It’s a warm day in the middle of summer.
A blonde haired toddler is showing off his new-found ability to throw rocks into a hole in the ground to the amusement of his dad and older cousin, two young boys scamper cheekily through some flowers giggling as they do, a beloved uncle pesters a hapless gardener over the flowers he is tending – they are Tequila Sunrise roses, a brother is almost pulled into the dry dirt by the weight of a box he is lifting. It is, in many respects, a perfect picture of a family get together.
Apart from – and this is the really important bit – that it was the day of my Grandma’s funeral.
The hole in the ground my youngest son was trying to bullseye was the one they had just lowered her coffin into. Can you imagine the look of horror on everyone’s face as the hollow thud of rock on box snaps the gathered mourners out of their solemnity, blinking away tears to the sound of my second born jumping unsteadily yelling, “Yay! I did it! Yay! I did it!”
I can, and did, imagine this and managed to grab the rock seconds before it began it’s moment ruining journey. Unfortunately, I imagined it so well, I had to stifle convulsive laughter. My cousin, noticing, frowned slightly. I brought myself under a modicum of control and explained why I was laughing. She started laughing too. The forbidden, suppressed laughter of school children who are being yelled at by a teacher. The laughter that you desperately try to keep in your ribcage but it spills out as tears and snorting.
Moments later, the group broke up as we waited for my granddad’s ashes to be delivered as my grandmother wished to be buried with him. I’m not sure if my granddad wanted the same but he was six-months dead and understandably mute on the subject. We ambled over the crisp grass. The boys charged around tittering and everyone seemed content to watch their innocent game of chase – a sweet juxtaposition to the general gloom of laying my grandmother to rest. They darted in and out of planted flowers trying to catch each other.
And then one of them picked up a teddybear.
A teddybear in a graveyard is there for two possible reasons. A) It has been left accidentally by a young visitor. B) It is a memorial to a child who has died.
I will give you absolutely no points for guessing which of these options was the source of the stuffed toy.
In fact it’s worse.
The area the boys had chosen as their impromptu playground – and I want to make it absolutely clear that we were totally unaware of this – was a memorial garden to still-born children.
I cannot conceive of a worse place to have two children laughing with carefree inhibition than on a memorial to those who never got the chance. It’s the kind of thing that makes you cover your mouth in wide-eyed horror, muttering ‘Oh My God’.
At the same time my uncle had wondered off to grill a gardener about how best to keep roses. We are slap-bang in what is supposed to be the most solemn of days and he’s ten-minutes deep into a conversation about soil PH levels and how best to mulch.
After ushering the kids away from their literal trampling on the sacred, and rescuing the poor gardener from my uncle’s relentless questioning, we reconvened around the freshly dug grave. My brother was handed a box of my granddad’s ashes and given the task of lowering it, with as much dignity as he could summon, onto the coffin already there.
My brother is by no means a weak man but the weight of the ashes, surprising considering how frail my granddad was at the end, very nearly tipped him into the grave.
If there is anything funnier than an imagined rock landing on newly lowered coffin, it’s the imagined sight of a sibling flailing helplessly for purchase before smashing headfirst and swearing onto your recently deceased grandmother.
I had to have a little walk to calm down.
I realise that on some level this makes me a horrific person. I shouldn’t find these things funny but I do. I think it’s being surrounded by the pageantry of grief. The insisted-upon gravity of po-faced, black-clad sobriety that I just can’t help but be amused by.
And whilst I appreciate that a funeral is part of the grieving process and therefore serves to aid those left behind to come to terms with their loss, the person whose day it actually is has very little ability to complain.
What’s more, I hope that many, many years from now, when people are gathered around a six-foot deep hole into which my remains are being ceremoniously dumped, some small wide-eyed scamp flings a rock onto the lid of my box and celebrates cheerfully when it makes a noise.
As some members of the party burst into barely disguised laughter at the perceived horror of what had just occurred those who knew me best would turn to each other, nod sagely and whisper ‘it’s what he would have wanted’.