You’d give a gal a hand, wouldn’t you? You’d hold a door open, carry her shopping or her coffin especially if you’d arrived late for the funeral mass, having spent three hours on the M50 and this time, she couldn’t hear your excuse never mind believe it. So you snook in the back and slipped onto a shiny pew and gazed out a stained glass window letting swirley thoughts invade your senses. Your cousin’s missus sang the Ave Maria which enhanced the swirliness and swept you into a bonoesque trancey eyed oblivion interrupted only by a prayer, to which you didn’t know the answer so you stood up, when they were kneeling and knelt, when they stood up. The best part of mass hadn’t changed; it’s that count back from the Lord’s Prayer. I knew the words from then on, the responses and the shaking hands bit. I loved it when, for brevity, they held off the communion giving, finished and said good luck to the departing sinners and served the pious with the host. But there must have been an edict since, cause that doesn’t happen anymore and the sinners must watch the pious before we can all go in peace.
I stood at the back where I could see that my aunt was looked after by a plethora of pall-bearers, my brothers and cousins, and also being at the back, I fell into like minded sinful company with whom I could follow the hearse. So we walked the mile along a country road in early winter and tried to remember common ground and dead people. It’s strange how these funeral people never seem to age. When you were young they were old and now, they are still the same type of old, but you are taller. “I remember your mam, Bobby”, a kindly women in the nest of village vipers where my mother was born. And it was around then, that I took my eye off the ball, off her coffin. We rounded the corner to the graveyard early, the plethora had dispersed and she needed me at her head. A suit indicated where I should lift and if only I’d been at her feet, well then, I’d have had no story.
So we shuffled the last ten yards to the grave and set her down on the planks when I realised I’d been captured by the pious, like she herself did to me all that time ago in a choir’s lair of perfume and piss. Surrounded, though the grave was jumpable and open in front of me but that might have been unseemly and anyway, I’m not as young as I used to be. They encircled me, claustrophobically and constrictingly like a tight starched collar and the priest rolled out the tools for her final departure. So I breathed deeply and looked at the dates on my grand parent’s grave stones, my grand aunts and uncles too, in an untidy line. My corner boy preferences were at the back and of no use to me now so I counted out the rosary hail marys and offered it all up to, up to where I always offered stuff up to and came back empty, again. And for the second time that morning I recognised a final hurdle and made ready for the sandwich and cup of tea, started to shuffle and gave the final responses a little too loudly. She was lowered down, and when I heard the scattering of the ashes to ashes handful on her lid, a sound which I hope never to hear from the other side, well I knew I’d made it again, or so I thought.
The black suits broke down the microphone and stood back as this little lady jumped out from the pious and asked would anyone mind if they did the Legion prayers? I went to put my hand up, I turned to escape, I panicked and in my head the choir confusion came back and I smelt her perfume, that old lady piss smell and the ringing came back in my ears. I heard myself say, “No, not at all”
And if my sis comes here now and reads this, know that I loved this lady in her coffin that morning.
How many sorrowful mysteries? I asked a teacher cousin.
Five, and some trimmings, he intoned.
A Hail holy queen routine
Sacred heart of Jesus H Christ and his blessed holy mother, but she’s taking the piss.
Ssshhhh, I was told, as I have always been told for ever and ever.
So, I counted them again, fifty hail Marys and that holiest of holy Mary cousins, Patrick, spat back his staccato , Holy Mary mother of god to the Hitler look alike little old lady with the rosary beads. I was in a strange territory and without GPS. I thought a thousand times that afternoon that I’d seen the third final hurdle of the day, only to be beaten back by the staccato kid.
And so it went that funeral day, that still and from the other side ma belle tante Marie was holding my sweaty hand tightly and making me sit still, but this time without the promise of a Golly Wolly later.