Posted by Lyra Mollington
With the ‘Funeral Services of the Christian Churches in England – New Edition’ tucked safely in my bag, I set off for the crematorium. I planned to go to the office and apologise for inadvertently taking it. I decided that this would be more dignified than replacing the book surreptitiously during a service. Also, I wanted to leave my options open. If the 12.30 funeral looked sparsely attended I would head home and catch the last 15 minutes of Bargain Hunt.
As I approached the gates, I spotted a police car in my rear view mirror. What are the chances? I told myself off for being silly. The police had far more important things to do than lie in wait for an OAP to return to the scene of her crime or, rather, to the scene of her momentary lapse of concentration.
Needless to say, the police car parked alongside me. I took great care when I opened my door. A few of my previous dealings with the police flitted through my mind…on one occasion I was stopped for going through a red light at two o’clock in the morning. One glance at Mr M snoring in the passenger seat and the lady police officer let me off with a sympathetic smile and a, ‘Be more careful next time.’ I wasn’t sure if she was talking about my choice of marriage partner or the traffic lights.
Having returned the book, I saw that a large crowd was gathering in front of the chapel doors. I joined the mourners and before long we were asked to ‘please take your seats in the chapel’. Yes, I thought, and that’s all I’ll be taking today. I’m not even going to risk a photograph. I held back as everyone began filing in knowing that, even if I was last in, I would find a seat near the front.
I had just ‘taken my seat’ when a short, stocky man off to my right started remonstrating with the funeral director. He sounded annoyed and I heard the words ‘dim-witted’ and ‘flowers’. However, after just a few words (inaudible to me) from the funeral director, Mr Short-and-Angry had retreated.
I must have been staring for slightly too long because the person next to me said, ‘Dave’s brother, Roy. Dave couldn’t stand him. Looks like he wants to play the grieving relative.’
I nodded and pretended to check the shelf in front for an order of service. My neighbour chuckled, ‘Nothing worth pinching here love!’
I could feel my cheeks redden. Then I smiled hoping that he wouldn’t ask me how I knew the deceased.
‘I’m Neil. We’ve met before haven’t we?’
I have found that, when in a potentially awkward situation, revealing as little as possible is usually the best option. I pretended to look thoughtful for a few seconds.
‘Waitrose?’ I suggested. Neil nodded and shook my hand, ‘Any friend of Carol’s is a friend of mine.’ I smiled again.
To my relief the chapel attendant’s voice boomed out, ‘Will you please stand.’ Unfortunately, my new friend continued talking over the music. (Something by Pink Floyd.)
‘57…no age is it? Lung cancer. Never smoked in his life. Ridiculous.’
As the vicar introduced the first hymn, Neil quipped, ‘Can’t beat a bit of Love Divine – as the actress said to the bishop!’
To his credit, Neil sang beautifully. But all too soon we were sitting down again and when we were invited to pray, he couldn’t resist another joke, ‘Eyes down, look in…’ And, after Reverend Roger had read from Revelations, Neil whispered, ‘No disrespect but, as Dave would’ve said, “What a load of old cobblers!”’
When Rev Roger spoke about Dave’s successful career as a builder, Neil’s commentary continued, ‘He couldn’t wait to retire – poor bugger! Be careful what you wish for.’
After a few words about Dave’s family and his beloved wife Carol, who had nursed him until the end, Roger completed the eulogy by saying, ‘Carol has asked me to tell you how much Dave valued his friends. He had known his best friend Neil since junior school – fifty years of loyal friendship and a lot of laughter along the way.’
Poor Neil let out an involuntary cry which he quickly stifled. I handed him a tissue – I always have a handy pack in my bag. He nodded but didn’t utter another word until the final piece of music began, ‘Your Song’.
‘Carol and Dave chose that together. It’s Ellie Goulding. Beautiful isn’t it?’
We walked to the courtyard together. Dave’s brother Roy was slightly ahead of us and speaking in an angry voice again. This time it was to the vicar. Something about the eulogy being an ‘absolute disgrace’. Sadly the vicar didn’t seem to be having quite the same calming influence as the funeral director earlier.
Neil grinned. ‘He’s upset because he didn’t get a proper mention. You know, he never visited or phoned when Dave was ill. And he was always jealous of Dave and how happy he and Carol were. Come on! Let’s see how Carol’s doing.’
I told Carol that Neil had been looking after me. She had no idea who I was of course but she put her arms around me and thanked me for coming. Neil beamed proudly. I thought about the words on the apron my son bought me for Mother’s Day: ‘Keep calm and carry on’.
Angry Roy was now kneeling next to the flowers reading all the cards. The unwanted guest being watched by the uninvited guest. I left before anyone noticed.
© Lyra Mollington 2012