Bright Pink Hotpants


Firstly, apologies for the slackness in this very tardy blog. Secondly, I love every one of you brilliant, encouraging, fantastic, supportive, awesome individuals for taking the time out to read my ramblings. It means more than you can know.

It hasn’t been the easiest few weeks. In fact, epic crises the size of Everest have seemed to strike one atop another like angry waves battering the shoreline in a particularly gnarly storm. My resolve to remain rock like is rapidly eroding into sand, but I figure there are some sand attributes that aren’t so bad after all (but that’s a whole other blog post!)

My eyes have recently been opened to a whole other realm. A realm untalked about by the masses- funerals and death 101. I have no previous knowledge or experience on this slightly taboo underworld-it’s not something that generally pops up in the everyday chirpy dinner party conversation. On the occasions I have seen it attempted with such casuality the result has been fallout akin to a sudden arctic ice blast-cold, hard, desolate and, well, frankly, awkward. For some reason, although it is literally an everyday occurrence, we are not comfortable with death. This fascinates me. It’s as if something in us recognises death as an alien feature, one that was never intended to be from the beginning. No matter how expected, death still leaves a hole, leaves us questioning our very core belief and value systems, leaves us clinging to the vain and fragile hope that there must be more.

Well. 18 days ago I was rudely and unpreparedly shoved into this whole new universe. The words ‘funeral’ ‘memorial’ and ‘cremation’ have never slipped so easily off my lips. Those alongside ‘postmortem’ ‘death certificate’ and ‘coroner’s office.’ 18 days ago my Mum died, totally out of the blue and at the tender age of 54. An unexpected thunderclap, my sister’s frantic phonecall on finding Mum still rings in my ears, echoing round my head in distortion like some ugly batcave echo.
Through tears and hugs, and with a good dose of apprehension, we entered the hazy sub-culture of death. With other family being removed from the situation by a 100-mile drive, H and I groped our way along the murky dank tunnels alone, with each additional piece of information acting like a welcome tealight in the gloom.
As the reality of Mum’s death began to sink in we distractedly nodded, signed papers, made decisions on burial versus cremation, chose flowers, picked a coffin and made other such seemingly unimportant decisions.

Grim chaos aside, you’d be surprised how much humour is there to be had for the taking during this process. When we first had the pleasure of meeting our funeral director, a lovely gentle man, I remember thinking how absurd and ridiculous his surname was. Mr Rice- seriously? That had to be a stage name for his funeral directing, created for the sole purpose of making grief-stricken persons such as myself snigger inappropriately.

The choice between burial and cremation was an easy one, confirmed by the knowledge that cremation was the (marginally) cheaper option. Mum would have thought it ridiculous to spend any more money than was absolutely necessary on something you were literally going to reduce to ashes.
The choosing of the music for the crematorium committal was slightly trickier. J, H’s brilliantly witty hubby, found humour to be the best way of dealing with the surreal situation we found ourselves in, and as such cracked out bad joke after bad joke. We hesitated for all of 8 seconds on ‘Disco Inferno’ for the crem (complete with an upbeat street dance number by the grandkids), before settling on a less offensive classical piece.

H wanted to say one last goodbye to Mum at the funeral parlour, and I will freely admit that was one of the most ludicrous encounters I have ever had the pleasure of. H and I had gone to pick out a nice outfit for Mum from her home, and the very first thing I noticed when we got into the chapel of rest was the fact that the pink cardigan had been buttoned up to cover up the beautiful blue dress we’d chosen. Now I’m definitely no Vogue stylist (those of you who know me are no doubt inadvertently nodding furiously right now), but I do know that doing up a cardi over a pretty dress is akin to popping a baggy hoodie over the top of a posh Versace evening gown. I rectified the situation swiftly, all the while fighting the inner appropriateness/etiquette demon within. H and I chatted to Mum, struggling to comprehend she was no longer there to respond. H asked me to pray, and the immediate scenario that sprang to mind was the biblical story of Jesus and Lazarus.

Long story short for those unfamiliar among you; Jesus was good mates with a guy called Lazarus, in amongst that friendship group were a couple of Marys also (at a guess Mary would have been in the top ten on the popular baby names list for 27AD) Lazarus gets super sick and without the miracles of antibiotics that we have today the Marys are distraught, thinking Laz may kick the bucket. They send for Jesus knowing firstly he’s their mate, and secondly he was a bit of a whizz at all this crazy miraculous healing stuff. Problem is, JC is hanging out a couple of days away, and by the time the message gets through, nature has taken it’s course and Laz has indeed passed on to pastures new. As was customary in the tradition of the day, they balm him up with spices and stick him in the nearest tomb/cave. JC arrives three days in, all pumped up for the God-fired healing, and is rebuked by the Lazarus ladies who tell him through tears he should have got there earlier, and didn’t he understand- Laz was dead and buried. JC, not one to shy away, and with quiet authority told the people to open up the tomb. They protested, namely because of the stench and disease that would come from exposing a three-day old body, but eventually relented; perhaps out of desperation, perhaps out of submission to the clear power Jesus displayed. Anyway, long story short, Jesus does an incredible miracle, and Lazarus walks out of the tomb-ALIVE! Shawn of the Dead, eat your heart out. So this story ran through my brain super-speed when H asked me to pray, and without thinking, I recounted that Jesus could probably do for Mum what he did for Lazarus if we asked, and did she want me to pray that. The next 30 seconds were, in the words of Alice, curious and curiouser as I prayed for the Jesus who could to do life again if He would. I even surprised myself with my faith as I warned H ‘not to be freaked out if Mum came alive again.’ In all honesty I can’t imagine Mum would have thanked us for bringing her back again. I have absolute assurance that she’s in a better place and can only imagine the mouthful we would have been subject to on a successful resurrection attempt!

I was still struggling to wrap my head round the idea that my mum was both there and yet not there, so to my shame I instinctively gave her hand a slight prod, again questioning my innate irreverence at the whole odd circumstance. Cold, waxy and definitely dead, the information crystallised in my mind like frost on a window pane, the numbness penetrating through my whole body. We left fairly soon after, and if I’m honest, the visiting of a dead person is something I wouldn’t choose to do again in a hurry.

It’s quite amazing how close laughter is to crying, and as we continued to work through the crazy list there were tears and laughs aplenty. ‘Totes inappropes’ in the words of Fearne Cotton? Maybe, but who gets to decide appropriate and proper etiquette in a whirlwind as mad and bizarre as this? One pearl I would like to pass on in my new found wisdom- ask your loved ones to pre-plan their funeral now (and pay for it if at all possible!) Planning a funeral and memorial service is like organising a wedding, but backwards, in a fiftieth of the time, and while wading through the muddy mire of unexpected loss. There are silly details on which decisions need to be made- colours, food, decoration, flowers, music, how to let people know. (At this point I am very thankful for the formula one vehicle of news that is social media) All these details are on the one hand entirely inconsequential, and yet on the other hand hugely significant; a bizarre oxymoron of memory against the backdrop of death.

We chose to make the thanksgiving service memorable by asking people to wear bright colours. Mum always wanted to dress bright at other people’s funerals as a celebration of their life, but never quite had the courage, so we decided to brave the social norms on her behalf. Now I’m an all-or-nothing kind of girl, so when we decided colours I really went for it. I found myself standing at the crematorium, gripping H’s arm for dear life as we watched Mum’s coffin proceed in, dressed in a lairy rainbow array. Purple top, orange cardigan, orange shoes, green leggings, a colourful beaded necklace, and the title of this blog post, bright pink hotpants. I would like to think that I’m maybe the first ever person to have entered the crematorium wearing bright pink hotpants, and as we said our final farewells, I could picture the smile (and slight amused eye roll) on Mum’s face. The weather in some sort of weird pathetic fallacy had morphed from grey rain to beautiful sun, and I tipped my face towards the sky and whispered one last goodbye.

Happy playing mum, I look forward with big excitement to the day we meet again. Until then, I’ll be rocking those bright pink hotpants…

Comments

  1. *hugs* I've had more death and funerals in my life than I can keep straight. Your mom's services sounds incredible, and a lot like what I want when I pass. When my mom passes, each child has been given an absurd task (and one no one but that child would willingly complete). I know my sister is to make sure my mom is wearing matching, bright red, bra and panties. My task is to make sure she is late for her own funeral! "Do whatever it takes" she told me. I've already been threatened if I follow through, but being there is a reason she ask the merry prankster of the family, you know? ;)

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  2. Kathleen that's brilliant! I love that she asked you those things. Gives me some great ideas on what to spring on my own kids ;-)

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  3. My mum wanted her children, all 7, of us to lower her into the ground....I nearly fell in cos I was so spaced out that I didn't hear them tell us to start lowering the coffin! My sister beside me just saw me taking off and grabbed me!

    Your mum sounds like one hell of a lady who will be sorely missed xxx

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