Front Cover Image-needs croppingDid you know: • The best-laid plans for a funeral can quickly run amok. • Grandchildren’s drawings display creative dynasty.

It was a funeral with all the possibilities of disaster: the hearse so late that we had to leave Catisfield without it, the eventually-formed convoy motoring at indecorous speed on the motorway to Brighton and still unable to follow the planned route; the dangerously overheating engine of the coach carrying guests; the near-topple of the coffin bearers; orders of service not distributed; the wrong button pressed at the crucial moment of committal; return travel plans near-thwarted.  But, instead, it turned out to be a great day of celebrating Mummy’s life.  We all wore bright colours and flaunted the silks she had hand-painted for us.

Despite so many decades of community activity (from founding the local WI and having leading roles in  the horticultural Society, the Friends of Woodingdean, the Sussex Downsmen and more), she was never truly confident that anyone had noticed  or appreciated what she had done – so obituaries in two newspapers would have given her immense satisfaction.Leader News article scan

She’d been pretty clear as to her requirements: Sibelius, no black, no religion.  So we had a fairly free hand to design an occasion to celebrate her life.  A whole group of us created massive flower arrangements aimed at reflecting her beloved garden – drifts of fragrant pink lilies and more delicate summer flowers in the sweeps of herbaceous borders to frame her in the hearse.

Grandchildren Toby and Nora drew special pictures alongside her photos in the order of service.  Her four giant sons carried in the coffin to the strains of Sibelius.

flowers 5Although my brief outline of her life and recent illness gave some background, it was Jonathan’s performing skills that captured her energy, her travels and bee-keeping that Annika encapsulated in singing “What a Wonderful World”.  Peter drew on some of the thousands of images captured by Mummy’s passion for photography throughout her years of gallivanting around the world and set them to part of another symphony.  There were a few tears but more smiles when Martin summed up her life in just 20 evocative words.  A few more sentences about her courage and determination before Peter read the committal and then we all sang “The hills are alive to the sound of music”.

There’s a line that says “I go to the hills when my heart is lonely” – and she did – and she found great companionship and joy walking with her friends across the South Downs, climbing in Scotland and exploring all over the world.

Mummy would have loved the tea that followed at Stanmer House – it was a familiar venue for gatherings and she loved the gardens.  We had set up some of her paintings, more of her photos and many of the memories that friends had contributed – we could laugh together over favourite stories of her exploits and weep a bit over a life that had been so full.

She would have been glad that the flowers went back to the rowans hospice  where they had given her such good care before she came home to me.  And the coach delivered the Catisfield contingent back here that evening too – time for more reminiscences and some collective deep breaths after so many emotional highs and lows.

Now, some months later, we went on to the Downs to scatter her ashes – it was easy to imagine her: speeding up another escarpment, eyes sparkling, cheeks flushed and a little out of breath but full of joy and exhilaration.150725 - Ashes

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Christine Melville

MummyMummy’s death tore a hole in my life.

No-one tells you about the heartbreak when a parent dies.  You hear about people having had a “good innings” or a merciful release or other polite words.  Perhaps these are easier to say than that there is a huge yawning hole where one’s heart used to be.

Until Mummy died two months ago, I had thought that, although expected, it wasn’t really going to happen, that she would be alert and well until the end and that her death was going to be “manageable”.  It wasn’t like that at all.  Nothing prepared me for the precious hours just sitting with her body, holding her hand still moving just a little to the air mattress pump.  No-one told me about the hallucinations at night when she is alongside in bed just how we used to open our Christmas stockings together over all these decades.  The tearing guilt of not having told her often enough that I loved her or that I was proud of her.    The guilt of not having cared enough, talked enough, visited enough or just been kind enough.

And, of course, even writing this sounds all wrong: its all me, me, me.  Getting through the first few days was a haze of near-suicidal misery – there just didn’t seem to be any point in carrying on.  The funeral was a blessing: all those arrangements, negotiations, plans and communications were an escape when ticking through a list was easier than coping with the chasm.  Friends who weren’t embarrassed but just let you weep really helped.  And some brought food too –a meal started putting each day back to some structure when shopping or cooking were just impossible.

Perhaps, nowadays, we don’t have much personal experience of death: ill and old ones are often in hospitals and homes and it may all seem a bit more distant.  Until now, my closest experience was the death of my fiancé Simon when I was at university – and that is lost in a valium blur.  I didn’t realise that death of someone you love, although not a lover, was going to be just as world-smashing.  I am eternally grateful that my brothers and I had time with Mummy: four of us sat in vigils on her last night –partly trying to help her physical comfort but mainly just using word  and touch  to transmit care, safety and love.  She rallied enough the next morning that two brothers felt they could take a breather.  So just the third and I were there during those last minutes which we tried to fill with reassurances, comfort and love.

It is a struggle to mask bereavement with a “brave face” but, beneath, there is real physical pain, emptiness and despair.  I’m not sure that we talk about all of this enough – and talking really helps.