This tale of much woe is being written with TDT's express permission, and in her words "you always see the silver lining in a sad few days."
TDT's father was taken into hospital just under two weeks ago on the Wednesday, after her brother Ianymeany (champion loft faller,2009) had had a call to help him out of bed. For the past few years he's had problems with his circulation, and has ended up in hospital before. We didn't think this time would be any different, and he had no circulation going to his leg muscles and so was unable to walk. He was also complaining of backache (presumably from walking awkwardly before the walk went altogether) and he seemed resigned to the fact that hospital was a good place to be. A week ago today, he was shipped off an hour up the road to Galway, for an MRI scan so they could find out what was the cause of the back pain and general discomfort. He returned wanting a cigarette, the usual snickers bar and full fat coke. The result showed a small stroke in the past, but they didn't know when, and not a lot else. On Wednesday evening TDT and her mum paid their regular visit to him, and he had been given a couple of cigarettes by someone, so he wasn't quite as miserable as he had been. We didn't think the visit was different from any other.
TDT's mum got a call the following day, just after 6 in the morning, informing her to get the family to the hospital because he'd taken a turn for the worse. For the first time ever, we'd left my phone downstairs, the cordless downstairs, and TDT's phone was still on silent from the hospital visit the night before, so her Mum was phoning like crazy, and getting no answer. Eventually she got a taxi to here, and woke us up. Dashing out the door, and remembering to pay the taxi driver, we hit the road for the 10 minute journey up to the hospital. The news wasn't good. He'd had a bleed in his stomach, which had got worse until his heart had no more blood to pump. He had a heart attack just before 6, and even though they tried to restart his heart using adrenaline and the flat cattle prods, he was declared dead at 6:20. We arrived at 6:30, and he was still warm. Out of respect, I stood outside the curtain, whilst the last rites were read and prayers were made for him. A nurse offered me a cup of tea ("ah go on, go on, go on, go on"), so I took her up on the offer and went to the kitchen. As I stood there, supping on my Lyons with milk and sugar, the priest came in.
"Do you want to go in?" he asked.
"Not yet," I replied, "they need time to themselves." I have immense respect for people with regards to death, and thought I shouldn't be there for a moment.
"Are you scared?" he then asked.
"No. No really. I'm fine." I replied. I don't think he believed me.
I returned to his bedside and sat with TDT and her Mum for a while, before we left to find TDT's brother and let him know. He'd seen the missed calls, and when he saw his Mum in the car, he knew. He seemed to take it well however, and came and gave his Mum a huge hug. We went home to spend the day arranging the funeral, coffin, plot and services. By late afternoon the visitors to the house were coming thick and fast. The kitchen table was laid out with sandwiches, biscuits, soup (in a bowl, not just on the table top), and a teapot that looked like it was last used for the Easter Rising. The kitchen and sitting room were both full, and visitors were entering from both the front and back doors. Apparently the neighbours were moaning about the car park that had now appeared outside, where the road used to be. I left shortly after 9, so I could catch up on emails and more importantly, sleep.
Friday saw another stream of visitors. It is at this point I have to point out the difference between a Roman Catholic funeral and any other funeral I've ever been to. The undertakers prepared TDT's father's body, dressed him in his favourite jacket, and made him look at rest, before laying him out in the open coffin in a large room. It is at this point that most people come to say their last prayers to him and to sympathise with the immediate family. It's also the point where people realise it's really happened, and he really is dead, and they break down in tears. The first person was TDT's brother, and that set me off. I wasn't immediate family, so I felt I should stand back in sight of TDT to let her know I was there supporting her and her Mum. Apparently I looked like I was waiting for a bus. People would come in and move round the room from left to right, shaking hands with the family, before sometimes standing and saying a quiet prayer to him or having a happy thought. They'd then leave by another door. The funny thing was, I wasn't visible to most people, and had settled into a game of "guess the back of the head." Sometimes people I knew would look round and step across to shake me by the hand as well. At one point, one of TDT's friends turned up. She entered into a conversation about the funeral the following day, causing a huge tailback out the door, down the street, across the roundabout and out past the by-pass. The other thing I 'observed' was how people were dealt with. Obviously, a lot of the people would be people TDT and her Mum didn't know. It had been announced on Thursday afternoon's local radio (something we've listened to before and sneered at), and so anyone that had known him from the past 70 years, 1 month and 1 day, could turn up to share their sympathy. If this was the case, they'd politely shake the hand, and say "Thanks for coming." Then they'd get a spate of family that they knew, and I'm sure they were all the same names. Instead of saying "Thanks for coming, they'd just shake them by the hand and say their name. This meant that you'd get a moment of...
"Mikey, Gerry, Mikey, Mikey, Gerry, Mikey, Gerry, Mikey. *pause*. Mary! Mikey, Gerry, Mikey, Gerry, Gerry, Mikey, Gerry, Mikey, Mikey. *pause* Ann-Marie! Mikey, Gerry, Mikey, etc etc" They'd then return to the unknowns with the "thanks for coming," and I'd return to the game of "guess the back of the head." Another time, TDT got all animated.
"It's Gerry!" she almost yelled at me.I was puzzled.
"Gerry? Gerry who?" I asked.
"Gerry. You know. Gerry. GERRY!" I think the blank look on my face must have been frustrating, but I didn't have a scooby. Only after he'd left and the room had gone quieter did she elaborate on her colleague. Probably one of the only people from her work I haven't met yet that I have been looking forward to meet. And he'd already gone.
Just after 7 they locked up the doors to the mortuary, and suddenly all family that had been so strong and dry were bursting into tears. It was their time to say goodbye, and give him a kiss or hold his hands before the coffin went off to be sealed. When he returned I'd been honoured by Ianymeany be a pall bearer, and so along with 2 of TDT's uncles and 2 cousins, we carried him out to the hearse. We then had to walk him out of town and I was surprised at just how much respect the surrounding area had for the funeral party moving up the street. Cars would stop their engines and turn off their lights. Pedestrians would stand and remove their hats. My bladder, meanwhile, was going to explode. Ian walked on to the edge of town, whilst TDT, her Mum and I got in the car and followed them up. We got to the meeting place, and Iany couldn't be found anywhere.
"Where's Ian gone," TDT asked.
"For a pee, I believe" came an uncle's reply. I knew how he must have felt.
Arriving at a crowded village church, I was surprised at the sheer numbers of people waiting out on the street to see us. We carried the coffin into the church where the local priest said some more ritual mumblings before announcing to a full church that the funeral mass would be tomorrow morning at 11am. We then left and went home briefly (in my case for a pee) before debunking to the local for some liquid refreshment, more sandwiches and other picky food. I was feeling undecidedly under the weather, and so left TDT with her friends and family before 11. She returned home herself not much later, feeling the emotion of the day. Quite frankly, I didn't blame her.
The following morning saw us rise early, and I returned to my suit before we left just after 10 to go to her Mum's. When we arrived, the curtains were still pulled, the door was still locked and more importantly, the kettle was cold. Her mum had slept in. I'm guessing the few days were taking their toll, and she came down looking less than happy to have been woken from her slumbers. We made it to the church with seconds to spare, and I sat well back from the family in a pew of my own. I wasn't going to break down in tears, I told myself, and I had positioned myself where I couldn't see TDT (her crying is what sets me off). I also listened to the sermon, but didn't look up from the pew in front of me. There was a little girl of about 2 directly in front of me, and she took my mind off things with our games of waving and pulling faces (me, not her). Just over an hour later and we again returned to the hearse for the mile walk to the cemetery.
"Are you sure you can walk it?" TDT had asked the day before, her Mum sniggering in the background.
"Of course!" I replied, slightly offended.
The sun was out, it was pleasantly warm, and apparently my fan club were making jokes about getting me a bottle of oxygen for the graveyard and had I made a will. I was suspecting it to be the same half dozen or so walkers as the previous evening, but when I did look back I was more than surprised to see half the village walking up the hill with us. A few older family members were struggling, but it was a really nice walk and I actually felt more than relaxed when I arrived to carry the coffin one last time, to the grave. This had been the moment I'd always dreaded, because past experience of funerals said this was the most traumatic. But the mortuary experience had me all cried out and it actually felt very restful as the coffin was lowered into the grave. We then left again to drop TDT's Mum home, before returning to the pub. So there's the story, the tale of woe. I'd like to say, on behalf of Pauline, Tania and Ian, thanks for all your cards, emails, texts and messages of support. They are so appreciated.
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