Tuesday, March 20th, 2012, was the day of Mum's funeral. I had been working on my tribute to Mum in the few quiet moments I could manage for three days; writing and rewriting it. Each time I read what I had written I knew I needed to work at it more. Rob was a great help without realizing it. I volunteered to write the words on the cards that would accompany several floral tributes that we had ordered on behalf of close family and friends. I wrote the messages out in rough form and Rob edited them because it mattered to him what went on them. He was a tough editor! :) I am Miss Superlative; he is Mr. Plain and Simple. So I wrote my tribute with a mind to what he would say about every line. At 1.30 a.m. Tuesday morning I went to bed finally feeling that it was simple enough for Rob, and meaningful enough for me.
I was worried that with the emotion of the moment my vocal chords would constrict and my voice would turn into a squeak. Friends were praying and my dear friend Dave called from Canada the night before to encourage me. He is a public speaker and said not to worry if my voice filled with emotion, that his does too, with some stories he tells that come from a deep place of meaning. That helped me to relax a little, and I determined to go slow, breath, and go with the flow.
I mentioned my nervousness to Rob once on Tuesday morning. He had no idea what I was saying or why I even wanted to, but was going with it for my sake. He said something about not getting emotional--that this was a celebration. Dear Reverend David Martin had agreed to be my back up, and had a copy of what I'd written days before. But then I asked Susan if she'd stand by ready to step in if necessary as it would sound more natural coming from her if necessary. She was up for doing anything that would help.
Monday had been gray and cold but Tuesday was a glorious, sunny day, with blue skies. I got up after a few hours of sleep and got ready. Rob and I cleaned and tidied Mum's little flat. Rob decided to tidy his flat too, and lost track of time so that he was still washing his stairs when he should have been getting into his suit and had a last minute panic getting into it and getting his tie tied.
Susan arrived at 11.30 from Rectory Cottage, where she was staying, and just after 1.00 Auntie May, one of Mum's lifelong friends arrived, with her husband, Uncle Tommy; her two daughters Diane and Trudy, and Trudy's husband, Rob. My brother Rob had joked with Auntie May that Mum had always told us that if anything ever happened to her, Auntie May and Uncle Tommy had promised to look after us. He told her we'd be arriving at her doorstep with our suitcases soon. :) By 1.15, our friends Eileen, Chris and Nel-Rose Ashton had also arrived from the Lake District and so had Rob's sons, Tim and John.
We had asked Auntie May and Uncle Tommy to ride with Rob, me, John and Tim in the limousine, which arrived at 1.30 to drive us to Redditch Crematorium. Also waiting outside was another limousine holding Mum's coffin, surrounded by beautiful bouquet's of flowers and floral arrangements. Some of the neighbours in Tanyard Close stood outside their houses as a token of respect and farewell to Mum. It's the tradition in England that the funeral procession leaves from the home of the deceased.
The Thomas brother in charge of Mum's funeral; Mark; escorted Rob and I to Mum's car first, to look at the flowers. Seeing the names of dear friends and my work team, pinned to the flower arrangements made us feel that their love was with us.
We got into our limousine then, and the procession left "the close" slowly, led by Mark, who was in top hat and tails, with a walking stick, walking in front of the car with Mum's coffin. He slowly led the procession on foot down Tanyard Lane to Red Lion Street. All was done with immense dignity and respect.
I sat beside Auntie May for the 3 mile drive to Redditch, and she held my hand tightly. It was hard for her to be saying goodbye to her dear friend--the friend she had met when she was just 16 and Mum was 20.
Our car turned onto the road leading to the crematorium and began to mount a winding hill through a graveyard filled with flowers. The sun was still shining. It was bright and beautiful.
At the top of the hill stood the crematorium, and outside were waiting the friends and family who had come to support us and pay their last respects to Mum. It meant so much to us that each one of them were present.
John wanted to be a pall bearer; both he and Tim loved Mum deeply. I will never forget his face, his Omie's coffin on his shoulder, his jaw set with grim determination holding in his tears.
David Martin met us at the door and led the way in, as Mum's favourite hymn, "I the Lord of Sea and Sky" was being played on the organ. As he walked slowly ahead of us, he proclaimed the words from John 11:25:
“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die;We sang the hymn, The Lord is My Shepherd, and then it was time for my tribute. I was aware of David Martin sitting close by, supporting me in prayer, and Susan close by ready to step in. I took my time, looked out at the people I was speaking to and although my voice tensed slightly, I managed to speak it all out clearly. Rob, from the front row, looked up at me with a nod of approval that meant the world to me, when I finished. Afterwards he told me that it was such a lovely surprise; that he had no idea I was going to say all that I did, and that he thought I was just going to read a poem or something written by someone else. That alone made it worth it. But then Claire, John's partner, also said, "What you said about your mum was wonderful. I only hope that one day my Jayda can say half as much about me." That too, meant the world to me.
Then Liz, who had once been one of the ambulance attendants taking Mum to hospital, when I was there a few years ago, got up to sing a song she had chosen. We had remained friends and she had emailed me to say that she would delay her holiday to sing at Mum's funeral; she said she would put her heart and soul into it. I knew she sang, but had never heard her sing, and I had almost asked her to sing a different song, but Rob had said, "No, I think we should just leave it as it is, I don't think we should be chopping and changing." Well, she stood up at the microphone, opened her mouth--and the voice of an angel, as smooth as honey came out. She looked off somewhere far away and sang seemingly without effort. We were all stunned at the beauty of her voice and the song.: Mother of Mine.
After David Martin's words about our family; some of which made Rob and I smile because our family was not quite as ideal as he made us sound; we sang Amazing Grace. From the back row, strong, fine voices sang out loudly.
The chapel had floor to ceiling windows, and from it's vantage point on a hill, it overlooks the Arrow Valley Park, and green and rolling Worcestershire countryside. Rob said that it felt like a portal to heaven. At the end of the service, Mark Thompson stood before the coffin and bowed deeply; a final mark of respect.
Outside our friends waited. Four of Mum's carers were there: Emily, Sue, Sam and Lorraine, all of whom I knew well and they had known Mum intimately. They hugged me with tears, telling me how much they had loved Mum.
Everyone said that it had been a special funeral and that it felt like there was something in the atmosphere, a very special feeling. One of Rob's friends, Tom Fitzpatrick, a teacher at a local Catholic school, had taken time away from his class to attend, and sobbed through the whole service.
We felt relief that it was over, but at the same time felt so good that Mum had been so lovingly honoured. Those who were able to, joined us back in Alvechurch, at St. Laurence Church: The Ark. There we were finally able to relax with our friends, drink tea and coffee, and eat sandwiches, miniature pork pies and scones with strawberry jam and cream.
It was a day we would all remember with happiness because it had been just beautiful. As Rob said, "Mum deserved no less."