Sunday, 18 November 2007

Today's funeral brought to you by JJB Sports and Punjana Tea


There's a certain type of humour that can only be found at a funeral, well an Irish funeral to be exact. My aunt died on Wednesday night. It was as sad as it was shocking. We stood in silence as we watched the last gasps of air leave her body. The silence was broken by the anguished cries of her brothers and sisters as she moved from this world to the next. It's a sound that cant truly be replicated in movies or anywhere else. It comes from deep down, a guttural primal sound, it's a sound that means everything but when isolated means nothing. Children, some grown some but babes, moved almost as if it was scripted to the arms of their grieving parents. There is something so humbling so unbelievably powerful about seeing your father cry. We took it in turns to kiss her goodbye, each one whispering a final thought, a final message we never got the chance to say. (Honestly it lightens up)

Then dad stooped to hold her hand and spend a moment with her. There was silence as he stood up, (Dad is the ceremonial head of the clan, it's the women folk who really run the operation) "Aye, sure I'll see you soon." He smiled as he said it. My sister thumped him on the arm and the silence, the mood, was lifted if only for a few minutes. There was an audible ripple of laughter from around the bed. My dad is always going on about his own death. It's part black humour part practical sense. It winds me up. But his timing was perfect. The nurses arrived in to remove the various beeping machines and what have you. We moved out. I moved right out for a smoke and a moment on my own. Within a few moments I was joined by most of the family all sucking on their favoured brand of cigarette. I used to wonder why we all die prematurely but it's quite obvious. Saying that, my aunt never drank or smoked in her life yet she was only in her late fifties when she died, a fact that was used to justify every cigarette in the days after.

Wakes are great, seriously they are. There was no booze at this one, no one seemed up for it, thankfully. Could you imagine me having to deal with a hangover and a funeral? Horrific thought! The house had been prepared for the arrival of my late aunt's remains. Her room was cleared almost entirely, all the clocks were stopped at the time of her death and the mirrors were all covered. There is no handy rule book for wakes, people, usually the women, know what needs to be done and just get on with it. Men are required to stand about in their Sunday clothes shaking hands and having difficult conversations with Priests and old people. And when instructed by a woman they run errands and get another 2000 tea bags and 47 loves of bread. "Just in case."

The house was essentially split into 3 rooms, the room were my aunt was laid out, the quiet room were the conversation was low and people could just be alone for a while, and then there was the kitchen. The kitchen is the engine of a wake. It's where tea is made by the gallon not from your standard kettle I should add but from a very large water tank borrowed for the occasion. Women constantly asked as to it's current water level. God forbid anyone didn't get a cup of tea within a minute of arrival. The kitchen was were I was to be found most of the time or outside smoking and talking with the men. I know very little about cars and farms and the price of things so I added very little to the conversation save for the occasional "Aye your right there."

Not being able to add to the manly conversations I busied myself with sandwich production sticking to the wake favorites of salmon, egg and onion, ham salad, and cheese and ham. I suggested other combinations but people assumed I was joking so just left it at that. There is no room for bacon and brie and anything remotely interesting at a wake. I will leave a clear shopping list for my own, salmon is banned. Everybody did something. Cousins who wouldn't normally bother with the washing of dishes at home found themselves up to their elbows in cups and soapy water, uncles took turns with trays of tea and sandwiches. It was all done with good humour and a true sense of family.

People came and went from early in the morning to late at night. Friends, family, neighbors, professional mourners, priests, and more. The professional mourners are my favourite, old people with nothing else to do but go to wakes/funerals were they have but a slight or even the remotest connection to the deceased. You can see them scoring the quality of the tea and sandwiches on offer and so on. My sandwiches scored high I'm sure, cut into triangles I'll have you know. There was always laughter from the kitchen as people told stories and reminisced about our dead aunt and others who went before her. Then every so often it would go quiet as if we all realised at the same moment why we were there, why the normality of our week was shattered, why are heart's felt heavy despite all the laughter. Someone would leave the room with a handkerchief to their eyes others would just shake their heads. The suddenness of it all would coming crashing back like a punch to the face. Reality. And then in a moment it was over and more tea would be made and I would be out with the salmon mix again. Wakes are an odd affair but so very worth it. There is a collective strength gained from the occasion. But they can be difficult too.......

Here are my top ten ways to survive a wake.
  1. Don't bring a man bag with you. No good will come from it. You wont impress anyone even if the bag is a Conran. Old aunts will say, "I have one like that." And uncles will question your sexuality and ask you if you keep your makeup in it. At this point your sister will expose your moisturiser. You father wont come to your rescue either. Don't do it.
  2. If you cut your finger or have a headache keep it to yourself. No one will care. There's a dead person in the room and you really cant compete with that in terms of hardship.
  3. If someone offers you tea and sandwiches take them, eat them, and bloody well enjoy them. There are 43 more loaves of sandwiches made and they need to be got through. Don't ask for coffee or soy milk or anything other than tea. That's all there is and if someone has to go out and get soy milk because you are lactose intolerant you are just being a dick.
  4. Don't eye up the new flat screen television that will need a new home. You will only get you heart broken, again. And it makes you look selfish.
  5. If you see a priest coming towards you go the other way quickly. Don't stop to warn others, just go. Unless that is that you like conversation about things you know nothing about or enjoying explaining your family tree and where you fit in on it. And there is always time for a rosary.
  6. Don't tell anyone over the age of 30 that you write a blog unless you are prepared to get into a very lengthy conversation explaining everything from how a PC works to why it's called a blog. There is no value in it and no one will be impressed, they will just think you are weird.
  7. Bring secret food. I had a secret packet of crisps, a secret packet of mixed fruit and nuts and a wham bar. They got me through when I couldn't face yet another sandwich. But for the love of Jesus don't get caught eating it. You will be exposed and people will spit on you.
  8. Turn of your mobile phone when the priest starts another round of prayers. Some aunts can shoot a look that kills and make you feel like you have just farted in chapel. Not good, not good at all.
  9. Never get caught in the tea making area alone. Someone will walk in and tell you to make 38 cups of tea and you will be there for hours trying to remember who was having 2 sugars and who was having 3.
  10. And most importantly remember that there is a dead person in the house. Discussing the eye gouging scene in 28 Weeks Later will be seen by most as bad taste.
I was tasked with writing the sympathy notice for my father to go into the paper. A difficult responsibility. I scanned the death notices for inspiration. How do you some up how you feel in a few lines? One read 'To Jaunty, the best mate a guy could have. Here's to you spinning the decks in heaven." Not the route I would follow. I wrote the five or six lines and phoned it through to the paper along with other family members notices. I nearly got through them without breaking down, nearly that is. Hardest phone call I ever had to make.

"The heavens have opened." Not just for my aunt I thought. It was raining hard as we carried the coffin out to the waiting hearse. The rain could hide the tears but not the sound of breaking hearts. The morning of the funeral found people in a much more sombre mood. The jokes hadn't completely stopped, my family hasn't the capability, but they were fewer and greeted with a lower laugh. We all knew what was ahead, that most final of journeys. We knew the weather would be bad and had prepared the best we could. One of my cousins had been tasked with getting his hands on as many umbrellas as he could. And he did. From a JJB Sport Shop, they were only £2.50 so he got as many as he could carry. But when the seemingly black umbrellas were opened to reveal their JJB logo you could help but think, "Today's funeral, brought to you by JJB Sports, your number 1 shop for sporting and Leisure Goods." I would have laughed but I was pretending to carry the coffin. Being some what smaller than the average family member none of the coffin made it to my shoulder. My cousin on the other side of me knew it too.

If you were scripting how a funeral would go you couldn't have done a better job than the way my aunt's went. As we carried the coffin from the chapel it was raining hard (still) the church's bell beat one solemn chime after the other. It added to the atmosphere, not that any additions were required. We walked the coffin a short distance but the rain made it difficult. The burial itself was mercifully quick. Everyone was shivering in the rain and icy wind. I looked back over the mourners to see the huddled crowd beneath their JJB umbrellas. I smirked to myself. There was no lingering over the grave, she wouldn't have wanted people to do so in such conditions any way. We made our retreat and that was it, over. Now the real mourning begins for a person that cant be replaced, a void that wont ever be filled.

37 People trying to get Manuel's attention:

angela said...

oh, wow. my condolences. i know what this is like...hang in there. time does help.

The Hangar Queen said...

Sorry for your troubles sir.I'll light a candle for you.

Anonymous Boxer said...

"It's a sound that cant truly be replicated in movies or anywhere else."

I understand. And I am so sorry for you loss. A lovely "send off" for an obviously lovely lady.

Old Knudsen said...

I'm sorry to hear that lad, its never easy especially without drink.

Rosie Cheeks said...

Manuel, a chroí, ní maith liom do bhris.

Mudflapgypsy said...

Condolences Manuel.

This post had me shed tears, laugh, think about mortality and laugh even more when your sister outed you as a "Metro".

fatmammycat said...

Condolences Manuel.

red said...

Sorry to hear about your aunt Manuel. The last time I was in Dublin my gran died- the weirdest of timing. My weekend was spent at the wake and funeral, it went exactly as described in your elegant and amusing post.

Manuel said...

Angela: Cheers......

Hangar Queen: Thanks.....

Boxer: It really was despite the monsoon conditions

Old Knudsen: I'm an emotional nightmare as it is. Alcohol would have been a very big mistake......

Rosie: I'm waiting for my 12 year old niece to translate......but thanks I think....

Muddy: Oh I was scundered beyond words.....

FMC: Cheers....

Red: Awh cheers Red

Medbh said...

I'm sending a big *hug* across the water, Manuel.
So sorry for your loss.

MJ said...

Can you take a dram now?

We'll toast to her memory, shall we?

Rosie Cheeks said...

it just means that i'm sorry for your loss, Manuel. it was a lovely post by the way, very well-written and easy to identify with.

on a superficial note: re tip #6, did you mean over 30? i'm confused (though maybe that was your point)

Fresh Hell said...

Words are clumsy when someone you love has gone.

My Condolences are the best I've got to offer.

Manuel said...

Medbh: Thanks Medbh

MJ: Good God no. After my last misadventure in alcohol it will be quite a while before I enjoy a tipple/truck load again....

Rosie: Awh shucks, cheers Rosie. Well spotted, correction made

Freshy: And thats fine by me, thanks.....

Nick said...

Sorry to hear about your aunt Manuel. What a wonderful account of the wake. Sounds like a really lovely send-off. I must make a note of those excellent tips. The sponsorship idea sounds good too, maybe I could get my own funeral paid for by a life insurance company ....

Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

Ah Manuel, that's too bad. Condolences to you and your family.

bendersbetterbrother said...

Sorry to hear about that, manuel.

Funerals I've been to have been much the same, except for the covering mirrors and stopping clocks. Tea and sandwiches. Beer and whisky too followed by either

a/ the younger ones
b/ the men

mooching off to a bar to get pissed.

A mobile going off during the funeral service in church is hard to beat. Since one such occurrence my ring tone has always been vanilla.

MJ said...

Imagine the horror if your mobile went off and your ringtone was something by the Grateful Dead.

yoyo said...

Dammit you've made me snivvel like a little bitch,just before work and all.
Salty steaks all round tonight, I think.

Have a gigantic E-hug from a pretty much total stranger, you'll feel much..more uneasy for it, but atleast it'll distract you a bit.

*hugs Manuel*

toast said...

Funny... (odd no ha-ha obv) I have just been back 'home' for a funeral myself and had many of the thoughts that you have so eleoquently written about above - the wake is a lovely thing, the only bugger is the person who would enjoy it most is usually in the box.

Sorry for your troubles Manuel... come to think of it I usually spend most of my time at funerals wondering what an odd expression that is.

ellie said...

Sorry for your trouble.

There is nothing like a good wake though. A tradition that we should be very proud of. Pity aout the lack of booze, the craic is always better when the booze is in.

My thoughts are with you and your family. x

livesbythewoods said...

Very sorry to hear of your loss.

I was told once that grief is the price we pay for love. I found it comforting, maybe you will too.

Anonymous said...

i suppose i should call you manuel but i think cousin should suffice for now. by complete chance i went onto your site tonight whilst feelng rather glum, i shant thank you for the extra tears you caused but the laughter was most needed, you have put into words beautifully what i've been trying to say to people. sending much love, bronagh x

Manuel said...

Nick: I'd like Pol Roger Champagne to sponsor mine, or M & S tea bags.....

Sam: Thanks...

BBB: My uncles phone went off twice during the funeral despite him being the one to warn everybody before we went in about that very same issue. It was amusing. My current ringtone is Slayer's Angel of Death, crikey.....

MJ: See above...

YoYo: Have a tissue....

Toast: Cheers Toast, wakes truly are a fantastic way of dealing with the whole horrible event..

Ellie: The proper men folk went to the bar......I made sandwiches.....

LBTW: Huh, I like that......thanks

Manuel said...

Cheers Kiddo......stay cool....

Upset Waitress said...

Death is strange. Celebrations of Life are major social events with tons of food. I helped my grandma, 66, die 6 years ago. I will never forget that last breath. EVER! Anyway, I remember trying to close her eye-lids after she passed. Those suckers would just slowly open back up. After about an hour of her eyelids popping back open they finally stayed closed. Strange. It's not like in the movies, eyelids just don't close after ya die. Takes a while for the blood to settle I guess.

Sorry for your loss.

Manuel said...

Upset Waitress: I remember my grandfathers last words to me, "GET YOUR HAIRCUT!" He never liked my punkish haircut. Thanks waitress.......

sheepworrier said...

My condolences Manuel, I can't say anything that isn't a cliche, so just keep ur chin up mate.

Mass Cards kept in a quality street tin, were they?

Enda P said...

My condolences, M.

And what a great piece of writing.

Manuel said...

Sheepo: Bwahahahaha, not yet, but soon enough......

Enda: Cheers mate....

savannah said...

you have my deepest condolences, sugar. *hugs*

Conan Drumm said...

A shame she died so young, Manuel, but you all did the right thing by her and for her.

Manuel said...

Savannah: Thanks Savannah......

Conan Drumm: It was a shock that's for sure, thanks Conan

OFTR said...

Sorry I didn't read this earlier man - my condolences.

Brought back a few memories, which weren't as bad as I though they'd be funnily enough.

You only remember the good times in the end I suppose.

The Bad Ambassador said...

Sorry to hear that. I lost my grandfather earlier this year and your post brought it all back.

Excellently written - it describes an Irish wake to a T (or should that be tea?) Entertaining but somber, loving but irreverant.

Manuel said...

the bad ambassador: cheers, that's what I was trying to write, respectful but with a laugh to lighten it......

fgeegf said...

成人電影,情色,本土自拍, 情色聊天室, 寄情築園小遊戲, AV女優,成人電影,情色,本土自拍, A片下載, 日本A片, 麗的色遊戲, 色色網, ,嘟嘟情人色網, 色情網站, 成人網站, 正妹牆, 正妹百人斬, aio,伊莉, 伊莉討論區, 成人遊戲, 成人影城,
ut聊天室, 免費A片, AV女優, 美女視訊, 情色交友, 免費AV, 色情網站, 辣妹視訊, 美女交友, 色情影片 成人影片, 成人網站, A片,H漫, 18成人, 成人圖片, 成人漫畫, 情色網,
美女交友, 嘟嘟成人網, 成人貼圖, 成人電影, A片, 豆豆聊天室, 聊天室, UT聊天室, 尋夢園聊天室, 男同志聊天室, UT男同志聊天室, 聊天室尋夢園, 080聊天室, 080苗栗人聊天室, 6K聊天室, 女同志聊天室, 小高聊天室, 情色論壇, 色情網站, 成人網站, 成人論壇, 免費A片, 上班族聊天室, 成人聊天室, 成人小說, 微風成人區, 色美媚部落格, 成人文章, 成人圖片區, 免費成人影片, 成人論壇,
日本A片, 愛情公寓, 情色, 舊情人, 情色貼圖, 情色文學, 情色交友, 色情聊天室, 色情小說, 一葉情貼圖片區, 情色小說, 色情, 色情遊戲, 情色視訊, 情色電影, aio交友愛情館, 色情a片, 一夜情, 辣妹視訊, 視訊聊天室, 免費視訊聊天, 免費視訊, 視訊, 視訊美女, 美女視訊, 視訊交友, 視訊聊天, 免費視訊聊天室, 情人視訊網影音視訊聊天室, 視訊交友90739, 成人影片, 成人交友, 本土自拍, 免費A片下載, 性愛,
成人交友, 嘟嘟成人網, 成人電影, 成人, 成人貼圖, 成人小說, 成人文章, 成人圖片區, 免費成人影片, 成人遊戲, 微風成人, 愛情公寓, 情色, 情色貼圖, 情色文學, 做愛, 色情聊天室, 色情小說, 一葉情貼圖片區, 情色小說, 色情, 寄情築園小遊戲, 色情遊戲情色視訊, 情色電影, aio交友愛情館, 言情小說, 愛情小說, 色情A片, 情色論壇, 色情影片, 視訊聊天室, 免費視訊聊天, 免費視訊, 視訊美女, 視訊交友, 視訊聊天, 免費視訊聊天室, a片下載, aV, av片, A漫, av dvd, av成人網, 聊天室, 成人論壇, 本土自拍, 自拍, A片,成人電影,情色,本土自拍,