September 24th, 2013

ankh

Funeral for an Uncle

My Uncle Hughie has been successfully funeralised and buried. I am still processing.

There were easily 120 people in the church and another 120 or so at the hall afterwards, but they weren't the same people. A lot of people only went to the church, and a fair number only went to the hall. It must have been about 200 people in total.

My mum collected the donations made in his name to the British Lung Foundation, and there are a lot of names. Not necessarily a lot of money because people gave what they could, but £5 from a poor person seems more meaningful than £30 from someone who is really quite rich indeed. Ahem.

The service was in the religious denomination which my uncle grew up in, which is not the same as the Christian denomination that most of my family belong to. It was fine until the sermon, at which point we were berated for something like 15 to 20 minutes by a VERY LOUD pastor about this particular denomination's views on death, resurrection, the imminent arrival of Jesus on Earth, Judgement Day, and the state of our souls. This was not only extremely far from my own beliefs, but from most of my family's beliefs as well. Collapse )

It's very odd not learning your own uncle's real name until he happens to die when you're 37. Even weirder to have the loud pastor talking about "Ewart" instead of "Hughie". It made it easier to dissociate the weird religious beliefs about what was happening to "our brother Ewart" though.

It was an open casket funeral, which is not usual for the UK, and there was a point near the end of the service where everyone was invited to go up and view the deceased. I thought it was creepy as a concept - the thought of anyone who happens to be at the service looking at you when you're dead, rather than the way it's usually done here with private viewing by family and specifically invited friends in a chapel of rest before the service. But there was time set aside at the end for the family, so I went up then, and I'm glad I did. I can't say I enjoyed seeing my uncle dead, but I would have regretted not going.

My mum, Richard, and I got volunteered to go and decorate the hall, which meant we didn't go to the burial. I'm glad of that. Not a fan of burials at all. Apparently it was a bit of a fiasco because my uncle's family's religion meant they wanted to see him properly buried, whereas the people in the cemetary use a mechanical digger to fill in the grave, and can't do that until everyone is out of the way. Hmm.

We decorated the hall in Jamaican colours - green, yellow, and black, with balloons and ribbons. Uncle Hughie's best friend couldn't cope with the funeral so he went straight to the hall, and was extremely helpful in setting everything up. There was a bit of a panic when the caterer didn't turn up quite when we expected, but then when they did arrive they were incredibly well-organised.

The hall looked like one of those rainbow nations things, with many people of visibly different ethnicity and culture. Everyone was wearing formal, respectful clothing suitable for a funeral, but from a variety of cultural backgrounds. Only one of my dad's six siblings married someone of the same nationality as himself, so my family is brown and white and black. If you lined up me and my cousins, you wouldn't think any of us were related - at least, until you looked beyond the colouring. There are several pairs of brothers who don't look as though they belong together, where one takes after their darker-skinned parent and the other takes after the lighter-skinned one. A lot of people thought Richard was my mum's son and I was her daughter-in-law.

Uncle Hughie's friends were impeccably dressed black men in zoot suits and trilby hats, only needing a saxophone to fit into a 1930s jazz club. They asked if the family would mind them setting up their dominoes, as it was what they usually did with Uncle Hughie, and my dad decided it was the right and proper way for them to remember him. So they sat there playing their game while the rest of us talked and listened to reggae music.

I talked to lots of people I haven't spoken to in ages, and discovered that at least some of my cousins have grown into reasonable human beings. I am still dreadful at smalltalk, but near the end I finally found the courage to go up to one of the people I recognised and say "excuse me, I think you must be one of my distant relatives but I haven't a clue who you are". He turned out to be my Aunty Maureen's best friend's son, who I last saw when I was about 10!

That is as much as I can manage right now. There is still lots of processing. More than you'd expect for the death of an uncle, I think, but my family is Weird.