On Friday, I attended the funeral of one of my mum’s dearest friends. They had been friends for over 40 years. She had been diagnosed with terminal cancer just before Christmas and it was hoped that chemotherapy would prolong her life. Her first chemo session was 31 days after her diagnosis. 4 days later, she died. She kept her cancer a secret from everyone except her daughters, so her death was a heavy shock to her friends and other family members. My mum and her other friends were only informed about her cancer just 4 days before she passed away, so mum didn’t really have time to process the fact that the cancer was terminal. I understand Sue’s reasons for keeping it close to her chest though. She was such a lovely lady and she just didn’t want to worry her loved ones.
Sue had been a part of my life, just as any good friends of my parents have. One of her daughters and I even share the same birthday, albeit a few years apart. Sue came to my wedding along with one of my mum’s other close friends. It only seemed right that I went to her funeral to pay my respects. Funeral guests were instructed by her daughters to bring a red rose and wear an item of red. It was their mum’s favourite colour. I wore a black and white skirt, black jumper, red shoes and red lipstick. When I arrived at the crematorium, it was pretty much at the same time as my parents although we had driven in from opposite ends of the country. I greeted my parents and we instantly noted those who were attending the funeral by spotting the individuals wearing items of red and carrying a single red rose each. It was actually quite nice seeing that. In a way, it brought everyone together.
After greeting old friends and making general chit chat, we all waited outside for the hearse to arrive. I was focusing elsewhere. My parents were engaged in conversation with friends of theirs. My mum suddenly said in my direction, with watery eyes and a gentle smile as the hearse began to slowly drive in “She’s my baby girl. Aren’t you?”. She’d obviously been conversing with someone about me. It took me by surprise. The relationship my mum and I have can be strained at times, but only because we are so similar in character and because of that, we often clash. I nodded and smiled at my mum, then made a joke about being a big “baby girl” because I was the eldest of her two children. I wish I had just kept my mouth shut and accepted my mum’s sweet words as they were. The hearse drew closer and silence filled the air. The funeral car behind the hearse carrying Sue’s daughters and grandchildren stopped and the passengers got out of the vehicle. An ear piercing shriek from one of the girls broke the silence, followed by thick, heavy sobbing. No doubt at the realisation that her mum was gone. I tried to imagine what that must have felt like and I had to stop myself from crying.
The service was beautiful. No hymns that no one wants to sing anyway, just some of Sue’s favourite music and some kind words said by friends and family members. About half way through the service, my mum broke down. She was sat in between myself and my dad and we both reached our hands out towards hers, but she batted us away like pesky flies. She wanted to be alone in her grief. Selfishly for a moment, I felt a bit hurt but I gave myself a shake and remembered that everyone grieves differently. At the end of the service, attendees slowly made their way outside and gently laid a single red rose on the coffin. Some people whispered something as they put their rose to rest on the wood. Others said nothing. Some people kissed the coffin. I just said “See you, Sue.”
We all moved onto another location in the village for the wake. Sue had lived here before she became so poorly . Everyone exchanged fond memories, and photos of Sue in her younger years were being passed around. We joked about the big hairstyles and interesting fashions in the photos! She never changed much. My own mother was in a lot of those photos and facially, she hasn’t changed much either. In fact, I even noted that she still wears one of the jumpers that she was wearing in the photos taken around the mid to late 80’s!
On my long drive home, I started to sob. I had to pull myself together. It was dark and that made it difficult to see the road through the tears. I held myself together when I was around my mum, but the feelings just hit me when I was alone in my car. I knew Sue of course, but not in a way to warrant these endless tears that just seemed to come pouring out of the corners of my eyes. Sue’s daughters are not far off my own age and they have just lost their mum. I think the tears were actually the reality of loss, that my own parents are not getting any younger. Yet somehow I seem to need them more at the age of almost 30 than I ever did as a child. I must speak to my dad on the phone at least 4 times a week. He often calls me just for a chat when he’s out walking the dogs. I call on my parents whenever something goes wrong, I need advice or I just want to talk. I can’t imagine not having them around anymore. I recall all of the times I said venomous, nasty things towards my parents as a hormone fuelled teenager who wasn’t getting her way. It makes my heart hurt now, just thinking of it and I don’t even remember the things that were said.
I’ve probably spoken to my parents on the phone (we live 200 miles apart, which is something I am trying to change) 4 times since the funeral on Friday, and even I have noticed that we’re suddenly ending the phone calls with love yous and “lots of llamas”. “Lots of llamas” is a family joke from when my sister did some charity work in Tanzania, Africa. She and I were talking on Skype and she was showing off with her newly learnt Swahili words. We were closing the Skype session and she said something in Swahili that sounded like “lots of llamas”…so I was like, what? And it turns out, she was actually saying something like “love you lots, bye”! So now whenever we say goodbye to each other, we say “lots of llamas!”
Life is short. You just never know what is around that corner. Grief is the price that we pay for love, but make sure the ones that you love know how you feel.
Lots of llamas, Darling Soul x