Biographical Non-Fiction posted April 19, 2015

This work has reached the exceptional level


by giraffmang

Funerals are strange affairs. You turn up sometimes and don't know anyone else there, yet you are all connected.

I recently attended a funeral of a man that I had not known for long. It was a sad time. The saddest thing about it was that only ten people turned up to send him off. As I sat in the small 'Memorial Room' at the Oxford crematorium, surrounded by empty chairs, I looked at the small gathering. Eddie's only surviving daughter, and her husband. A next door neighbour with her elderly mother, and a handful of cousins. And myself, of course.

I arrived at the crematorium around ten minutes before the service was due to start. It was a beautiful, April day. The sun was shining, and a gentle breeze rustled the leaves of the young trees planted in the memorial garden, where I paced about, waiting. I glanced at the small group of mourners, and didn't recognise a soul. I wondered if Eddie would have either. In the eight weeks I had known him, he hadn't received any visitors, except for his next door neighbour, Angela, who shopped for him. I spotted Angela, and her elderly mother walking down the gentle slope from the car park, so I ambled over to the edge of the small group as the doors to the room opened.

Eddie's coffin arrived in the back of a jet black hearse. You could hardly see the coffin inside through the window because of a massive sticker advertising the CO-OP FUNERAL SERVICES. A nice touch, don't you think? Has it got so bad that advertising needs to be there? As always, that box looked very small. Six anonymous employees carried Eddie into the room and placed him on the raised platform. I couldn't help but think that there were hardly enough attendees there to perform this duty, as is customary in Northern Ireland. I carried the coffin of my father, grandfather, and grandmother to their final resting places. But Eddie? Another little stab of pain to add to the day.

His coffin was covered in a scene of bluebells growing by a woodland clearing, interrupted by two large, yellow coloured handles which may have been brass. It somehow ruined the effect. Gentle music played as we filed in and stood by our chairs, until instructed to be seated by the woman who would conduct the ceremony, Ann.

On the seat beside me was a service guide. The cover had a picture of tulips and trees, with Eddie's smiling face -- the one I knew -- merged over the top, with his date of birth and death underneath. Beneath that were the words 'A Celebration of His Life'. My attention was drawn to the front as Ann informed us of the order of service. All funerals, are sad but this one affected me greatly. A man of ninety-four years when he passed away in a hospital bed, alone. Eddie had only been admitted to hospital a week or so before he shuffled off this mortal coil. A coil that had gripped tighter, and tighter, squeezing out the things he enjoyed and replacing them with aches, pains, and frustration. I like to think that Eddie chose his release. He threw off those restrictive coils, and runs free once again to roam over hills, and dales, feeling his legs strong beneath him. He'll be sitting in gardens and marching through woodlands, unrestricted and joyous. I defy anyone to tell me otherwise.

The service was short, and impersonal, even though written by his daughter. Although Eddie was bed-ridden for all the time I knew him, and for some years beforehand, his daughter, Marion, visited rarely or called. I don't know the reasons for this, but it does make you start thinking about your own life, and situation. I flitted between my thoughts and the details of the service, which was bland and lifeless. A celebration, indeed.

There were the usual verses, and readings, punctuated by bouts of instrumental music giving the mourners time to ponder and remember. All my memories put a smile on my face. I knew a funny man, despite his pain and diminishing faculties. Every morning, we would have a 'sing-song' together as he prepared for the day ahead. A day which consisted of sitting in his armchair in the lounge, reading, and watching television. Always pleased to see me when I popped back. We would chat over a cup of tea; a dash of milk and one spoonful of sugar for him in a long-spouted, adapted cup (for his swallowing). He would have a far off look in his eyes, as he told me about his time in the air force during the Second World War, and those 'Damn Yanks' coming and stealing the women. He told me how he had to 'fight them off' to win the hand of the woman who would become his wife. That was Eddie, always entertaining.

As the last piece of music played, the curtain slowly began its journey around the curved rail to conceal Eddie from us. When the music finished, we all stood and began to file out of the room. As it was a side door, and I was seated at the back, I let everyone go before me. I said my final goodbyes, and I could have sworn I heard Eddie hum.

Outside, I was stopped by Eddie's daughter.

"I'm sorry, but who are you?" She asked.

"I'm Gareth," I responded, "one of Eddie's carers."

"Oh..." Marion appeared quite flustered, having never met me before but knowing that I had visited Eddie almost every day for around two months.

"I'm very sorry for your loss," I responded, hoping to save some of her embarrassment.

"Yes. Thank you so much for coming."

And with that, Marion turned away, red-faced.

I walked back through the memorial garden, but not on my own this time. Eddie was with me, in my thoughts, and in my heart. I can hear him now as I write this, singing with me in my head. He's not really gone. Every errant thought, and fleeting memory, from those left behind keep the departed alive.

On the drive home, I thought about my own life and what all this meant to me. When I am gone, whenever that will be, how will I be remembered? I know how I would like to be remembered, and I hope it is thus:

Here lies Gareth G. Gray
1972 -- (insert end date when the time is right)
He Cared.


What's Your Story? contest entry


I have not embellished this memory, just added some commentary.
Sadly, and perhaps, disturbingly, no one else from the care company I work for turned up.

RIP Eddie - you are missed
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

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