Sunday, April 20, 2008

Reasons to be tearful

On Wednesday it was my cousin Gary's funeral. Myself and Shirley picked my Dad up around 8.15 a.m.- 4-and-a-bit hours later we were being shown around Christ Church in Birkenhead by it's curator, and very interesting it was too. There can't be many churches that have photos of all it's vicars going back to the mid-1800's but Christ Church has- my Dad recognised the one ('old Isherwood') from when he used to sing in the choir there during the war. Gradually everyone arrived- it's always a sad thought that we only see many of our relatives at funerals isn't it? My Auntie Emma is nearly 82 and more energetic than most of us ever have been, let alone will be if we make it to her age. There's a seemingly never-ending supply of cousins (and cousin's children) to say hello to, and my Dad always seems happiest when he's with the family. Eventually the big black cars arrive- I see my Auntie May's face through the rear passenger door window, she looks devastated and well she might, she's outlived one of her children, something I guess no parent ever expects to do. Gary's coffin gets carried into the church- the front left pallbearer is his brother Steve, a haunted and haunting sight. In the service he gets up to speak, 'no notes, this is coming from my heart', says that Gary meant everything to him and he's going to 'miss him so... much...' As his voice tails off Shirley's hand grips mine so hard it feels like she'll never be able to let go, and I feel like I never want her to. The vicar describes Gary as a 'free spirit', reminds us that Gary was baptised in this church, is pleased to find that he shares many of Gary's musical tastes, relates to Gary's love of animals (instead of sending flowers we were all invited to make a donation to the R.S.P.C.A.) and his artistic talent. As the service draws to a close Auntie May struggles round to the coffin, kisses it, hugs it, then is helped out by Steve's girlfriend Lizzie as 'He ain't heavy, He's my Brother' by The Hollies plays... we journey to Landican cemetery for the final part of the service, it's a huge expanse of land near Arrowe Park, my Dad's parents and sister Eva are buried and my Auntie Edna cremated there. It's a short service- Auntie May cries out 'don't go Gary' as the curtains close around his coffin and 'Dweller on the Threshold' by Van Morrison plays... we take some flowers to my Nan and Grandad's grave with Uncle George (Dad's youngest sibling- he'll be 70 -70!- next month) and his wife Joyce; at the front of the plot it just says 'Neil'- 'there's our little boy' says Uncle George. Neil died in 1969 from meningitis, aged 2; Shirley told me later that she felt like 'something, or someone' was stopping her from walking around to the front of the grave- I'd wondered at the time whether or not I should say anything to her about Neil, didn't want to upset her any more than she was already... we took some flowers for Auntie Eva too, everyone called (calls!) her 'Squeak'- she only had one lung, humour's the strangest thing sometimes... we go back to The Gladstone Club near Tranmere Rovers's ground, the atmosphere's lighter, I finally get to speak to Auntie May, she's hard of hearing from working as a bookbinder ('all those little hammers all day') and says Gary had been learning sign language and was teaching it to her 'so that they could talk on the bus'... all too soon it's time for us to leave, but we'll be back later in the year, I promise everyone that if we play down the road at the Pacific Road Arts Centre I'll get them all tickets, and I will, somehow, even if I have to buy them myself, just to be in a room with them all again...

Gary was my cousin, and my mate. I'm going to miss him too.

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