Saturday, June 15
I was up in bed reading at 1.30 in the morning when my mobile phone rang downstairs. By the time I got there, the caller had rung off and there was no indication of who it was in my recent calls. I instantly thought of herself who was due to be arriving in Addis Ababa. Had something gone wrong? Mr. Waffle was off in Copenhagen for the weekend (a college reunion) and I sat up in bed reading and worrying for a bit. At 2 the phone rang again and I leapt out of bed and got there just in time. It was my brother. The nursing home had called him, my mother had just died. He was actually in Dublin for the weekend. I drove out to his friend’s place in West Dublin and at 3 in the morning in driving rain picked up him and his bike and brought them back to our house. We couldn’t get my sister.
I went back to bed but I couldn’t sleep which never happens to me. My sister said, a bit tartly, I thought, “If this teaches you some empathy with people who can’t sleep, it won’t be a bad thing.” I spoke to her in the morning. She went to tell my father which was a pretty miserable job. My brother went down to Cork on the train. I was going to drive down with him and the boys but then I thought that would be crazy, the boys were only back from Cork and how would it help. I think I put in the longest day on Saturday. I told Mr. Waffle but unfortunately he couldn’t get back from Copenhagen until the following day. I told the boys about their grandmother. They were surprised and a bit sad but very kind to me. I rang my mother’s oldest friend from college and told her. I told the woman from the church that I wouldn’t be able to run the ice cream stall at the garden party the next day. I emailed work, I texted my boss. I tried to ring herself in Zambia but no joy. Michael had his drama showcase that day so Daniel and I went in. All the time I was exhausted and slightly spaced out. It all felt completely surreal. While the boys were great I did feel a bit alone; stuck in Dublin, unable to go to Cork.
My brother and sister went to see the body in the nursing home. My sister sent me a photo. It was pretty awful not to be there. My father and brother and sister met the undertaker. I really wanted to be there but I couldn’t and it couldn’t be put off. My sister put me on speaker phone. It’s really not the same as being there. We agreed the wording of the death notice and agreed to do some research on possible burial spots. When next I talked to my brother and sister they were wandering around a graveyard well outside Cork looking for my grandfather’s plot. I was able to provide the useful information that I knew that a big gravestone had been stuck up in the 80s as there had been a bit of family…discussion in relation to it. They found it.
I got an email from my friend in Paris setting out the programme of entertainment she had devised for Daniel (who is off to Paris in the morning). I felt I ought probably to say about my mother. I got an oddly formal reply in French (we usually speak to each other in French and write in English). I found it oddly comforting. It is, as she said, “toujours un moment douloureux”.
And then I was in Dublin, a bit sad with the two boys. We went out to my sister-in-law’s house. My little niece was two and we brought her a present. It was so strange but it was nice to be with people who I liked. I was cheered by the two year old. My sister-in-law said wisely, “The worst thing is telling people.” She volunteered to pass on the news to some friends we had in common. I was anxious to tell people they didn’t have to come as a mid-week funeral 250kms away is probably the worst thing.
I talked to my friend M in Helsinki who I have known all my life and who knew my mother really well. Her father died last year and she said I would be exhausted. She was right. We talked about my mother and in a weird way, it felt like I was getting her back after five long years in the nursing home when she was, as a friend said, “Getting further and further away”. On Sunday morning, one of the nicest messages I got was from a friend of M’s, who is really only an acquaintance of mine, it was the combination of kind and surprising.
On Saturday night I got a call from my cousin, my aunt was flying out to America the next day and she wanted to visit Cork as she would miss the funeral. I felt utterly useless as I passed him on to my brother and sister.
Sunday, June 16
Sunday was a better day. Firstly, I slept Saturday night and then I knew Mr. Waffle was coming back. I entered into some complex logistical arrangements to farm the boys out to their Dublin uncle but in the end I left them in the house waiting for their father’s return while I cycled off to the station. Inevitably, my bag split and I had to traipse home again and swap it for a new one. Still, I got a seat on the train, which was not a given, and I was going home. My phone started pinging constantly with messages from expected and unexpected people. I felt it was an achievement to have got myself on the train.
My sister met me at the station in Cork at 4.30. It turns out that grief is exhausting and it saps your power to get things done but many things need to be done and so many decisions need to be made. What would be a good outfit for my mother to wear in her coffin? How about that brooch and scarf that she always liked? What kind of a coffin should she have? An eco-coffin we decided (unvarnished, if you’re curious, quite nice actually). What readings should we have for the funeral service? We had Wisdom 3:1-9 and Revelation 14:13. Turns out you can pick the gospel as well but we didn’t know that so the priest picked it on the morning which was fine too. Who would sing at the funeral? A cousin volunteered. What hymns would we have? More challenging than you might think. It turns out my father doesn’t like a lot of hymns (Lord of all Hopefulness? Too gloomy apparently). And if you get a headache when you are tired and weepy (and who doesn’t?) you are doing all this while regularly popping paracetamol. “Is there such a thing as a wedding planner for a funeral?” asked my brother. “Yes,” said my sister and I, “he’s called an undertaker.”
I still hadn’t managed to contact the Princess who was now in Zambia. I was anxious to talk to her before the notice went up on rip.ie (death’s finest resource) in case in some weird way someone else in the group saw it or heard about it.
Monday, 17 June
The notice went up on rip.ie but didn’t appear in the paper.
Apparently my grandfather’s plot was full and my mother would be buried with my great uncles and aunts and my great-grandfather who, prudently, had bought a plot with perpetual burial rights in 1913. Due to my family’s filing abilities which, I have to tell you, are phenomenal we had the original 1913 document to hand and were able to get a space in a lovely old graveyard in the city.
I went to the chemist to pick up a prescription for my father and the chemist, who I know well from our regular interactions asked how my parents were. I said that my mother had died on Saturday. “Oh,” he said, “sympathetically, I’m so sorry, she was such a lady.” The poor chemist, I don’t know how used he is to customers dissolving into tears but he was really kind.
An old friend of my parents had died at the weekend also and I was sent off to get sympathy cards. I brought them out for my father’s approval. “Well, not that one,” he said, “she was a devout Protestant and would have been outraged to have someone praying for her soul.” Who knew?
My sister and I went to the funeral service in Mallow. We were late. As we sprinted up to the church, I said to my sister, “I bet Protestants are never late for funerals.” “Well,” she said, “we have an excellent excuse.” It was a lovely, lovely service. The eldest child gave a great speech at the end and my sister and I wept through it. It’s not that we weren’t sorry for the deceased, we were, she was a lovely person, but we were more sorry for our own mother. Outside the church we sympathised with the dapper widower. He was not crying demonstrating admirable sang froid but we mortified ourselves by snuffling away and having him sympathise with us at his own wife’s funeral. She had suffered from Alzheimer’s for the last ten years of her life and he had minded her at home. He said to me, “You know, people said to me that I was very good, but I wasn’t really, I loved having her there; your poor father didn’t even have that.” More tears.
My sister and I went to the funeral home to see the body. It’s a strange thing to see your mother in a coffin. Her hands were stone cold, of course, and she looked waxy. “Good outfit,” I said to my sister. We fixed her hair. It felt almost like she might sit up and talk.
We dropped into the cemetery on the way home to see if we could find the family plot but to no avail. We found Fr. Matthew’s grave alright. While we were wandering around, herself rang me from Zambia. The line wasn’t great but she was full of news and excitement. “I have some bad news,” I said my voice catching, “I’m afraid Nana died at the weekend. You won’t be able to make it home for the funeral.” Whether it was me crying or the bad line, I was surprised to hear her say after a shocked moment, “Not attend my own father’s funeral?” “Not Daddy, Nana!” I shouted. The poor child, she was so relieved to find that it wasn’t her father, that I think she was able to bear the news with much greater equanimity than she might otherwise have done. Honestly, it feels like she only has to go away for a grandparent to keel over.
I went back to my parents’ house to wait some more. Waiting for a funeral is a bit like waiting for a flight. You’re tense waiting for an event and there’s nothing to really do except wait.
Tuesday, 18 June
The death notice finally appeared in the paper.
Mr. Waffle and the boys came down. It was lovely to see them. We had the removal. Some of my friends and colleagues from Dublin came down. I was simultaneously delighted to see them and slightly appalled at how awkward it must have been. I have decided I will never again miss a funeral or removal. The Lady Captain of my mother’s golf club turned up and the head of the Chemistry Department in UCC where she had worked. These were surprisingly lovely things to happen. The bishop also turned up. I am still a bit unclear as to why.
Loads of my mother’s relatives came, people I knew well and people I only dimly remembered from childhood. A woman pressed my hand and said, “I will always remember going back to your mother’s house on the pony and trap at Christmas. Han, your grandmother you know, had all the trappings and cakes and things we never had in our house and we came in and your mother was wearing a long skirt and writing Christmas cards beside the piano with Perry Como playing in the background. We thought she was the most sophisticated thing we had ever seen in our lives.” It made me laugh. Almost nothing made me cry at the removal actually. A woman who had been a good friend and golf partner of my mother’s stopped to talk to me. Another crony of theirs who lived up the road from my parents had died a couple of weeks ago. This woman said to me, “I think of your mother all the time, you know she gave me her driver when she couldn’t play any more and I used it this morning.” That was the only thing that made me cry. It does make me happy to think that her clubs are getting use. She would have liked that she was very generous but also frugal. She used to say reprovingly to me and my brother and sister, “I’m not part of the throw-away generation, you know.”
I lost count of the times I explained that I was not my sister and that I was “still above in Dublin” (always the faint tone of disapproval). The boys and Mr. Waffle provided moral support. The boys were very good and very patient, there was a lot of shaking hands.
When we went to the church, the sacristan was very helpful. Mr. Waffle said he sounded like a neighbour. Turned out he grew up near us in Dublin but moved to Cork at 17 to marry a Cork woman. Despite all his years in Cork he never lost his Dublin accent. “Do your family say you’re ‘still below in Cork?’” I asked. Apparently not.
Mr. Waffle and I went to check in to a local little hotel that night, we felt the boys would probably not welcome having to double up and there really wasn’t room for everyone in my parents’ house. The woman on reception was, God love her, full of enthusiasm as we checked in. Were we well? Had we had a good journey? What were our plans while staying in Cork? There was an awkward pause. “It’s my mother’s funeral in the morning,” I said. Oh dear, I did feel bad, but I was too exhausted to dissemble for the woman on reception. We got a lovely room though.
Wednesday, 19 June
The morning of the funeral dawned mercifully bright and sunny. I was surprised by the people who were there. People we hadn’t told at all but who had heard through the inevitable grapevine – a college friend, a school friend now living in Dublin (she heard from her father who had it from the retired academic network – who knew?). And then there were millions of my brother’s friends who my mother fed for years and some of their parents as well, colleagues, cousins, an old college friend of my mother’s from Dublin and all sorts of other people. The funeral seemed to go fine. My sister and I did readings, the boys did prayers of the faithful along with various other relatives. My brother made did a good job on a speech which reminded those of us who knew her what she was like and, I think, gave a good picture to those who never knew her and he said how sad the Princess was not to be there.
We went on to the cemetery which was beautiful in the sunshine. The priest said a prayer and she was lowered into the grave bought by my prudent great-grandfather to bury my great-grandmother in 1913.
I walked out of the cemetery with the undertaker chatting to him about the boom (it’s only in Dublin apparently, he anticipates a downturn there at any moment and thinks in the rest of the country it will get even worse – he anxiously twirled his bowler as he spoke – though I imagine his line of work is quite steady). I thanked him for everything and wanted to particularly commend the woman on reception who received my first teary phone call on Saturday morning – I imagine she has teary phone calls are part of her lot but she’s quite good at managing them. I asked about what they look for in a recruit and he said, “Well, once my brother interviewed a man who asked what the hours were. My brother said, ‘Do you have a watch?’ He said that of course he did and my brother said, ‘You can throw that away for starters.'”
We went for lunch afterwards to the hotel where my brother and sister and I went for first communion and confirmation lunches as children. A friend of mine had brought his two children with him and weirdly the four children (his two and my two) had a lovely time over lunch. Lunch generally was fine and then eventually everyone drifted away. Mr. Waffle and the boys and I went for a walk and then round to my sister for tea which turned into dinner. We went back to my father at 9 to find that due to miscommunication, he had been all alone since 6. I felt like a heel as I made him a couple of sandwiches.
Thursday, 20 June
We called in to my aunt and wished her many happy returns on her 90th birthday. We had seen a lot of each other over the past few days and we were perhaps not in as celebratory a mood as we might have been but I am going to call down again in a week and we will perhaps be in a better mood to celebrate then.
After our birthday visit, we gathered ourselves up and drove back to Dublin. It was a long enough day and having been so anxious to leave home on Sunday, I was glad to get back to it on Thursday evening notwithstanding that the cat left us a dead pigeon in the utility room.
Friday, 21 June
I went out to visit my mother’s friend from college who lives in Dublin. I just wanted to talk about my mother and she seemed the best person to do it with. I have known her my whole life and I remember going to the zoo with her when we are children. She is delightfully entertaining and acerbic and talking to her about my mother reminds me of what my mother was like before she got sick.
Saturday, 22 June
Almost back to normal today. I feel like I am recovering from illness or something. Delicate and a bit light headed but on the mend. Mr. Waffle said something funny this afternoon and it made me laugh in the hall and the boys came running out to the hall, arms outstretched, sure that I was crying and relieved to see that all was well.
Back to work on Monday.