The fog hangs damp on this early December morning as we prepare to accompany my father’s final journey. The hearse is already here and I’m not ready: shoes, suit jacket, card for the flowers. I’m not sure we’re ever ready. Outside, as the black-suited driver and his fellow pall-bearer wait patiently, car door open, I pause on the pavement just to see: here is my father’s coffin; they’re arranging flowers and cards inside. There’s a heavy element of the unreal about all this: all those times and now this time.
We’re quiet in our various private thoughts as we slowly drive along the local roads. Then there are tears and realisations. Along the way, cars slow or stop on the opposite side of the road as we pass. Soon we’re heading north out of town. The fields are frosted over still, despite the lateness of the morning. The sun is a hazy possibility struggling behind the thickness of the cotton wool day: greyed over us. Slow motion folds over me as we enter the long, winding driveway to the crematorium. Here is the garden of remembrance, a pond for meditation, stones and flowers and ribbons on tiny trees. Where is everyone we know? The suited woman alights from the hearse in front and walks ahead. This symbolism of our modernity enwraps me. Slowly, slowly the rest of the family members and friends, those we know, trickle from the room where they’ve been waiting.
Here we are. The slow flow takes me. I take one of my mother’s hands and we walk behind my father’s raised coffin. I have been to funerals before but some particular ceremonies are impossible to fully assimilate: in the moment, after in the writing, and on. Is it this symbolic and ceremonial to define us, above even language? There are some beautiful words said, but there are beautiful words also felt, and beautiful sadness, without language itself, infusing this.
Dad catches us out, unawares, with words he asked Mum to promise she’d let us know. I will always hold these, just as I hope he heard my words to him, in that hospital room, and took them with him, some nights later, that night which already seems misplaced from reality. There is a gap in the calendar: it will be the yearly unreal in which to fall.
Words and symbolism and the felt-though-unspoken are breathless depths. When the curtain closes on my father’s coffin, despite assurances that it’ll remain intact whilst we’re all there in the chapel, I’m not ready. Maybe I’ll be ready, one day, when I least expect it.
After the quiet condolences of friends and family in the courtyard, and as we drive away, the fog lifts: the sun bleeds out over the white-frosted early afternoon fields, this early December day of continuing innocent unreadiness.