Category Archives: Funeral
On Monday 24th July 2017 we said ta-ra to my mum, ‘Mombat’ to many of you out there in Internet Land. Here’s a brief thing about what turned out to be a very moving and celebratory day. As our three-car cortege left her house we passed her regular postman, Andy. He would regularly pop in and make sure Mum was alright, and she loved to give him mints. As we passed he stood and saluted in an emotional tribute, bless him.
“Blimey, she wasn’t half heavy”
The chapel at Poulton New Cemetery is small, and beautiful. My nephews, tall as the clouds, helped bear the coffin in to the strains of Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”, Mum’s favourite song. I don’t know how many the tiny chapel seats, but plenty of folk were left standing at the back as celebrant Jonathan Worthington began the service. Mum’s favourites, G-Line, had provided a coach to bring people to the service, since there was so little parking there, with Mum’s regular seat 3 left empty save for a picture of her, a simple gesture that touched my heart. Jonathan did us proud, taking us through Mum’s life, and including plenty of anecdotes to pay tribute to her humour as well as the song ‘Unforgettable’, which by crikey, she was. Mum had always told us that “if she went first”, she wanted bright colours and no religion, and Jonathan got it spot on. My sister Julie gave her own personal talk, and sang ‘Sunrise, Sunset’ with close friend Bernie, who called Mum ’Aunty Mum’. Brought a tear to my eye, so it did.
“Bye Mum, say hello to Dad for us”
After poems and more tributes, we moved out to the graveside accompanied by Andy Williams singing ‘Moon River’. Mum’s plot is between a Muriel and a Betty, so I reckon she’ll be alright for gossip. The pale sun hid behind a white veil as we held a short ceremony, including the poem ‘Do Not Stand at my Grave and Weep’ which brought more tears to my eyes. I was amazed at how deep the grave was. We dropped pink carnations (which Dad used to buy Mum regularly) after the coffin, each saying our own goodbye. I noticed Kit kiss her carnation before letting it fall.
“I don’t want a sit down meal, I want a bloody buffet”
Cars and coach ferried us across town for the wake. At the Golf Club, large screens were showing a slideshow of photos from throughout Mum’s life, and a banner announced ‘Jeanne’s Jolly Send Off’. A memory tree slowly grew leaves as people wrote their Mum memories and tied them on. Mum’s favourite singer, Eryl, had travelled up from Wales, and sang a selection of songs beautifully. Her rendition of ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ had my eyes rimmed with tears again. Mostly, though, we had a right good knees-up, with Eryl leading Mum’s friend May (who had travelled from Llandudno by taxi) and assorted ladies in a dance. Sod it, even I danced – blame the Bailey’s. And it was wonderful to meet Auntie Janet and John again, whom I haven’t seen for about five hundred years, and be reminded by Bernie of the flat I lived in at University back in the last century, where spaghetti hung from the ceiling.
“No, Nay, Never”
As the wake wound up and we said goodbye to the kind people who had come along, we hard-core family hied us away to my sister’s sunny, green garden, where we chatted and laughed and sang many songs. Mum would have loved it.
The winter sun poured a light like iced honey upon a corner of the cemetery that was sheltered by a thorny hedgerow, wherein flitted piping robins. Around twenty souls, Wombats included, had gathered around a wicker coffin suspended over a deep hole recently dug in the rough turf. We were there to celebrate the life of, and say goodbye to, one of the most caring, humorous, witty and downright mischievous women I’ve ever known. I met Erica Fairs in real life but once, though I knew her as a good friend for eight years, exchanging laughs and support and the occasional music recommendation regularly on Twitter.
The celebrant caught her life well, speaking to the importance to Erica of family, and of friends not only locally but all over the world through social media. He also spoke to the ultimate destination of the human form – gone, yes, but continuing not only physically in the genes of Erica’s children and grandchildren, but also virtually in all our memories. I hope that her husband John, son Dan and daughter Laura (and the rest of her family, of course – her sisters look remarkably like her, and hugging them felt eerily like hugging Erica again) understand that she will also live on around the world in the memories of friends that she made in cyberspace, too. Hundreds of us, as evidenced by her Twitter profile.
Later at the wake we listened to a song that Erica herself had introduced to me, Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters”, and ate sausage plait in her honour – she made the best damned sausage plait in history, apparently, as well as stunning roast potatoes. There were readings from Beowulf, suggested by more online friends Aven and Mark in Canada, and a slideshow of photographs from Erica’s life. She seemed to be smiling in them all.
Back in Eashing Cemetery the robins had continued their dance of life as the coffin was lowered, leaving the bright sunshine behind. Those gathered let fall flowers into the grave. As my own petals settled on the wicker lid I whispered for one last time the words that I had said to her so often over the years. “Goodnight, Sunshine”.
Arthur Harold Raby, my father-in-law, died on Tuesday 5th February. He was eighty-five. A bluff Yorkshireman with a dry wit, he drove railway engines for his whole working life. His final journey as a driver was an Inter City 125 express from London, terminating at Doncaster. Arthur terminated at Scarborough at about half past four in the afternoon.
This post is not so much about Arthur, however, as about his funeral, and the people I met there. East Riding Crematorium in Octon, near Driffield, is a quiet and beautiful place. Grassy lawns and reflective pools, and inside a lovely stained glass window showing a boat buggering off into a beautiful sunset beneath a rainbow. ‘Ship of Souls’ it is called, and made me think of the ending of the Lord of the Rings.
Amongst many cards we received was this from Arthur’s Salvation Army friend, Albert Skinner, one of only three people ever to be made an honorary citizen of Filey. “Please excuse scribble,” he says, in writing far better and more legible than mine, “But it’s not easy at 94.” Albert did attend the funeral, although it is hard for him to walk now, and he proudly wore his Sally Army uniform. The service was led by the lovely Major Susan, although I kept forgetting and almost called her ‘Major Barbara’ a few times, and once ‘Major Tom’.
I also had lovely talks with relatives not seen for a very long time, including a fascinating chat with Mary’s Uncle Bob, a one-time FIFA referee. He once sent off three players and booked eight in one match. For swearing. Imagine that happening now, eh? One of Arthur’s domino mates was an ex-goalkeeper who had played at Rawmarsh Welfare, the now-defunct football club next to the street where I grew up. We used to sneak in through a hole we’d dug beneath the boundary wall.
I called shotgun to sit in the front of the limo going back through the picturesque villages that dot the East Yorkshire countryside. Wood-panelled dashboard, gorgeous interior, and a driver who was also a grave-digger when he wasn’t driving. Another fascinating chat.
We’d arranged a ‘do’ at Arthur’s Snooker Club, one of the places he played his dommies, and a belting ‘spread’ it was. They also had Theakston Mild on draft – win! A tear came to mine eye when they told us that they have honoured Arthur by creating ‘The Arthur Raby Memorial Trophy’, to be competed for annually by the club’s domino players.
Arthur would have loved that. Sithee, Dad.