Those of you who are older will already be aware that attending funerals becomes more familiar in later life. Those days of youth, where you only heard about the deaths of great-grandparents and aged aunts, rarely seen, and hardly remembered, are now behind us. By a certain age, you begin to attend the funerals of close family members and cherished friends not much older than yourself.
Yesterday was such a day. We had to journey to west London, to say farewell to one of Julie’s favourite uncles. He had lived a long and enjoyable life, and his recent death had been expected, after a long period of illness. But that never makes it any easier, not really.
A weekday trip from Beetley to the edge of central London is always going to be something of a mission. Having to leave at the time of peak traffic, around 8 am, and get across Norfolk to the motorway network is challenging at almost any time. Wednesday morning greeted us with thick fog, accompanied by torrential rain. Visibility was less that 200 yards in any direction, and the other drivers were impatient, and not proceeding with care, as is often the case. For a change, I had allowed enough time, and after a tiring and stressful drive, we arrived with forty minutes to spare.
Meeting the relatives outside, everyone smartly-dressed, and pleased to see each other, despite the occasion. Some had been seen recently, only a few weeks ago. Others arrived with their children, hardly glimpsed in years. Little boys now grown up, standing tall next to their fathers. Young girls once seen playing in a garden, now resembling their mothers; driving cars, already working. They glance at my unfamiliar face, knowing I am somehow related, but not really remembering, after ten years. Cousins tell us that we have not met since our wedding, in 2009. Can it really have been over six years?
Then there are the friends of the deceased; former colleagues, old drinking buddies, members of the same clubs. These are unknown to all but a few, but their respectful attendance is greatly appreciated, and we make our introductions. Filing in to our seats in the chapel, we listen to an Italian tenor singing a sad song on the music system. For many, this brings the tears, and the confirmation that his cheery face, and cheeky banter, will be seen and heard no more. The priest reads the words; vignettes of a long and eventful life, some basic prayers, followed by a reading from a nephew, of a touching, uplifting poem.
And then it is over. We walk out into the renewed rain, arranging lifts to the wake venue, loaning umbrellas to those on foot, and giving directions to the pub just along the road. Inside and out of the weather, photos are passed around, acquaintances renewed, and some cousins discovered for the first time, to surprise and excitement. Some food, and a few drinks, more talk of a man who will be sorely missed. As always on these occasions, we lament the fact that we seem to only ever meet at funerals, and sometimes at weddings too. Modern life seems to have scattered families that would once have lived within walking distance of each other.
The drive home was equally long and tiring, with London traffic and darkness replacing the rain and fog. Ollie was collected from our neighbours. His sheer delight at seeing us both was a joy to behold.
The next day, life continues as normal, until the next time.