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.