Last week, my 89-year-old nana passed away and her funeral was held in her hometown of Cramlington in Newcastle, which presented me with a number of challenges (what do I wear? Smart or casual? High heels or mid?), not least having to meet up with my extended family.
On Monday, the family gathered at my aunt’s house, drinking copious amounts of tea and eating chocolate digestives while we watched the clock tick slowly towards the hour of my nana’s small funeral service. To pass the time, we chatted about our memories of her and laughed at old anecdotes of some of the things she would get up to, such as refusing to eat pasta as she considered it to be “foreign food” and her penchant for a gin with just a splash of tonic at the end of the day.
We also reminisced about my grandfather’s funeral six years ago after he died suddenly. My parents’ best friends came to show their support that day and all I can remember about what was a very sad day was looking up to see them standing outside the chapel, wearing brightly coloured Bermuda shorts and neon Crocs on their feet as they were on holiday and had no other clothes to wear. It was so inappropriate that I couldn’t help but laugh until tears (whether from mirth or sorrow) were rolling down my cheeks.
My mum went on to tell us about choosing a simple nightdress for my nana to be cremated in rather than an outfit as such, and without thinking, I replied, “Probably for the best as anything polyester is going to burn really quickly.”
Once it was out there, there was no taking it back. An awkward silence ensued, following by a snort from my mother as she collapsed in a heap of giggles.
It then became something of a free for all, almost like a release valve on a pressure cooker. At one stage, my mother was complaining that she only had a pair of wool trousers to wear and that the day was very warm and she would be too hot in her outfit, to which my aunt replied that she should change as “crematoriums are always hot”. Cue more guffaws and snorts.
It’s not that we are callous and unfeeling; rather, humour is my family’s way of dealing with any stressful situation, with the most overused phrase being, “Well, you’ve got to laugh!” However, once we arrived at the chapel and got down to business, the mirth evaporated, and we respectfully remembered and said goodbye to a formidable, stubborn, fun-loving woman who has left an indelible imprint on our family.
But I would like to think that my nana was looking down on me and laughing just as much as I was at my numerous faux-pas because, whatever else she may have been, she certainly loved a laugh.