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Change and Decay in All Around I See

When I was in my 30s, a lot of my friends got married. The year that herself was born (2003), we attended 5 weddings in three different countries and it nearly killed us all.

I think, gloomily enough, this is going to be the decade of funerals, not funerals of my friends, I hasten to add, but of their parents. It’s only the start of February but I’ve already been to a removal and a funeral and a colleague’s father is gravely ill and I fear the worst. The removal was for another colleague’s father who died suddenly last weekend. The funeral was my oldest friend’s father who was also a friend of my parents.

The funeral was in Ballydehob in West Cork. I was speaking to a friend before I went and he said, “I love Ballydehob, that gorgeous little bridge.” As a Cork person, I didn’t want to seem ignorant of something a Dublin person knew about and I agreed sagely but inside I was thinking, “What gorgeous little bridge?” Then I realised he meant the really quite big bridge in Ballydehob. That’s Dubliners all over for you.

It’s about a two hour drive from Cork city and although I thought I’d left plenty of time, I arrived just as the funeral service was starting. It was one of the nicest funerals I’ve ever been at. Firstly, the church was beautiful and the service was short and straightforward and I liked the music. My friend spoke really well about her father and made everyone laugh and remember his good points. She spoke about the wonderful care he had received in hospital which is not the kind of thing we see much in the papers and I found it mildly reassuring. Unlike my friend who bore up amazingly, I was a bit tearful. I had known this man all my life and it felt like the end of an era, the utter end of a part of my childhood: I remembered him tending to my teeth (he was a dentist and probably the reason why I have never been at all afraid of dentists); making up stories for myself and my friend (he was a great storyteller – as a dedicated amateur actor, he brought great oomph to performances for even the smallest audiences) and trying in vain to persuade me to eat a boiled egg as a very small girl.

He was buried in Schull with a superb view over the harbour. He was always a great man for a view and he used to live in Oysterhaven on a hill with view and work in Cork at a time when commuting was not the commonplace feature of our lives that it is today. My parents thought he was crazy with his insane 30 minute commute (length of my father’s commute – 3 minutes by bicycle, my mother’s – 10 minutes on foot) but it was worth it to him. It’s nice to think he is buried with a view.

He was 87 and had not been in great health so his death was not a complete surprise. I was very glad that we had seen him en famille over the summer holidays. I felt really sad for my friend as well. She’s an only child and, I know, “how they will manage my funeral” is probably not a good reason to have more than one child but it is a hard time to be alone. She was amazing. I was struck by what a gift she has for friendship, perhaps because she was an only child (swings, roundabouts). She has a lot of lifelong friends, me included, and although the groups of friends don’t necessarily know each other particularly well, we’ve know each other and our stories through her over a lifetime. I had such a nice time at the hotel catching up with all these friends which I know sounds a bit weird (I am doubtless destined to become one of these old people who really enjoys a good funeral) but it was lovely. I ended up sitting beside her next door neighbour from when my friend was a child. I was always slightly wary of the neighbour because, like my friend, she is a year older than me and, when you’re seven, that’s a lot of sophistication. We had so much fun reminiscing about when we were children and the things we got up to with my friend. Her family were farmers and she told me that, very sadly, they lost the farm during the recession (apparently it was all over the news, how miserable), meanwhile the friend on the other side was telling me how her partner also had recession property difficulties and it struck me that our generation really bore a lot of the pain of Ireland’s recent boom/bust cycle: many of us were forced to emigrate in the 80s and 90s and almost all of us were also absolutely crucified on the property market between 2000 and 2008. However, I suppose we’re all still standing.

At least the longest January in living memory is finally over and things will surely improve. I am trying to teach my children “Anois teacht an Earraigh” in celebration (as they are learning no Irish poetry in school – insert middle aged tutting sound here) but they are resisting ferociously. They don’t seem to regard it as celebratory either. And how are your own start of spring celebrations going?

Updated to add: February has not proved to be the break from relentless gloom that I had hoped. I heard that a former lovely, lovely colleague died of cancer. My colleague’s father who had been ill, died on Valentine’s Day. I went down to Tipperary for the funeral the Saturday after. My friend R’s (one half of the couple who got married in November) brother died the same week. He had been ill for some time and it wasn’t a complete surprise but it was very sad. I went over to the house on Friday night because I couldn’t make both funeral’s on Saturday and felt I had to go to Tipperary to represent the office. I got into my car at 7 on Friday evening and, as I did so, the neighbours rapped on the window to ask was I going over to R’s brother’s house as they had been there earlier. I did think it was ominous and I drove across town at speed but when I got there there was still a good crowd. The dead man had been great fun (one of his obituaries described him as Falstaffian) and they were throwing one last party. I stayed until about 10 o’clock. Already when I arrived a number of people were chatting across the open coffin with glasses of wine in their hands. It was actually very nice. The family had dug up loads of old photos and press cuttings (he was a public man) and it was lovely to look at them. At one point the room where the body was became very silent. I said to R, “Are they saying a decade of the rosary?” We both felt a bit surprised as the dead man was not at all religious; it turned out they were singing traditional songs as he had been a big man for trad and various traditional music luminaries (utterly unknown to me, philistine that I am) were in the house. I felt a heel not to be going to the funeral on the following day but I sent Mr. Waffle as our family representative.

Notwithstanding that all these funerals are lovely occasions, I could do with a bit of a break, to be honest. I’m hoping for a “no funeral March”.

Updated to add: Just this morning, March 3, a friend texted me that her mother died last night of an aggressive form of cancer which was diagnosed just after Christmas. People, I have had it.



6 Responses to “Change and Decay in All Around I See”

  1. Lady Jane Says:

    This is a lovely post. Nodding furiously at the gift for friendship bit. We should catch up again soon. S

  2. belgianwaffle Says:

    Yes we should!

  3. disgruntled Says:

    I too seem to have got to the funeral stage of life. Two last year, having not attended any for a decade.

  4. Charles Says:

    Well I am going to try and catch a salmon in the Avon in Hampshire. The odds against success are huge, I have never caught a salmon on a fly, I have only landed one hooked by a ghillie, Harling if you are interested , and I have my doubts about whether there are any salmon in the river. However it is Spring and that is what one does. Funerals are fun, after all the aged have now moved on and you can chat to all the interesting people they knew. After all funerals do not have all the hope, expectation and baggage of weddings….

  5. Ellen Says:

    That’s nice about your friend’s father being buried with a view – the cemetery in the small town where my mother grew up is on a hill with a beautiful view of a river. My mother cites that view as a strong reason in favor of being buried there.

  6. belgianwaffle Says:

    Disgruntled, a little grim, isn’t it.

    Charles, your retirement is full of delights! Even funerals it would appear.

    It is, isn’t it, Ellen? I’d quite like that myself, though I suppose, only ultimately of benefit to graveyard visitors.


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