Hmm well that long weekend of personal injury and strange contrasts, which ended well.

Things got off to an inauspicious start when in a bid to rid myself of the
green gunge, I nipped down to Tescos for some emergency decongestants,
putt my hand in my pocket and removed a chunk of skin from my index
finger which persisted in bleeding everywhere and hurting like a demon.

Matters hardly improved as I hurried up to get into the car, inattentively
failed to fully raise up my right leg, clipped the doorframe and fell
face first smack onto the front step. From the perspective of 2 inches
off the floor as I exacted my face from the tiles and doing a quick
sense check to make sure everything was still attached and functioning
and discovering to my alarm and amusement that I had hilariously twisted
my ankle.

3-days away including New Years and a funeral, necessitates several changes of clothes and a small carrying case, which
is fine when there are 5 of your going down fitting all of that and 5
fully grown adult humans into the car as well is a bit of a stretch.
And so it was in this environment twisted and bleeding, as I already was
that I sustained my head injury.

The sequence of events was like this, I opened the door to get out at the services station, forgot I
was still plugged in, and so jerked, this caused my water bottle tucked
into the side of my satchel that was perched on my knees to fall out of
the car, I pushed open the car door to retrieve it, the blasted thing
is on a spring, so as I leaned forward out of the car the door closed on
my head.

That stung.

This was the last of the personal injuries to come, there is one more but it wasn't mine this time...

-----------------------

Nan gets deposited with my uncle, we learn the happy news my cousin is
being promoted (well done Jo!!!!!), then dash pel mel 20 minutes down
the way to the leafier suburb of my other family's digs.

Meeting and Greetings are made (Eldest cousin Anne is now engaged to Keith, and
eldest cousin of Dad's youngest sister Emma is going out with Nick, both
of whom appear with their respective cuddle-buddies)
The Irish contingent in the shape and sound of Rosemary is already in residence,
and is found in vigorous monologue featuring an energetic retelling of
the genealogies of the various families going back several centuries to
my Aunt Geraldine ('Gerry' to Nick, we learn) and mother to Emma (and if
your eyes are already rolling at the who's-who of tangled relationships
I've just indulged in, then take my word for it, we had nothing on
Rosemary. "Gerry" meanwhile sits attentive facing full on the machine
gun like stream of historical nuggets from the cushion opposite
occasionally interjecting with a surname of her research whereupon
Rosemary remarks on whom they were related to as well. Rosemary's
loose take on linearity in conversation (she's never really had need of
it) will feature again later. I leave as conversation tips into 5th
cousins and great-great-great-great-great aunts of somebody-or-other.

-------------------------------

Time for the funeral mass.

Dive into something smart, and everybody jumps into the various cars and
drives the 5 minutes distance to the chapel round the corner (this was
necessary because it was a) freezing cold) and b) good practice for the
funeral procession tomorrow.


Am struck not for the first time at the surreal nature of indecipherable rituals that are in my instance
entirely unpractised. You might on reflection consider this a good
thing but it made for a spot of discomfort especially when at nods and
winks to the priest the catholic faithful erupt into chants of memorised
replies. The reverential bowing in prayer and repetitions of liturgies
was a precursor of the main event. I am reminded of why I never got on
with churches for it seems everyone was privy to the big secret about to
what was supposed to happen except me. It's a feeling I've never quite
lost. Did my best to keep my atheistic urges and contempt for the Holy
See to a camouflaged minimum but I drew the line at thanking god for
anything or genuflecting. I was saying goodbye to Nanna.

Got my first surprise, pallbearers brought in the coffin and set it at the foot
of the altar. I'd kind of assumed that was only for the funeral.

Doused in holy water and adorned with crosses and gospels - the point was
rammed home repeatedly god had called his sister May home. If you
believe in the sort of thing.

However I was in the company of those who do, so there was a lot of family upset.

Speaking to Dad afterwards (who I've been keeping an eye on because he seems
curiously relaxed about it all. He surprised me with just how calm his
reasoning was. He saw her death truly as an end to her suffering and
that was all, in a way that really was relief. I'll take his word on
that as he saw her on the Monday, as she died Thursday / Early Friday,
that hen he'd seen her last she wasn't aware of who was there or what
was going on, basically asleep but seemed in some periodic discomfort
which was being eased (as her organs began to fail); it was a slow and
inevitable end that ended, and in that sense that she was dying for so
long and finally died wasn't terrible. And I agree with him about that.
It's like I'm sad but not upset. But then it's not *my* mum.

Dad was set to read the eulogy at the funeral proper; I wondered how he'd cope.

Coffin stayed in the church overnight, we all traipse back home and the now
assembled horde of 17 strong relatives clustered around the edges of the
living room begin the tried and tested method of banter and booze. New
inductees Kevin and Nick said afterwards the way everyone sparked off
each other was a sight to behold. 'Gerry' gets the biggest laugh of the
night for her inability to correctly annunciate the board games-title
"articulate", repeatedly referring to "Actifed" which by common acclaim
is agreed sounds like a cold remedy (and probably is).

In spite of needing sleep, didn't. Read Dilbert comics by the light of my mobile phone at 4am, instead.


---------------------

The funeral

As it's New Years Eve, we are apparently lucky to have gotten the hearse
and the one car for the service; everyone else suited and booted piles
into the assorted family cars.

The church is decently full, as friends and so on fill the pews to see her off.

Yet more indecipherable ritual according to an invisible script. Helpfully
the bits we are supposed to reply to were written down, it's still odd
when two thirds of those attending act like the demon headmaster is
leading proceedings. Then again I suppose that is sort of the point
what would be the point of the club if it weren't exclusive.

I do my bit for Nanna - a reading of the 22nd psalm - laid my hand on her
coffin as I pass. My talent for standing up and reading stuff out saves
me once more. Everyone thinks I did really well.

Am a little annoyed at the way the funeral meanders from topics of Nanna's salvation
in an afterlife, to how we mournful sinners must too also pray for her
and for ourselves (and for the saints and the pope).

If the religious aspect was already leaving me cold, things reach a personal
nadir for me when the priest voices the opinion that life is a
meaningless joke unless we surrender our good sense and reason and
wholesale start believing in miracles and mystery.

I resist successfully the urge to leave in disgust.

Dad's eulogy was easily the best part of the entirely thing, memories cribbed
from various family members, which painted a picture of the person
Nanna was, who was kind, motherly, gracious and accepting and surrounded
by friends and family both when she was living and again now that she's
dead. It proved the most human part of the entire morning and what an
antidote to all the heavy rhetoric about sin and Jesus. I get my
standing up and reading stuff out skills from him. He said the script
was the hardest thing for him he prefers to free form, so it was tough
for him to stick to it. But he did and it lifted the mood by reminded
us of the person in the pine box we'd come to see off.

More rituals of bells and incense and water and prayers followed. I presume this is significant to some people but not to me.

There is communion, Catholics are asked to bow and hold out hands,
non-Catholics and those forbidden from receiving the sacrament but who
wish to receive a blessing are asked to approach with hands folded
across the chest. I stay where I am. Dad, who's excommunicated, goes
up arms crossed with my mum, the protestant he married that got him
excommunicated.

Toughest moment was when the pallbearers arrived to take the coffin away. You realise it's her in there and though the
worst be past, this is really it.

Coffin is loaded into the hearse for the short trip to the cemetery, floral tributes are adorned,
including a large shamrock in the colours of Ireland. A nice touch.

Travel to the cemetery in the car (my brother Chris drives as he has
insurance) Rosemary and Dad's cousin Lisa are in the back, both think
the service was beautiful and wonderful.

Rosemary noted mum's receiving the blessing and asks me if she's a Christian scientist or
something. Protestants don't exist in the Catholic universe. Rosemary
and Lisa agree, funerals are tops, but cremations are just awful. I've
not the heart to tell them Dad wants nothing to do with being buried and
wants a cremation. Mum (probably confirming herself as some awful
heretic) meanwhile wants to donate her body to organ donors or medical
research whichever works out best or that Rosemary is in the car with
two atheists. I didn't want to shock her.

Funeral procession does a tour of the cemetery Everyone assembles at the
graveside. Priest says a few more things, dirt is sprinkled, and coffin is lowered. She's being placed on top of her husband, my grandfather Jerry (short for Jeremiah - not unlike his daughter "Gerry") who died
when I was just 2. She out-lasted him by nearly three decades.

We'll be back here in the morning but now it's time for a wake and a party.

---------------------

Wake is held at a nearby pub.
Food was good, the company great, everyone relaxes after the formal affair of the morning.

It does not pass unnoticed ad with a degree of rye amusement that there is
more life in the wake for the dead relative than there is amidst the
wedding party upstairs, which detachments sent to the toilets inform us
is being conducted in virtual silence.

After a while people are departing the hard-core of family (17 last night - 19 tonight) return
back to my Aunt's House to see in the New Year. I grab the opportunity
for a quick nap, to gain back the sleep I missed out on earlier.

I discover to my delight that a distant relative is also an atheist and
was dismayed by the priest's dismissal of life as meaningless. Spend an
enjoyable evening discussing with him what rot the bible is. Loads of
fun!

Am being plied with alcohol.


I grab my camera and get a load of photos of people having a good time.

Contrary to my expectations, holding the funeral on New Years Eve made for good
sense in the end. There was a real demarcation between the suits and
mourning of the morning, and the jeans and dresses of the evening, aside
from the physical act of getting changed, there was a psychological
edge to it, in that this year and all it's troubles was being left
behind. All of that was literally past. Tonally it was the perfect
antidote. I don't honestly think it could have been bettered.

There was music and conga. Dad and Uncle Barry jousted. Come midnight, the
champers was distributed in fluted glasses and a new year toasted in
with a refrain drawn from Nanna at her irascible best:

"Urgh - this tastes like poison; I hate New Years."

Party goes on late into the morning until eventfully everyone collapses and the remainder go home.

--------------------------

The next morning....


The tale of personal injury returns, I am informed of the deep offence I
apparently caused in sending photos of Chris's half-marathon earlier
this year that included the sacrilegious Protest against The Pope.

I'm not quite sure what has gone wrong (best I can figure it the marathon
and the protest are only queued sequentially as that was the order in
which they were uploaded to Flickr, so somehow Maura had found a way
from the set folder into my photo-stream) but nevertheless I was in the
doghouse for that one.

Apologies were made. Obviously the wrong photos had been sent. However it speaks to something how I was
sought out when alone to be told this grievance in private and that my
role in the funeral - knowing this - was still entertained.


Everyone emerges by about 11, and the remaining champers is converted into bucks fizz and consumed.

Alcoholics go to meetings. We are just drunks.

Later everyone goes back over to the grave. I take my camera with me this
time, as I don't know when next I'll be back in Brentwood.

Nanna's grave has now been covered in the flowers from the hearse.

The headstone will need to be altered to include her legend along with
Jerry's but that won't be for a while, as apparently the ground has to
settle before it can be replaced.

The strangeness of death is apparent once more.

We wrap things up by paying our respects to Lesley and Terry's daughter.
It strikes me I'm saying goodbye to a grandparent whom I've always known
and a 2nd cousin I never knew.

And with that we left and came home.

2011... here we come....


Additional notes:

The headstone is planned to read: May & Jerry Healy - a loving father
greatly missed and a wife, mother, grandmother and great grandmother.

The latter veneration being accurate by virtue of only a few hours but true nonetheless.

-----------------

I met Rosemary again the New Year's morning and experienced the monologue
for myself which concerned (I think) her father, where he worked his
qualification as a tradesman, his hobbies, his possession of a bicycle,
what happened to that bicycle over several decades how it was sold, the
musical traditions of Ireland, and how Rosemary had noticed a photograph
on the wall of a motorcycle, had located the manager of the pub and
asked about it's ownership - and it went on without pausing for breath.

By this point I'd buttered my toast so beat a hasty retreat for the relative sanity of the living room.

-------------------

Observation: I love my family unconditionally.





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Comment by Keith O'Connor on January 5, 2011 at 6:08pm

That was really interesting. You've got a voice and at times there's a real magic to the way you say things. Kind of a latter-day Catcher-in-the-Rye kind of voice. I got a good feel for the time you spent with these relatives.

As to all the accidents you had, I have those days too. I call them "Stooges Days". It's when I reach for a piece of paper but it falls to the floor, and I bend over to get it but miss with my hand and come back with nothing, so I bend back down to get it and smack my head into the corner of the formica tabletop, causing blood to gush all over the room -- and my hand never did come back with the bit of paper. Stooges Days; have 'em all the time. The only remedy is to move VERY slowly.

And of course, I identified with all the atheist stuff. I detest being around believers. I feel they're just lying, to themselves, to me, to everyone. I don't believe they believe. I feel your isolation at that event. Thanks for writing it down for us to see.

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