I don’t know very much about funerals. I don’t know very much because I am young, and I shouldn’t have to deal with this kind of thing, and I shouldn’t have to be going, and I shouldn’t have to be writing about it, and you shouldn’t be dead. I imagine funerals for the people you love always seem to hurtle out of nowhere, greeted by the living in a manic, tear-soaked blur. I imagine everybody staggers through them in a mixture of shellshock, grief, disbelief and autopilot. I imagine there are never right words to say and right ways to behave, because they are always inherently wrong. But I do not know for certain.
We are young. We should not be making speeches and preparing to say goodbye to our friends. That’s the kind of thing parents and grandparents and old people do. Not us. Not now. We’re adults now, but I’ve not felt so much like a child in a long time. I felt helpless the entire day, unable to understand and comprehend what was going on, no idea what was happening, constantly turning to other people for help. A childish voice in my head shouting “Stop! Stop!”. It was overwhelming, unfamiliar, confusing. I felt like a child, and the adults felt less like equals and more like the all-knowing, all-seeing guardians that adults seem to be when you are very young.
You could tell the “adults” because they understand the gestures of the day a bit more. Possibly they have navigated such wearying, bewildering terrain before. Maybe death becomes a little more inevitable, rather than a hideous yet entirely mythical drama (as death is for me). I assume that for adults death is more of an emerging part of the landscape, an unwanted but inescapable horizon. I do not know, because I am young.
The start of the funeral was too soon. We slept late in the morning and there were a few surreal hours; gathered at your parents, food and flowers everywhere. We were all dressed smartly: Will and Dan in matching white shirts and orange ties, me in that mental orange ballgown you loved (I’d forgotten it was so low-cut), Rick walking around handing out orange silk bow-ties. We’d all slept over the night before. It felt a bit like a wedding; people arriving, tasks to do, everybody looking dapper. It was a bit unfamiliar, but in an almost exciting way, mostly because it felt like you just hadn’t arrived yet and you were on your way. It didn’t feel sad. My brain wouldn’t compute that I should feel sad. I spoke to Charlotte and she also felt like this; like it can’t be happening, because it’s not something that should be happening, so it must be that we’re doing something else. Even my rational, educated, thoughtful brain was dumbfounded into shock and despair, preferring to supply illusions rather than accept. I was making endless teas and coffees. One or two people arrived, than a few more, and then suddenly: everyone. Too soon I looked out the window at the driveway. Flashes of orange everywhere; ribbons, hair, shirts, shoes, flowers. And then I remembered we weren’t at a wedding and you were gone and everything went blurry and I started weeping into the sink. Dan next to me, still washing up the empty cups.
Too soon we had to leave the house. I wanted to stop everything and scream, “BUT I’M NOT READY, I HAVEN’T FINISHED MAKING THE TEA”. Grief makes you crazy. You would have loved the procession. You would have been so proud of Sam and Box 9. They played incredibly. I’m so glad they were in your life and they could help make your dreams come true. I was just thinking all of this and then we’d reached the end of the procession; it was over too soon, and we stood by the road, and you arrived, and it was the most fucking awful arrival ever and just too bloody soon. It was awful, because it wasn’t you really, but what we still had of you. And even though deep down I knew it wasn’t you, my crazy brain wanted to go over and hug the car, climb onto the back, be with you anyway, in any way I could, no matter.
Too soon we were getting into cars and driving to the service. We sat, us 6, us lot, all together, except not, except missing one, just five of us, and we held each other and we cried. I had my arms round Blake, my hand on Dan, Will’s hand on my shoulder, Steph passing tissue after tissue, my tears on Dan’s trousers and Blake’s shirt, Blake’s tears on my dress, all of messed up together. Your mum said later we were the noisiest row. We sat in the row reserved for family, right behind your parents and Tim. We are each other’s family. We don’t have children and partners and families of our own yet, but we’ve stopped depending on our parents and living with our siblings. We’re between families; we have each other.
I wrote down the barest minimum of my feelings and read them out. Like you so famously said, I’m the “reading and writing one”, so it made sense that it was me (although you probably would have told me to shut up). I didn’t want to talk about these horrible awful last few weeks; who wants to hear more about how shit everything is? I tried to sum us up instead. I don’t have any other friendships as long-lasting and confusing and complex and wonderful, and now I don’t have ours, so I don’t have any. I couldn’t get it down in words, so I just read whatever I had written. I stumbled over the tense, as I have been doing for the last three weeks. Who could have imagined the pain of the past tense, the torture of “was”? I managed not to cry. I got to the end and looked up and everybody else was crying for me. I’ve never felt more grateful for a round of applause. And that is how it was. We stood up and spoke for you and we sat down and cried for you.
And then we had to leave the crematorium and it was too soon and it was awful. My mind was going “this is the last time we’ll all be together, the last room we’ll all be together, us 5” and I just couldn’t walk out of there, away from that huge part of my life where we existed together in many, many rooms and into the next part of my life where we would never exist in a room like that again. We were the last to leave; we stood there and hugged and then left as one, Blake and I looking back for a final glance at your be-ribboned nest, Dans shaking arms round my shoulders. We stood outside, everyone in coats and little groups. The sun had set.
It was exhausting. We drove back from you at about 5pm and even then it felt like it was 1am. The next 7 hours felt like 1am, actually. Why was it so tiring?
We went back to the village hall and it felt a bit like something else; like a party, like a gathering, like a celebration. There were contributions from every aspect of your life and it was incredible. Performances from your friends, your family friends, your pupils, your colleagues, your teachers, your peers, people who’d known you a short time and people who’d known you a very long time indeed. Everybody became friends. Every single performance was brilliant, everybody poured their hearts out, everybody nailed it. We were the most scruffy, but then I guess that’s WOLF PACK and God knows I tried, tried to get that lump out of my throat and just sing the songs. James and I did that Beyonce song, Love On Top; you and me used to argue about the production on the song but were both in agreement that 5 key changes was a bit of a cop-out. James and I did 17 key changes for you. There was so much happiness and joy everywhere and it was a bit like a wedding again, or at least what I imagine a wedding feels like; a celebration of pure love. I kept thinking how happy you would have been. It was warm, and friendly, and heartfelt; the sort of thing that could have felt cheesy or clichey but really, really didn’t. It felt unique. And it was wonderful. I didn’t think anything so awful could possibly be wonderful, but it was, and you would have loved it, and if that can be wonderful maybe other things can as well.
The weird thing with funerals is seeing so many people you haven’t seen for a long time. How cruel to mastermind all these little reunions and catch-ups for such a horrific day. There were many familiar face amongst the adults. I wanted to speak coherently, but everybody just reminded me of you, and I couldn’t. Thank God for the boys, for the wolves, for the rallying, for the hugs, for the understanding. Even that made me think of you; you lot always worried about me and looked after me. You were there in their mixed hugs and whispered assurances, the shoulder pats, the hand squeezes.
Afterwards almost everybody had gone. I was drifting off, taking in only about 30% of the words directed at me and talking to Sam about how hard it was to stay awake. Dan was doing endless runs to the pub over the road and bringing back all their pint glasses. Weirdly I kept imagining he should have a cape, so heroic was his pint-bearing pilgrimages. We went into the pub, Will got a round in and as I sat between Dan and James waiting for the pint I realised it was the first time in that whole day that felt normal. Here we were, in a little country pub, just us lot, having a pint, no agenda and it was so completely and utterly pedestrian, so run-of-the-mill, so ordinary and us.
It could almost have been any one of a million identical nights that came before it. You may as well have been there. Actually, in amongst the jokes, the laughing, the teasing, the bickering over music choices and the downing of 57% rum shots, you were. I’m not religious, or a believer in the afterlife, or anything like that, but I did briefly think; if he’s anywhere, it’s here. Here in the familiar chit-chat, the ethnic jokes, the ginger jokes, the Jesus jokes, the clink of pints, the laughter. And maybe that’s just what we all have to do next; find the places where you still are and go to them.
Maybe that’s what funerals are for. They’re not for the dead; how can they be? What do the dead know? They’re for those of us left behind; they’re a way to show us what happens next, how things can be, how we can be. They’re a reminder of those we hold closest, because we hold them close on the day. We showed our respects; not to you, but to each other. I think this is what funerals are supposed to be for. A declaration of love; for you, for us, for each other. A huge communal hug.
But what do I know? I do not know much, because I am young, and really, so are you. And it is still just all too soon. And I guess in a way, it will always be. ?