The Day Before The Funeral......
On Wednesday I hooked up with Drew at Euston Station and we got up to Coventry by 3pm to be met by Anne (Mark's sister) and Laura (her eldest daughter). All the family were at the house and there was much 'shame it's not under better circumstances' and general milling about prior to going to the church.
It was a short journey and when we got there Mark, Martyn, Andrew and Matthew were the four pall-bearers who did an admirable job taking the coffin into the church where it was draped in a white cover and a cross and Bible placed on it. I was both sad and proud at the same time. Sad that Mark's Dad who I loved was so close in that box before the altar. Yet proud of Mark standing there with his brother and sisters - a family united, albeit under such tragic circumstances. An odd mixture of feelings really. The service was quite brief (30 minutes or so) albeit a little hard to understand. Not so much because it was in Latin or anything but because the Priest was Nigerian and his accent was so thick.
I was amazed at the number of people who turned up (remember that this wasn't the actual funeral itself but just the acceptance of the body into the church). And it is no small credit to Mark's Dad popularity that the church was filled with at least 120-150 people, maybe more.
After the service we went back to the house, changed and split into two groups. Grown-ups went out for a meal, kids went to The Jag (The Jaguar Sports and Social Club) for burgers. We met up with them later to drink, swap stories and play some pool. We didn't have too late a night as the funeral was early the next day.
The Day Of The Funeral......
We were all up early to wash and get into our dark suits. There wasn't really time for breakfast as the two 'official' cars were due at 8:40am. Again the church was pretty full when we go there. All the family sat near the front - with the four children at the very front and the rows behind filled with partners, grandchildren and close friends.
This time the service was a great deal more involved - many prayers, half a dozen hymns, Mass, readings (by the priest, Laura and Lynzi) and eulogies by Uncle Kevin and Mark's sister Bernadette. It was very moving - especially Bernadatte's heart-felt comments about her father - what a great Dad, Granddad and friend he had been. It brought tears to this codger's eyes, I can tell you.
Leaving the church with the coffin was a no less gut-wrenching experience - looking into the faces of the well-wishers as we left was both wonderful and powerfully upsetting. I helped Aunty Rosalind up the aisle. She held my arm tightly as she struggled to keep her composure. "Beautiful", she murmured, "a beautiful service". Too true.
The journey to the graveyard was as somber as you'd except. Patrick was to be buried along with his wife, Annie Mark's mother, who had died almost exactly 7 years before. We caused a small traffic jam with all the cars trailed after the hearse. On the way we spotted and picked up one of Mark's Dad's friends, Pat. Aged 73, he seemed almost chipper and as we arrived at the graveyard filled us in with all the recent funerals he had been to - even detailing the manner of recent deaths and burials at the Children's Graveyard. Little Luke was strangely fascinated (as I think secretly we all were) by all this information. It was all quite surreal as we pulled up at the graveside. Perhaps this man's intimate knowledge of the latest additions to the graveyard were a way, in his own mind, of keeping the Grime Reaper at bay.
The graveside ceremony was brief (thankfully, as it was bitterly cold) and inspite of the slippery mud the pall-bearers did a sterling job of keeping the coffin aloft and lowering it into the grave without incident. I almost thought Andrew was going to trip and slip into the grave at one point (later he told me that he almost did!) The priest's final words were moving and then all of a sudden it was all over. We all stepped up to scatter some earth onto the coffin and everyone just walked away back to their cars.
Before long we were in The Jag again for the wake with sandwiches, beer and an Irish accordionist. Lots of people got up to sing (mainly plaintive laments of returning to long-lost sweethearts or Irish villages and towns) which was quite, quite moving. We caught up with people we hadn't seen in ages and I finally got introduced to people Mark had talked about a lot. It was lovely.
By about 4-30pm though we were all a bit pissed to be honest. We'd been drinking since about 11am. So we ambled back to house for a lie-down and to collect our thoughts. Eerily the heating and hot water had packed up. Drew, Lynzi and I went for a walk and another beer and to talk over the events of the last day. Back at the house everyone was either sleeping or watching Luke and Matthew play on our PS2.
Later on some people went out for dinner but Marky and I bought fish and chips for those keener on more low key fayre. I was in bed by 10pm. Tired and emotional both figuratively and literally.
The Day After The Funeral......
Not up too early this morning I caught the 10:37 to Euston and am now in my office catching up on the work I've missed. It seems strange that only yesterday we were burying Mark's Dad. Tonight we are going out for dinner as it's Colin's birthday. It'll be good to see him of course but today the world just feels a little emptier.