Friday, February 8, 2008


I cannot say I am a great fan of them and I really don´t know what came into my head two minutes ago to make them the subject of a post.

I have been to four in a life of 45 years (but should have been present at six). That is one more than the number of weddings (one of which was my own) I have attended. Pretty good going for someone who doesn´t like funerals ...

The first I went to was I guess when I was around 15 years old for the mother of a contemporary of my brother from the ¨roughside¨ of town who had taken a bit of a shine to me.

The second that I didn´t go to was my father´s about six weeks after I had arrived here. My dad had a heart attack shortly before I was due to come here. Although he was still in hospital, my parents insisted this should not delay my departure to the new job and that if anything happened (like dying), there was no point in coming back. He seemed to recover and was discharged - but six weeks later died in his sleep at home. VSO offered to pay for me to go back to the UK ... but for what? A funeral.

After a wait of several weeks (sound like the NHS?), he was cremated and Mum drove around with his ashes in the boot (trunk) of the car for a few years until she could decide what to with them. It became a bit of a standing joke - ¨Is Dad still locked up in the boot?¨

The third occurred (and the second I attended) here when a great friend of my ex-partner and myself, affectionately known as Aunty, with her two grown-up children overseas, died in her fifties.

Th fourth (and the third I attended) was when the father of my ex-partner died. Her mother had gone overseas seeking treatment for cancer several months before but it had been too late and she had died. Father had a minor stroke and there remained but months.

Throughout the world it seems traditional to have a post-funeral function. This varies in form and solemnity. The stereotype of the Irish Wake and East End horse and carriage with brass band contrast with the ¨traditional¨ English post-funeral tea with sandwiches and cake served on the best china. Here too we have a variety of traditions as regards post-funeral functions depending on social status and ethnic group and ranging from a raucous party to genteel courtesy.

But my ex would have none of it.

We were chief mourners at the funeral and threw the first spades of earth over his coffin. Having done this, we turned around and walked out of the cemetery and defied tradition. Instead of returning to her father´s house, we went home. It was up to others, her father´s friends and relations, to organise the post-funeral ¨do¨.

The fifth (and the fourth I attended) was that of my trusted retainer, Antonio, who lived up here before we had built this house. He died from old-age and malaria. Myself and his son organised the funeral and I sobbed and sobbed as his coffin departed here and sobbed and sobbed as we buried him. An old rascal, I had known him for ten or more years and he had often consoled, comforted and given advice.

The sixth (which I didn´t attend) was that of my mother. She woke up one morning, brushed her teeth, got dressed and was just about to go downstairs to make breakfast when she had a stroke and dropped dead. A friend, with whom she had a pub lunch appointment discovered her later that morning. It was Nanda´s birthday.

My brother, of course, instantly dropped everything and drove down after ringing me at work.

Again funeral waiting times and uncertainty ...

So we discussed ... what do you want me to do? Come back for the funeral or come back and help out with the disposal of the house, the belongings etc etc? The latter was going to be more practical.

So once again I missed the post-funeral tea.

One of my first jobs when I arrived in the UK was to collect her ashes from the local Funeral Director´s. We had decided, in our inimical family style, that half her ashes would be scattered here (as Mum had been planning one last visit) and half in the UK so I had to get an export certificate from the undertaker - quite common practice it seems as many UK Hindus want their ashes scattered on the Ganges!

A last night in a sleeping bag on the living-room floor of Mum´s house.

I took my ¨half¨ of the ashes the two hour walk up to their final resting place, scattered them, and being alone in the middle of the rainforest, sobbed and screamed my heart out.

At least she didn´t live in the boot of a car for two years!

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