On the 18th January, I wrote a post called ‘A sad end to a Sunday.’ I had just heard about the death of a very close and valued friend, and that was my way of dealing with my shock at receiving the news.
On Monday 9th February, his funeral was held, in a pleasant cemetery in south-west London, bordering Surrey. Of course, we were always going to attend. I had to say goodbye to my friend, and to give my personal condolences to his family, face to face. I had also been asked to speak at the service, along with four others. This was an undoubted honour, and I took it as such. There was also the chance to catch up with his son and daughter; lovely people, and both very dear to me. I was told that at least sixty people were coming. Considering the average age of the mourners, and the distances that many had to travel, this was indicative of the level of grief, and the determination to say their individual farewells. I would know many of them, and be acquainted with others in passing. All in all, this was an occasion not to be missed.
If only it had never had to happen, at least just not yet. That would have been so much better.
Because of the time involved in travelling from Norfolk, we arranged to stay with a another old friend the night before. She kindly offered to take us to and from the ceremony as well, alleviating some of the stress associated with the occasion. On the morning, we left in good time, preferring to arrive too early, than to be late. The sun shone, and the day was unusually warm for February, all boding well for lightening the mood. But my mood was suitably dark. I didn’t really want to say goodbye. I wanted more time with him; a few years, at the very least. But it was not to be. My speech, such as it was, was prepared far in advance. I knew what I wanted to say about someone who had been my educator, my inspiration, my mentor, as well as a cherished lifetime companion.
Although we had been asked to be colourful, and avoid the sombre, I couldn’t bring myself to do this. I wore black tie, black coat, and a black mood inside. Before the funeral, we encountered more old friends and former teachers, many unchanged over decades. For them, identification was difficult. Once seen as children in burgundy uniforms and caps, we now stood before them with receding hair, the wrinkles of stressful lives, and the weight of our experiences showing clearly. The turnout was very good, more than twice what you might normally expect to see these days. So much so, that many had to be content to stand outside, and watch the proceedings through the doorway. After a short introduction, establishing a non-religious, Humanist theme, the speakers were called forward.
A son, who was also a friend, spoke eloquently. His emotion was palpable, and I know that I felt it.
An ex-wife, still a friend, spoke with fond recollection of babies and first homes.
A brother, as well as a best friend, struggled with reminiscences of boyhood, tears flowing.
A colleague, and close friend too, lifted the mood with amusing stories that raised spirits.
In there somewhere, I spoke as a pupil, and great friend also, breaking down as I concluded.
Afterwards, we retired to a pub in the area. A reserved section was packed out; nobody had wanted to leave after the service. We reconnected, discovered new people, and told our tales as only those that knew him well could. Good food was served, drinks flowed, yet there was a sense of a cloud over the room. We had to leave after less than two hours, as the journey back to Norfolk was long, and it had been a tiring day. But we left in the knowledge that most were still there, sharing stories and anecdotes, giving comfort to those around them.
On the way home, I was unsettled, still upset. I had hoped for closure, but it felt too soon still. Despite all the positives of the day, I was left feeling empty. It will be some time before that goes.
Goodbye Pete, my dear friend. It will never be the same without you.