A bird. It’s the thought that forcefully comes to mind when I look at her face from aside. The small head, the sharp features, the fine nose like a beak. The skin is tight but has a glow on it that belies the ravaged condition of her body. I put my hand out, she put hers on mine - the tiny, fragile feet of her winged sister, the heart beating faintly, tired, holding out – only just.
Three weeks later, the face in the coffin is undeniably that of an embalmed mummy. The sharp bone structure even more jutting out, the skin darkened by age, now stretched tightly over the bones no longer with a glow, the eyes closed in sockets almost disproportionately large.
We say our final goodbyes, to the body through which we have known this person for so long, forever, for as long as we, and she, lived and our lives intertwined.
There are prayers and rhythmic chants. Ritual helps to make the transition, I see that now.
Whom do we mourn, what pushes tears out of our eyes?
This was a life well lived, almost 79 years, a family, three children, three grandchildren. This body had been ravaged by cancer, and its ending is a relief.
For the living it is that we grief. For her husband of 62 years who now has to carry on without that lifelong presence. For the two sons and the daughter, whose standing in life has taken a half shift forward: one parent closer to becoming the eldest generation, in the front now of the gradual pilgrimage to death.
For ourselves too we grieve. For our coming pain when our own elderly parents will pass on. Today’s farewell is a preview of others, soon to come, that we dread more.
For ourselves too we grieve: We too are husbands and wives, together for a long and meaningful period of our lives, we too are parents who will depart from our children.
With departures, spaces are being rearranged: physical spaces, social spaces, emotional and existential ones.
The crematorium is a Victorian building with the feel of a Christian church. In Memoriams on the wall and outside suggest however that its purpose has not been converted, that it has served this function since very long, possibly from the beginning. There are some two hundred names of the fallen in the first and second world war, cremated, surprisingly, here. Why the choice for cremation, in that era?
Beyond is a lovely green lawn, surrounded by old trees in natural display, untrimmed, not pruned. Closer by rose beds, with the flowers blooming in the autumn sun. The doors leading to this back garden are marked ‘fire exit’.
It is a beautiful day, in all respects.