My poor father-in-law died on Tuesday night.
On Wednesday morning, my sister-in-law flew in from London. She and Mr. Waffle and Mr. Waffle’s brother went off to the undertaker at lunch time. I was home from work to help but found myself at a loose end once I’d organised for herself to get home from France. It was strange. I then realised that I had given the boys a lift to school that morning and would be unable to give them a lift home as they might expect because the car was on the other side of the city. I cycled in to the school to tell them this, stopping off on the way to pick up a newly arrived library book.
When I arrived at the school, the boys were fine about getting home by bus and I said I would take their school bags on the bike. This was a bit unsatisfactory as the bags were quite big but I got home safely only to discover that the library book must have fallen out in my perambulations. I cycled all the way back to the school hunting for it but it was gone forever. I thought about going into town with the boys to get funeral wear but decided I would wait until the following day when I had the car. When Mr. Waffle and his sister arrived home, they said that the funeral had been arranged for Saturday morning. They had found a priest with some difficulty, their brother was deployed to find a venue for lunch afterwards and they were doing the missalette and finding the singers. Mr. Waffle said it was like organising a wedding, weirdly, but with only three days notice. He and his brother met for a drink that evening and I gave his brother a lift home. We talked about his father, of course, and I couldn’t help feeling that my father-in-law was so lucky to have him – they had a shared interest in running and even when my father-in-law’s dementia began to take hold, my brother-in-law was organising running gigs in the mountains for him.
We did a bit of work picking readings in the morning and then Mr. Waffle drove his sister to the airport to pick up her husband and baby daughter who had spent the previous day packing up their flat in London (mostly him, to be fair). She booked the soprano and the organist for the funeral on the way in the car and selected the music. My poor sister-in-law, it was quite the week. Then there was a difficulty getting in to their air bnb and various tense emails were exchanged. I drove them there and then turned around to go back to the airport to pick up herself. I was just in time.
It was wonderful to see her. Exciting and delightful. She had been followed by a middle aged man at the bus stop in France (broad daylight, not her usual bus stop but still) and I was a bit worried – we’d spoken on the phone and by Skype but it’s really not the same – once I saw her, I knew she was alright. She has been having a fantastic time in France and, I think, it’s been really great for her. That night Mr. Waffle toiled over the missalette and I put my amazing word processing skills to work.
The boys had to be got ready for Hallowe’en in school on a slightly last minute basis (a skeleton and an assassin, thanks for asking). I drove Mr. Waffle out to to the church in the morning to finalise the funeral arrangements with the priest. Then I came home and took herself into town to buy something suitable for a funeral and bought a jacket and shirt for Daniel as well (Michael had a jacket in stock but as it travelled into school as part of the Hallowe’en outfit, I was a bit nervous, herself said she had a white shirt in the drawer that would do for Michael). I realised, to my horror that it was the day of the presidential election vote and the blasphemy referendum. I flew down to the polling station. Turnout was low. Bad for democracy but good for me, I was in and out in 2 minutes.
I got a message from Mr. Waffle that he would like the boys to get a haircut so we drove (reprehensibly, it’s really close enough to walk, but it was an emergency) to the hairdresser, dressed them respectably and just about managed to get in the car for 3 to get across town for the beginning of the removal at 4. We were the first to arrive at the undertaker’s and the woman in charge took one look at my children and murmured, “He had very strong genes, didn’t he?” We looked at Grandad in the coffin and he was wearing a tie which he never liked in life, so the undertaker took it off. He didn’t look like himself really. I thought the children might be upset but they were ok. We were so early, we had time for a cup of tea. When we came back, people were streaming in. Across the road at the church, all sorts of unlikely people turned up who it was really lovely to see. The deacon said a couple of nice words and it was clear that he knew the deceased which is not always a given.
Many people repaired to the pub afterwards including herself and Mr. Waffle but I took the boys home as my sister was coming up from Cork on the train. By the time I got my sister to our house, I was flattened. I felt very bad when I saw a text message from Mr. Waffle saying that he and herself were trekking across town on the bus but also, pathetically, very relieved not to be sitting in to the car again to collect them. When they came back, herself was wrapped up in her Grandfather’s jacket which they had taken from her grandparents’ house on the way home to add to her own rather flimsy jacket. She’s hardly taken it off since.
Mr. Waffle went off early to get his mother from the nursing home, she only went in to the home the week before her husband died – that is a lot of change for one family.
I got Daniel to try on the jacket I’d bought for him. Tragically and clearly, much too large. I called for the white shirt which herself had stashed in her room. She handed it to me sheepishly. It turned out it was Mr. Waffle’s shirt. I dropped my poor sister and Daniel into town and told them to find shirts and a jacket and quickly. They did. Almost miraculously, we were all in the car and ready to travel at 10. We parked around the corner from the church for the funeral at 10.45.
Oh the funeral, it was awful. The readings were great (herself did one – I have run my race to the finish– particularly appropriate in this case), the prayers of the faithful were fine (the boys and the cousins) but almost from the beginning, all three of my children started crying silently (I was crying myself but, as Michael pointed out, everyone expected me to cry, I am the family crier). Then, my nephew read a letter which his grandfather had written to him for a school project when he was 6. The letter was put in a time capsule to be opened when he was 12. He’s 12 now. My father-in-law’s voice came through so clearly, talking about all the fun they would have in 2019.
Loads of people made the effort to come to the funeral, including Mr. Waffle’s friend who lives in the Hague who was in Cork visiting her own mother and heard and came up. It was surprisingly lovely. There was more lycra in evidence than you normally see at funerals as the hill runners made him a guard of honour. He would certainly have enjoyed that. My sister had to go back to Cork for a meeting but my brother was there for the next bit having arrived towards the end of the funeral mass (he will certainly be late for his own funeral). We went to the cemetery which had views of the mountains my father-in-law loved and we went to the lunch afterwards.
The grandchildren reminisced about their holidays in Kerry when (we now discover to our horror) their grandfather would pile all five of them into the back of the jeep with no safety belts and drive them at hair-raising speed to the beach. They kept that quiet at the time.
“How are you?” I asked Michael after the funeral. “I’m thinking of ‘the Muppet Christmas Carol'” he said, his voice breaking. “‘Life is made up of meetings and partings. I am sure that we shall never forget … this first parting that there was among us.’” I don’t suppose we will.