Funeral for a Friend
It was one of those grey January mornings. Twenty four hours earlier it had sparkled with glassy sunshine all day, and I suppose I was hoping it might oblige the morning we buried Tim. I felt he was owed a small favour.
I dressed, imagining him looking on with a mixture of encouragement and disapproval – not too ordinary but not too – what? Extravagant? Attention seeking? Gay?. It had been one of those conversations we came back to during the last twelve months – me gently leaning on the gaydar (Pink hearse, butlers in the buff at the wake) and him gently easing me off. His concern – understable given the circumstances and his character – was to protect people, to approach his funeral with all due consideration, and especially towards Jonathan, his husband of three weeks and now his widower.
So the black leather kilt was out, but a polka dotted hand tied bow tie was in. Small gestures, I thought, small gestures and the gay secret weapon – accessorize!
Mass at 0900. Tim’s coffin had been received into St Mary’s the previous day. It was a beautiful creation in white felt, like an huge antique wedding cake stiff with icing and grey dust. Random thoughts leapt to mind – Miss Haverhsham’s adandoned wedding in GREAT EXPECTATIONS, Joseph Beuys’ amazing sculptures in wax and white felt, Ru Paul’s white teeth. Ru Paul?. None of it made sense but I didn’t expect it to. I hope Tim was somewhere, smiling at these mad associations.
The funeral started at 1100, by which time the sun had made an appearance. As people arrived from Edgware Tube , they emerged from a walkway underneath the Westway, roaring with traffic. I couldn’t help thinking, how many people will turn up at MY funeral? How many more of these funerals will I attend before it’s my turn? Is this really the increasing nature of my life from now on – the realisation of a falling away, of loosing precious friends, of loss?
I felt a twinge of disloyalty to Tim, feeling the way I did – but I knew he shared them, had indeed discussed them with myself and others. Typically, I brought to mind an amazing scene in THE WIRE, when Dominic West’s character, obsessed with bringing down a drugs gang, is challenged by his girlfriend? Ex wife? on the stoop outside his house – what is a life worth, she asks? What will happen after you die? Some friends turn up to mourn you, that’s all. Some friends, a lot of beer and imperfect memories. That’s all – but it’s enough, it’s okay.
The funeral was perfect, Tim. Really it was what you wanted. There were the arias from Handel’s SEMELE and ARIODANTE, sung rather well by a Mezzo Soprano, there was a lovely tribute which quoted your wonderful observation to me all those years ago – ‘Life is about making discoveries about yourself’. Gavin read John Donne and I read AA Milne – and your sister Jean talked about your life and acheivements. Jonathan managed it all brilliantly, with his Mum Rosemary, beside him. Gary was on great form – incense and a subtle sense of drama, words to reassure and humble, and above all – a sense of love.
No, really, we did you proud.
Afterwards, Jean had arranged a coach to take us up to the interment at Kilburn Cememtary. Suddenly it felt like a Works outing, and the solemnity of the Church was replaced by laughter, jokes and the sound of old friends catching up, as we inched down the Kilburn High Road. The sun had broken through the clouds now, as we trooped over the mud and turf to stand beside that damn big hole you’ve had dug, the earth discreetly hidden under a tarpaulin nearby.
I placed my Nano on the tarpaulin, and turned on the speakers. We all stood silently, listening to the Interment. I clutched a red rose I had been given, the kind of cliche I adore.
And at the right moment, pressed play….
Sun is shinin’ in the sky,
There ain’t a cloud in sight
It’s stopped rainin’
Everybody’s in a play
And don’t you know
It’s a beautiful new day….
Mr Blue Sky, my darling Tim. It truly was a beautiful new day…