Standing outside the crematorium in small groups,
The sun is shining, I notice a beautiful bare beech tree and take a couple of pictures,
A freezing breeze whips around my bare knees but the rest of my legs are protected by my kilt and hose,
You arrive in a very conventional coffin, dark polished wood, brass handles and plaque,
Your immediate family arrive behind you, is it safe for you husband to be driving?
He wouldn’t trust anybody else, my partner says.
Your family, our friends, lead us into the chapel and my group sits on the left front row,
It feels a bit presumptuous to me, but it will make it easier for the viola player to get out,
You follow us this time, last in but you will be first to go,
You are expertly placed on the plinth, and then neatly covered up with a heavy tasselled cloth,
Sprays of freesias surround you, a cascade of yellow roses lies on top of you,
Yellow predominates, is yellow your favourite colour? Is that an oak coffin?
The tissues are distributed, it wont be enough.
Slow tears start to flow as soon as the celebrant starts, I stare ahead at the flowers occasionally dabbing my beard,
It would have been your forty seventh birthday today,
Different people stand up and say their own thoughts about you, the same themes keep cropping up,
Passionate, strong willed, strong opinions, love of learning, love of teaching children, acceptance, always caring for and thinking of others,
My son, the viola player gets up and stands next to your daughter, the violin player, it’s a beautifully played duet,
It is only when he comes to sit down that I realise he has been crying,
We are all silently crying now, my daughter though is on the verge of sobbing,
My wife and I sitting on either side of her take a hand each,
Why are the British so silent in their grief?
I feel a burst of anger probably, I am usually unable to fulfil this restraint, why should I feel embarrassed to cry in front of strangers?
In this situation our sorrow is the one thing that we truly have in common, the one thing we should be encouraged to share,
A moment of silence to remember you in our own minds, then music plays and the music turns into a French song,
During the song you leave us, you go down into the plinth and into the fire which reeks of unfortunate symbolism,
There are only subtle signs you have gone, a clunk of the mechanism resetting, and a small ripple in the cloth,
A part of me is angry at this hidden departure, the most dramatic point of the service is removed presumably to ease my pain,
I seem to feel cheated on some level but it isn’t just about me, perhaps I felt my chance to say a final goodbye has been missed,
Service over, your husband and two children lead out of the chapel but soon a bottleneck builds up,
They have formed a line, this is a tradition I want to avoid but know I can’t,
As I wait, waves of sorrow bash against my wall of composure, sparks of tears threaten to ignite a torrent of sobbing,
I breathe deeply and stare up at the windows above the door, not wanting to meet the eyes of people looking my way,
To each member of your family, I say thank you and give them a hug,
A hug is so much easier than words, you know I don’t think I’ve hugged your children as adults before,
As we wait for everyone to pass through the line, you cousin introduces herself and we hug,
Will the french exchanges continue without you?
I notice your son standing with a single yellow rose in his right hand,
It is a lovely symbolism I think.
Afterwards at the hotel, we get a drink and sit down,
Groups form, your daughter’s and my son’s friends congregate around us,
We bond through stories where you are a key figure and then move onto finding interests in common,
I wonder what will come from this diverse group meeting up,
Will the links you formed be continued or will they fade?
Only time we tell,
As we leave, my family remembers the Galette de Trois Rois you used to make,
We are not sure if it was a tradition or coincidence,
We decide to try and arrange another one this year.