to me, when he joined us at home, that he had locked the church door.  A bit disconcerting for a chance visitor otherwise.

None of my children wanted to come, so the Sage and I left them in charge of the few remaining guests. I was touched that several friends did come with us, I hadn’t expected them to.  Ian, the Rector, came too.  We drove behind the hearse for a slow 15 miles to Wrentham church.  The coffin was unloaded and borne in on the pallbearers’ shoulders.  Up the aisle, with all of us solemnly following behind, up to the chancel … then a swift turn-about and it was carried out again.  She’d wanted a final visit to the church. The cemetery is separate from the church, the graveyard having been filled many years previously, and the coffin was loaded back into the car again.

Our bewildered followers obediently climbed back into their cars – and found themselves driving only 200 yards before stopping behind the hearse again.  The Sage and I, with prior knowledge, walked.  We all trooped behind the coffin again, caution on the faces of the followers who felt that there might be another detour, but the grave was ready for her.  We finally lurched home in the mid afternoon.  The whole thing must have taken five hours.  We felt that, ideally, she would have preferred a timeshare arrangement in Oulton Broad with my father, Wrentham with my step-father and the churchyard here where she lived.

14 comments on “She left her heart…

  1. Blue Witch

    Planning onbe’s funeral is something that everyone should do, but few actually manage. I always think it makes things so much easier for those close to the deceased.

    This could be the most interesting ever!

  2. Nellig

    I have to say, that sounds like a really good funeral, highly personalised and stamped with your mother’s individuality. Chanelling your distress into frenzied cooking sounds a very sensible and harmless coping strategy. Food is strongly connected with love and nurturing, so you went into overdrive.

    Of course funerals are sad and painful, but they have a strangely heartening and enjoyable side. They’re only horrible when they’re soulless, one-size-fits all affairs where it feels hollow, as if people are just going through the motions.

    Your arrangements sound as if they admirably did all the subtle emotional stuff that ritual is designed to do for humans.

  3. Alienne

    I think it is very good when people tell their relatives what they want; I wish my husband had told us. My aunt died recently and she did tell her daughters what she wanted at her funeral; I shall make a point of asking my mother now. The over 70s are far less squeamish talking about such things than the young.

  4. Z

    It may sound awful, but we ended up in fits of laughter on the way home. Those puzzled, kind people who came with us to the end, the sheer length of the event. It certainly wasn’t soulless.

    Planning your funeral is a good idea, but I’m not sure it makes things that much easier for the relations. It depends on your plans!

    Sometimes people do want to talk about their death and their family won’t let them. My friend was telling me a couple of weeks ago that she was jollying her mother in law out of being morbid, and I suggested she let her talk. Her mind will be relieved, if she’s wanting to sort out some practical things. And she knows her health is failing.

  5. Mike and Ann

    Ten years before she died, my Mother-in-law (who was a very clear minded woman in her way), gave me a list of hymns she wanted sung at her funeral. She died last September, and at the family get-together to discuss arrangements, I produced that handwritten list, and it avoided a lot of discussion. I think everyone should do at least as much. In fact I was so impressed with her forsight, that I wrote my own list out, and we’ve told our youngsters of our own preferred arrangements. I know people think this morbid, but I’ve never understood the general desire to try and ignore what is, after all, the inevitable.

  6. Z

    I have been considering my funeral hymns for some years. One, I decided on but the other, or maybe others, there are still several front runners. I chose the coffin years ago, but unfortunately I had the website bookmarked on a computer that crashed terminally and I can’t find the exact one again.

    Thank you for the reminder!

  7. Mike and Ann

    When Dutch elm disease was rampant Ann’s father decided to buy enough elm wood to have his coffin built of it (as a Norfolk fenman,elm, being water resistant, was the most popular wood for the purpose). He told his wife of this plan, and she wasn’t much in favour of it. “What will you do with it till it’s needed?” she said, “It will have to be big to fit you”. “We’ll keep it in the bedroom till then. And as it will be built to fit me, it’ll be perfect for hanging my suits in.” It was the one occasion, I think, when Gran put her foot down and had her own way.


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