– Here is another extract from the memoir I’m working on..
January. A new year. Nana’s burial. The service takes place in a tiny, unheated chapel in a crematorium on the outskirts of Essex. We sit on wooden pews in winter coats, our breath intermittently turning into vapour, waiting for the vicar to take his place at the podium. He is a portly man with a voice and manner of someone who appears to feel genuine compassion. He talks about Esme’s life: her children, her husband who died nearly forty years previously, the years she spent working for Avon and making homemade jams. He talks about the exciting times she’s lived through: two World Wars, the advent of mass tourism and technological inventions such as the aeroplane, the washing machine and the internet. Not that Nana had ever used a computer or even once been on an aeroplane. She’d never left the shores of the British Isles. Nor had she wanted to. And now, there she is, finally laid to rest inside that box which is strewn with wreaths of roses and lilies from her children, grandchildren, and Ida, her one and only friend. The vicar recites one of Esme’s favourite poems, Wordsworth’s I Wandered Lonely as A Cloud. Part of me cringes inside as I’m taken back to the time when I had to sing the lyrics to that poem in school assemblies. We’re asked to stand and sing the hymn All Creatures Bright and Beautiful. There’s only a handful of us; the words, when they come, are slightly out of tune, barely voiced or simply mouthed.
Two men, dressed in black, carry the coffin out of the chapel. We dutifully follow behind, as it begins to snow, and make our way towards the burial plot. This is my first burial. All the other funerals I’d attended had been cremations – a simple curtain drawn to signify the snuffing out of a life. The first cremation was that of my other grandma when I was in my early twenties. This was followed some years later by the cremations of two friends: Orisca, a party girl with a joie de vivre who suffered from Crohn’s disease and, towards the end of her life, tragically contracted meningitis, and the well-known playwright, Sarah Kane, who ended her days by hanging herself in hospital.
The coffin is lowered. The vicar throws a handful of earth into the hole that has been freshly dug. It lands on the casket with a thud. The snow is beginning to settle and I think about granddad lying in the plot next to her – or what’s left of him. (It’s been nearly forty years.) And I think about the painting I did all those years ago at primary school, soon after he died. The one based on the Jacob’s Ladder story from the Bible. All that gooey, yellow-orange paint I had mixed in the palette with the thickest paintbrush from the jar. How I’d painted not just one mythical ladder that reached up to heaven but a multitude of them. A ladder, not just for granddad, but for other souls too, to help them on their way up. Or so I thought at the time. As my auntie and uncle clutch handfuls of earth and throw it onto Nana’s coffin, their faces crumpled with grief, I see that story for what it is: a children’s fairy tale.