October 26th was a remarkable day. It was the day we hand-delivered our dad to life’s engine of renewal on his first step back to the stuff of stars. We held our ceremony at the residential home where he had lived the last year with Mum. She grasping less and less of the substance of life, and he falling foul of a need to take care of her at the expense of his own health, despite having no need to do so. The people we invited: a small group of family who had laughed with him through most of our lives; and friends who had laughed, danced, and reminisced with them both, gathered with staff from the home and elsewhere to help us send him on his way. We had a cherry tree to plant, and the home had kindly dug the hole for us earlier in the day. We had candles to light up the darkening evening, and we had strings of solar lights to sparkle through nights to come, outside the lounge window where Mum sits with her cup of tea.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have my dad. At least not as readily to hand as we had expected. Seeing the lovely food, and the gathering guests, Mum had beamed and asked ‘Is this a party?’ We reminded her that, no, it was for Dad, because he was gone now. ‘Oh,’ she said, appearing to take this on. A moment passed. ‘So how’s your dad getting here, then?’ My sister did not miss a beat. ‘He’s already here,’ she told her. But neither of us had checked, and he wasn’t. And so it came to pass that my sister and nephew raced off down the road to the funeral director’s office, while I held the fort with the Vera Lynn/Ken Macintosh mega mix. They returned some 20 minutes later with our dad in a bag, weaving nonchalantly through the small assembly and placing him discreetly in position for his curtain-call. That he almost missed his own funeral would have creased him up with laughter. It very nearly finished us off for sobriety, and it was hard to delete from imagination the Benny Hill soundtrack that must surely have been playing in some cosmic theatre of the absurd. He would have loved it, and regretted only that there was no stuffed-shirt present who might have failed to see the funny side. Puncturing pomposity was a hobby verging on job description.
By the end of the day, we had rested our Dad in a place close to Mum’s favourite position in her preferred lounge. There is a tree that will blossom in spring with the blooms they brought to every house they lived in, and in due course, it will be joined by their other favourite, a Mock Orange, when Mum’s turn comes around. She has already said this is what she wants. A wonderful afternoon spent with lovely, gentle, people; good food, music of an era that brought us to liberation and never went away, and soft rounded wine to mellow the soul. He would have loved that too.