I don’t know anything about traditions of death throughout the world, apart from that they are many and various.
In Ireland we have a wake. A time when the remains can be viewed, most often at home. People come to pay their respects, share stories, pray, drink tea and socialise. Family, friends and the wider community are invaluable. An outpouring of love, carrying the bereaved over the shock and through the funeral rituals.
We came back from the hospital after Herself died, and I flapped. I walked round in circles and thought about all the things that needed to be done. I hummed and haaaed and waved ineffectually at spaces, wondering what we should do with them. We left for the mortuary, leaving friends, relations and the Magic Organising Fairy in the house. A few hours later the house was transformed: it was pristine, there were flowers, a huge boiler and dozens of proper china cups. There were extra stools and rearranged furniture. Biscuits, buns and sandwiches had appeared, along with tissues, bin bags and tea towels. Gallons of milk.
For two days I was fed and watered, made to sit down, and introduced to relations of relations, and people who’d worked with Herself and the Old Man 40 years ago. I talked to hundreds of people. I cried and prayed and laughed. I got confused by the number of priests who appeared. I could hardly grasp that I didn’t need to sleep in my clothes. All the uncles and aunts were there, mourning, organising and just being with their younger sister. We all cried some more.
Friends, neighbours, carers, fellow golfers turned up in their droves to see Herself and support us. Every second person told me how like her I am. A compliment indeed. Unlike the two seperate people lucky to be walking round in one piece since they asked me if I was ‘one of the sisters?’ (You’d want to hit them too: the aunties range in age from 65-88; I’m 46. My faux outrage at least had entertainment value.)
People didn’t ask us what needed done- they just did it or turned up and let the Magic Organising Fairy give them a job. People of all ages, from the frail and elderly to the girls skipping around with trays of food. The approachable, friendly undertaker did an incredible job of sorting everything and keeping us on track. What a marvellous role- to spend your working life helping people when they are at their most vulnerable and lost.
A funeral mass that we’re all pretty sure she’d have liked- a packed chapel, a multitude of priests, the Incredible Singing Cousins. Be very careful of having anyone sing Ave Maria. The Incredible Singing Cousin made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck and had the rest of me dissolve into a puddle. The Junior Incredible Singing Cousin sang Pie Jesu as we left the chapel. It was perfect. Those women are wonderful. They did that for Herself and I’m sure she loved it.
You’ll know that Girl1 loves to perform, and an audience. A strange church, a huge congregation, her grandmother’s funeral- no bother to her. She bounded on to the altar and read prayers as if she was born to it- loud, clear and distinct. The whole family beamed with pride. I imagined two thumbs up from the lady in the box. Some of the Cousins from the Kitchen (are you thinking Upstairs Downstairs?) had yet another job, to carry up gifts. We’re hard task masters, us orphans.
The heavens opened to welcome Herself at the graveyard. (I’m recently bereaved; I’m allowed to use ridiculous clichés like that.) We broke our hearts as she was laid to rest in the place she’d been expecting to be buried since Granda cheerfully bought the family plot in about 1962- ‘You’re going to be buried with our folk’. Herself and the Old Man weren’t even engaged at that point, but everyone knew.
Soup, sandwiches and tea at the Golf Club (where else?) and then a general retiring to the bar. Chat and catching up on everyone else’s life. Preparing to move on to the next phase.