My mother's funeral was held at 2.30pm (French time) on Wednesday 2nd October 2019.
The morning before the funeral, for some reason I decided to scrape the old putty out of the front door and re-putty the window panes. No idea why I decided to do that. Even less idea why I decided to do that while wearing my 'good' outfit. But the only things that got messy were my hands. Thankfully washing up liquid dealt with the white gunk all over my hands.
Two things were immediately clear. First, I have no idea how to putty windows, and secondly, I don't give a crap. Alison (English friend) kindly said that it had a certain rustic charm. I'm writing this on Saturday evening, and I can report that the putty had hardened into place, looks okay (if a bit wobbly) and hasn't fallen out yet. So it's much better than it was.
One part that I patched over, it looked like the putty was actually some sort of cement! So, there, I might be Fail at doing a glazier's job, but I don't Fail hard enough to try using cement to do the job! I wonder who did that?
Anyway, windows reputtied, hands washed, time to go bury my mother.
Please excuse the dark humour, there's only one time in my life I'm ever going to write that sentence. But, then, maybe you might have sussed my black humour if you listened to the second song I embedded last time, you know, the epic perky one about the End of Days. If you have not, back up an entry and go listen to it. It's a really great sounding song, and is my current favourite song. I love the multiple voices (of madness?) at the end that dissolves into the guitar solo for the fade out. It's like "hell yeah, bring it on!".
But that's today, and the main part of this blog entry is Wednesday, so let's rewind a few days and go back to Wednesday. Door fixed, hands washed, and off to the church for the one reason I never wanted to have to go to church...
A service was held in the village church, officiated by a lay person (due to a lack of priests) and Armelle (the sister of the Mayor). In this picture, it is Armelle on the left, the officiator (I never caught his name, I'm sorry!) on the right, and you can see the coffin at the lower right.
I picked a pine coffin with wooden handles, because mom was a big believer in ecology, and I felt that it would biodegrade better than one with metal handles.
I walked the coffin in, along with some old guys in suits that came along with the hearse. I sat down in the front, and a friend, Tatiana, slipped a card into my hands as everybody else took their seats.
We started with some soft music that was almost like a chamber orchestra playing something to describe a waterfall. On Tuesday evening, Armelle, officiator, and myself went over the outline of the service to choose music and which of the many texts and passages to read. We wanted something that was peaceful, tranquil, and entirely in the spirit of mom.
One thing I must point out right now is that the officiator pronounced Jane correctly throughout. I'm really pleased with that. It isn't a name that is known in France, so we often got Jan, Jen, Jean, and sometimes Jennifer (said jenny-fair). So it was really nice that, in the end, somebody said her name correctly. Thank you.
After an introduction to explain who and what the service was for, we had the first of several songs - Jésus me voici devant Toi which was sung with aplomb by Armelle.
The congregation was small, several people from the village who we have talked to from time to time (but don't know their names), the Mayor (Christian), the former Mayor (Gérard), and the municipal aid man (Valérie). A person we know as "the walking man" because he is always seen out for a walk was the cross bearer to led the way for the coffin.
From work, I expected two people to come - Éric and Béa. What I didn't expect was a number of people from the morning pick'n'pack shift, plus my boss and former boss (the latter two should have been at work!). I didn't look back much during the service, because I thought that if I thought too much about their presence I probably would have lost it. It really really meant a lot to me, so thank you to Marie-O, Margot, Véro, Jojo, Tatiana, Annie, Éric, and Béa.
Thank you also to Alison for taking me places and helping to sort out the mess. And while I am thanking people, thank you to Gérard for picking me up each morning to take me to work. One day I'll have a car and can do these things for myself. But, alas, that day is not today.
Following the song, another played (I don't know the title) as the candles were lit.
A reference to the several flowers before the altar, for the reading of a short text about flowers. I should point out that the arrangement in the very front was me. Little pieces of home for mom. Some of the two types of willow, a piece of oak, some lavender, some thyme, a California Poppy (mom loved), and you can see lurking in the front between the legs of the candle holder, one of the big lovely roses that mom always used to stop and sniff - as demonstrated in the photo montage.
Mom was quite traditional in her approach to religion. She never agreed with Vatican II doing away with Latin. So in a nod to that, I asked if something in Latin could be included. Well, what we got in the end was a short rendition of Kyrie Eleison (no, not the Mr. Mister song!) which wasn't Latin, but possibly better being directly derived from Ancient Greek and quite possibly both pre-Latin and pre-Christian. Well, can't get more traditional than that, can you? The actual transliteration used is a Latinised form of modern Greek, and the phrase basically translates as "Lord have mercy".
Next up, a reading by the Mayor, from the first letter of St. John. I'm not a religious person, so I'll leave you to Google this.
Now for an audience participation song (one that was in the little booklet) - Entre tes mains. You might be getting the idea that there was a lot of music in this service. The rendition of this song sounded like something from the '70s. I reckon it would have amused mom.
Then some sung Hallelujah parts, as the officiator (I really should have got his name!) went to the altar and picked up a book there, for a section that was sort of sung in verse. Finally something I remember from when I used to go to (CofE) church (it was obligatory at boarding school).
A text about "comme un grain de blé" (it's from John 12:20). Rather in keeping with the agricultural cycle of this part of rural France.
A short interlude for a very plinky-plonky rendition of Pachelbel's Canon (my favourite classical piece!) sounding almost as if played by a music box. It was unexpected (Armelle said she would find something nice to fill the space) and quite appreciated. Thank you.
Another reading, this time personalised to mom, interspersed with the universal prayer, that part being sung.
The little money bag was passed around. I must apologise for only adding 12 centimes, this never happened at the CofE services that I used to go to at school, so I was not prepared for it. 12 centimes was literally all the change I had on me. I'll have to give a few euros to Armelle for the next time. I mean, it's a bit crap to stiff the church at your mother's funeral isn't it? But, like I said, I didn't realise...
We stood for a prayer. It sounded like a French version of The Lord's Prayer - comme au ciel aussi sur terre (on earth, like it is in heaven)...
We remained standing for Peter, Paul, and Mary's rendition of Blowing In The Wind, the significance of probably going right over everybody's head. I picked this song to define my mother - soft yet determined, calm yet forceful.
Afterwards, the officiator spread incense all around the coffin. It is symbolism - the spirit of the dead person will rise to God, just as the smoke from the incense burner (censer) rises into the air. It may also be a ritual purification. There used to be a prayer said during this time, but Vatican II did away with the prayer as, really, the symbolism speaks for itself.
I had to Google this. The CofE (protestant Anglican for overseas readers) church that I attended only used incense during the Christmas service that the school put on for parents, and if I'm totally honest, that was probably only to make the place cease smelling dank and damp for a short while.
A short text, followed by Ave Maria, also sounding like it was being played on a sort of music box. I'm guessing this must have been some sort of CD intended for funeral services?
Finaly, time to leave...to the music of a song called Anduriña as performed by Juan Pardo, a favourite song of mom's, and this time in Spanish.
As this was playing, the congregation took an aspergillum (a metal ball on a stick) and flicked holy water onto the coffin. It is interesting that the principle of ritual cleansing by flicking holy water is not that different to modern paganism (which often uses rainwater left out under a full moon). The final person to flick water on the coffin was the officiator (is there a word for a lay-person not-priest?) who made a cross.
The coffin was then walked (on a metal trolley), out of the church and back into the hearse. Then The Walking Man carried the big metal cross on a pole in front of the procession as we headed to the graveyard. Luckily for him (as the cross/pole looked heavy) it was only maybe 150 or so metres away. Unlike CofE, the graveyards don't tend to surround the churches here in France. It isn't really possible as most of the time the church is the central part of town or village, and around the church is a road, with the community branching out from that. Indeed, one might be justified in thinking that a lot of the smaller rural communities started with the church, and grew from there.
Everybody was invited to touch the coffin and say goodbye. I did briefly, having already said goodbye when I saw mom barely alive a week prior. It's why I didn't go and see the body after her death. I believe in the "ghost in the shell" outlook, and the ghost (spirit, soul, whatever you want to call it) is what made mom Mom. The body is just the shell, the envelope, the biological entity that held the ghost. It wasn't mom. Mom went with her ghost, and I felt that she'd already departed on that Wednesday, two days before her demise.
Afterwards, the coffin was carried to the plot that had been dug, and lowered in. The plot was deep. There was no difference in price between digging a one-person plot and a two-person plot, so I asked to leave space for me. I don't know if I will die and be buried here (after all, mom is a really long way from her place of birth, as am I for that matter), but - you know - if the price is the same I might as well leave myself the option for the future.
Very nicely, and a stroke of luck, mom was placed into the ground directly besides Mme Charron, our neighbour at the top of the long driveway who died about a decade ago. A lovely friendly person who was like the mother that mom never had. Mom only really had two wishes after her death - a burial as ecological as possible (so none of those giant marble things) and to be close to Mama-Française.
Well, she's right beside Mama-Française. I'm so happy that the space was available.
Afterwards, Alison, myself, and the people from work went to the little bar for a drink (coffee, coke (for me), orange juice, some odd mint concoction, etc), and then that was that.
I would like to thank Armelle again for her help in sorting out the music and arranging the service. Several people have commented on how lovely the service was. I hope mom, if her ghost is around anywhere, also liked her service. But, you know, mom had a nomadic urge. Indeed the 17 years we've been here in France is possibly the longest she's stayed in one place. So I doubt I'll see or sense mom's ghost any time soon. She's already off on another adventure, isn't she?
I've had a lot of support from people at work. I usually work by myself, doing the break room and changing rooms in the morning and looking after the smaller plonge (industrial washing up) in the afternoon. I try to be polite to everybody, but don't mix or get involved in things. In other words, I keep to myself. The support, the offers of help, and kindness of everybody has been mind blowing and utterly unexpected.
The card that Tatiana put into my hands at the beginning of the service? It must have been a really hard thing to write, but one bit that stands out is written in English so there's no misunderstanding:
don't and never forget we love you and we'd always be there for you
I cried. I really did. I had no idea. And... Last weekend was scary and probably the reason that I didn't lose it was because I was in shock (you might have got a sense of that from my last blog post).
As the week progressed the shock wore into a numbness. I cried a lot when thinking of, or "talking to" mom, but other times (like when at work), I was just completely numb.
After reading that, after seeing the support that everybody has been giving me... I am alone, but at the same time I'm not alone. That makes all the difference, and I know the next few months are going to be difficult, alternating between not having mom around and all the paperwork and stuff that needs to be sorted out, but... strangely enough I don't feel scared of the future any more. There are people around that like me. And I'll stop there because I'm in danger of sounding like Sally Field's 1984 Oscar acceptance speech.
I've been keeping busy. The only computer use is writing stuff for my blog (like this), otherwise I've been doing stuff outside around the usual mundane things like taking the bin up for collection. Earlier today I cycled into the village to give the Mayor the money for the burial plot (you pay for a concession of a number of years - I don't think I want to know what happens after, what becomes of the buried bits?), and it was about two and a half kilometres there, and again back. Just after the driveway is a large hill. When I first moved out here in 2002 I'd ace that hill, dammit even cycled it one day carrying mom on the rack at the back of the bike. Today? Had to dismount and walk. 17 years and not keeping up with cycling has left me much weaker. On the way back, the hill is a longer slope, so I was determined not to give up. Eight phone poles from when the hill starts to get troublesome to the crest, and I counted them off, getting increasingly sweary as the number diminished, but I made it. My legs still hurt half a day later, but I made it. Over the crest I flicked up the gears and sped down the hill, taking 35kph, and allowed myself a smirk for the fact that just a mite faster and I'd outpace my future car! The licence-free ones are supposed to max out at 42kph. And I did nearly that on an old pushbike. Say no more.
Through the days I've been scraping the grass off of where it has been encroaching on the driveway. The triangle section (left of the chair) was done on Monday after collecting mom's stuff from the palliative care unit up in Rennes. The section under the chair was done on Wednesday after the funeral. And the large wet part was done today. I didn't intend to do quite that much, but I used the scientific method of flipping a coin and working from where it landed. Well, I think that part is about half done, and as you can see there's a lot of driveway under there. It was where I put my easy chair in the summer, under the shade of the trees, but summer is over, so time to work on sorting out ready for winter.
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|Gavin Wraith, 6th October 2019, 13:16|
Thank you Rick. I was anxious for you, but am no longer. You are among excellent people.
|David Pilling, 6th October 2019, 18:25|
Rick, well done. Moving. I look forward to the car blogs. You're lucky to be living in such a community, it's not like that here.
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Last read at 21:33 on 2019/10/20.
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