Mum’s Lovely and Long Funeral

Mum’s.Lovely and Long Funeral

I quietly entered the bedroom.

Dad was bending over Mum, trying to tie up her drooping jaw with one of her favourite scarves, and softly muttering to himself. I leant in to hear. “Bloody hell, I couldn’t keep her mouth shut in life, now I can’t even keep it shut in death.”

Mum was dead. She had passed away two hours ago. It was a peaceful death, a sudden heart attack, and according to the doctor she was dead before she hit the kitchen floor. In the family’s opinion, it was a suitable passing, the kitchen was her domain and she died baking scones for friends.

Dad was waiting for the undertaker and trying to make her presentable. She did always try to look her best in life, so Dad thought that a sagging jaw was not a good look in death. I helped him, and we finally got her jaw nicely in place. It was a colourful scarf, so she didn’t look too bad. I thought about Dad’s comment, and realised that he always had maintained a dry sense of humour. And yes, Mum had always been a chatterer, which used to annoy Dad no end.

The funeral was lovely but long. My folks had a wide range of family, friends and social groups. Mum came from a large family, so there was a massive tribe of relatives there – brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren, together with a host of long lost kinfolk who I had never ever met. All the garden and camera club members turned up to farewell their dear Rosie. Mum was a friendly outgoing type of person, and the big attendance verified her popularity.

My parents had attended a church at Essendon for years. This church was very old and spacious. Just as well, because it was totally full. We had organised for the original parish minister, Tom Pickering, to conduct the service. He was old and had retired long ago, but had been a close friend of my parents, so it seemed appropriate. Tom readily agreed to come out of retirement and conduct the service. I realised afterwards why he was so keen.

The service was on a strict time limit, as there wasn’t a great deal of time between finishing the service and reaching Fawkner Cemetery. The undertaker had emphasised the need to keep to time, as the Crematorium was strict on this. If we missed our spot, we may have had to put Mum in a type of holding pattern, waiting for a spare chapel. But I had it all planned out, there were only a couple of service readers, Tom would run the service quickly, he probably would want to get home for milk and biscuits. We had plenty of time. Or so I thought.

When Tom arrived outside the church, I saw him register some surprise at the number of waiting mourners. Then I saw a change in his expression, a small smile suddenly appeared on his lined face. Not stopping too long for small talk, he quickly made his way into the church, followed by my sisters, and Dad, with me wondering what was in Tom’s mind.

I soon realised. Tom enthusiastically mounted the pulpit and the grin expanded to a huge smile. He positively radiated happiness, beaming at the congregation filling the huge space. He looked like a lost child finally making it home. I suddenly realised, Tom had not left the office, he missed his calling. Like a lot of men in fulfilling jobs, he had not been ready to retire. Obviously, growing roses and vegies was not occupying enough of his time and energy. He clearly had not seen his old church so jam packed since it was consecrated. He was home again, and going to let all and sundry know it. He was happy.

Tom fiercely gripped the railing, the veins standing out in his gnarly hands, and I think he said a little prayer. I suspect the prayer went something like this. “Lord, I am old and frail. Thank you for this second chance. If this is to be my last sermon, please give me the strength to make it a good one.”

He did make it a good one. It was a lovely sermon, no fire and brimstone, just the old man relishing telling the story of Mum’s life in a beautiful, gently moving friendly way. I could sense the congregation soaking up his tale, and reliving my dear Mum’s long life. But it was long, very, very long. When Tom finally finished, he slumped into the pulpit, exhausted but satisfied.

I was more concerned with looking at my watch, thinking about traffic, how to get Mum to the cemetery on time, and how to make our way through the huge crowd of mourners. Wondering also, would Tom have kept any strength to conduct the crematorium service. I was actually moved to pray, not for Mum, but for Tom to finish his marathon quickly and safely. But God was on Tom’s side that day.

Bruce McCorkill
March 2014

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