28 November 2006
The weather forecast was for rain, until noon at least. The funeral was booked at the Crematorium for 11am, with the cortege arriving at my Mother's approximately 10.15 for the slow walk.
Mum kicked us out at 10.10 so she could set the alarm on the house. Shivering, it was windy but not raining. We all watched up the road until we heard horses' hooves. Silence fell as the hearse approached, led by a black car with its hazard warning lights on. Behind that was a pair of magnificent black horses wearing black plumes on their heads, drawing their precious cargo. As the hearse drew alongside Mum's house, we got our first glimpse of our loved one, the coffin was draped in a Union Flag and there were our floral tributes in gorgeous lilac and yellow-themed flowers and ribbons.
The 18 immediate family members piled into the two limousines and courtesy car and we set off on my Dad's last journey. We took the scenic route along Cleethorpes seafront and then turned just before the Winter Gardens. It was strangely quiet, hardly any traffic, but a few pedestrians stopped and stared in awe, serendipity offering them a magnificent spectacle and a new memory of bygone times. As we progressed along the route, I saw a man in his garden conversing with his neighbour but, as he caught sight of our procession, he ran across to his house and banged on the front window, attracting the attention of his wife, and pointing in our direction.
All the way along Taylor's Avenue the sun was trying hard to shine on us, behind dark clouds which seemed to be holding onto their heavy burden with grim determination, defying the weather forecast of downpours till noon. I glanced at my watch - 10.30am, we were doing very well. No cars overtook us, I'm pleased to say. I thought of the h2g2 Researchers also clock-watching and getting ready to make their one-minute's silence at 11am. Unbeknown to me at that time, someone was digging a hole to plant a tree and someone was lighting a candle. Little gestures which meant such a lot to my Mother when I told her afterwards.
As we approached Hewitt's Circus, a notorious roundabout, I said a silent prayer and a white car stopped half-way round, allowing the cortege to go around in a stately unbroken line. Thank you to that driver. As we approached the next roundabout, the road was clear. Everyone in our car remarked how unusual that was. My Mother, sitting directly in front of me, was very quiet, not joining in the chatter behind her, I kept touching her shoulder and asking if she was alright. She kept her eyes fixed front but answered yes, she was ok. A set of traffic lights turned green for us and then we passed Weelsby Woods and the newly-spruced-up lions standing guard at the entrance. Mum lifted her hand to salute them and remarked that dad had fallen in love with those lions on their first visit to Cleethorpes in 1954. A woman had just entered the park with her dog and I saw her stop and look around, obviously hearing the horses' hooves but not knowing from which direction the sound came. As she caught sight of the magnificent beasts and the glass hearse laden with the Union Flag-covered coffin and floral tributes, she seemed to stumble - such was her shock. Then she composed herself and stood still as we all passed by, even her dog waited patiently. I looked back again before she was out of sight and she was still standing there. I wondered what memories we had evoked for that old lady.
The road that we were on was the one I always drove my Mother to the Hospice on, just 8 days before I'd driven like a bat out of hell having got the call that my Father was deteriorating. I glanced at my watch again just as we drew level with the turn-off for the Hospice - 10:50, I bit my lip as we passed and drove straight across towards the Crematorium. The traffic lights on Peakes Parkway were red and traffic was crossing but drivers were looking and slowing down. We had barely stopped when the lights turned green. Two cars had been in the filter lane ready to turn right, and rather than turn in front of us making us wait, they both backed up, and watched the procession pass through. It must have been an awesome sight, an unforgettable experience for the witnesses. Once over Peakes Parkway, next left was the road to the Crematorium. The horses seemed to slow down and the car we were in was barely moving. It was 10:55, we were right on time. Turning into the Crematorium I saw the local news photographer snap the picture which appeared in the paper on Friday night.
I forgot that the Funeral Director was going to open the door for us and I opened my door and got out. My friend Lynda and my partner Ron were waiting just inside, their faces full of concern for me. I kissed them both and they went inside the chapel. I got hold of Mum's hand and we stood to the side of the front door, just as the pallbearers walked through and the Normandy Veterans took their salute. 'Unchained Melody' by The Righteous Brothers started up in the chapel, bringing a lump to my throat, I glanced at my watch, it was exactly 11am. Dad was never late for anything in his whole life, I'm so glad there were no hold-ups for his final journey. I don't remember walking down the aisle behind the coffin but I recall my Mother arguing that she wanted to be on the end seat nearest the aisle and so my brother-in-law and sister and sister-in-law went first, then me, then Mum, then my brother who was giving the eulogy.
The Rev Dr Derek Webster took the service and he welcomed everyone and thanked them for coming. He talked about Dad's early life, the war, his charity work, his family and how loved and respected he was. The first hymn was 'Amazing Grace' by Judy Collins, following which the Vicar gave two readings:
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
- 1 Corinthians vs 1-13
followed by The Dragonfly which Peta had posted in my journal 'A golden heart stopped beating':
the story was about explaining Heaven, and why no-one comes back from there to say how lovely it is... my family had gone through my printed-out journal and we all decided this story should be in the service.
The story was that the dragonfly larvae knew that one day he'd fly above the water, because he'd seen so many others do it, but no-one came back to say what it was like. He promised that he'd come back, when it was his turn, to tell everyone all about it.
When it was his turn, he slowly made his way towards the line between the water and the air, and transformed, and grew wings. He sat on the water for a while, not ready to leave just yet, with the sun drying his wings. It was beautiful in the air, it felt wonderful. He thought of his friends back in the water and wanted to tell them, but realised that now he had wings he couldn't turn back again to reach them. He was sad for a moment, but then looked up at the sun, and spread his wings, and realised that it was okay, he really couldn't go back to tell them what it was like up in the air, but it didn't matter at all - because one day they'd grow wings too and fly up to join him, and they'd all meet again, and be able to talk about how beautiful it was up away from the water below.
He smiled, and stretched his wings, and flew up into the sky... He could wait, they'd all transform one day, and then they'd all meet up again.
My brother Robert was invited to take the Vicar's place on the podium to read the eulogy. Rob started off thanking everyone for coming; the Macmillan nurses; the St Andrew's Hospice; Dad's GP Dr Paul Purser1; Michelle 'take all the time off you need' (Yvonne's boss); the Funeral Directors for their perfect, faultless devotion to duty; the Normandy Veterans for their Guard of Honour and Salute; and the Vicar for ministering the communion to our parents the week before Dad passed away and his comforting visits to our Mother.
Rob talked of Dad's humble beginnings, the fifth son of ten children living in a two-bedroom terrace house near Manchester. How he was conscripted at the age of 22 and signed up for the Lancashire Fusiliers, meeting Mum while on leave and marrying her a year later while on an even shorter leave. How he landed at Normandy, gave away his chocolate ration to a colleague with shattered legs whom he stumbled across, and then ran three miles to get help. How he was seriously wounded himself and not expected to live. How he overcame that and returned to our Mother. The move to Cleethorpes and running the shop together. Being such a popular character that he tried to redress the balance by taking on the job of Traffic Warden but not succeeding, his habit of calling in on vulnerable old people to check if they were alright or if they needed anything only increased his popularity. He did write a few tickets out though. One such time, a massive car parked on double yellow lines in St Peter's Avenue, the main shopping centre in Cleethorpes. Out of the car stepped a glamorous woman, the actress Diana Dors, who excused her bad parking on account of being a woman. As Dad was writing her ticket, a large crowd gathered and Diana turned and waved at them, but someone shouted: Who are you? We've come to see Frank!
After a short burst of laughter, Robert continued, saying how after Dad's first heart attack at the age of 59 he retired to give Dr Purser a full-time job looking after him, what with his arthritis, angina, hip replacements, heart attacks, and that's just the stuff worth talking about. Around this time Dad started selling poppies for the Royal British Legion, and this year he received a long-service medal and certificate which Mum had framed and it stood proudly in the Hospice bedroom for two weeks. It was never more poignant than during the Remembrance Day service which was the first time Dad had watched The Queen 'live' at the ceremony at the Cenotaph in London, as he'd always attended the local ceremony, laying a wreath on behalf of the Lancashire Fusiliers. The nurses dressed him in his uniform and sat him in a chair to watch the ceremony with the rest of the family.
Prayers and Committal
When Robert broke down before the end of his speech, I left my seat and went to him, put my arm around my brave brother and led him back to his seat. The Vicar thanked my brother and said prayers. As he read the committal, the curtains drew around the coffin in an act of finality my Mother had specially requested. The final hymn was 'Abide With Me' recorded by my Father on a cassette tape and unnamed, none of us knows who it was singing but Dad does. One of the Normandy Veterans stood at the front and voiced the NVA anthem: They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old, age shall not weary them. At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them. Then the Vicar gave his Blessing to those assembled and with a final bow to the catafalque, he stood aside so we could file out, and 'You'll Never Walk Alone' by Gerry and The Pacemakers, a special request by Robert, played as people exited.
After greeting all the mourners, we headed to the Wellow Hotel where there was a buffet and I'm afraid I downed three glasses of wine and got a bit drunk. After returning to Mum's house my sister Yvonne crawled up the stairs and fell asleep on Dad's side of the bed and I fell asleep on Ron, so he drove us home.