Tuesday, 17 April 2018

The Garden of Tranquility

I cannot believe the fuss and performance made by certain family members about our going to the crematorium today. Perhaps others have had similar experiences. If so, you have my sympathy.

When my father died, suddenly, in Italy, in 1993, mum, my brother and I thought a bench with a plaque, in his memory, was a fitting tribute to him. Our family doesn't have a burial plot. The only graves related to us are in another cemetery - for mum's side of the family - for the ancients - but from 1959 onwards nana, aunties, mum and dad have had their ashes scattered at the crematorium. There is no headstone for any of them.

Last year, after mum died and her ashes scattered, I orchestrated the removal of the plaque on 'dad's' memorial bench so that the wording represented mum too. It took months and many conflicting messages from 'Bereavement Services' to get the wording and the help we wanted. I was horrified at both the cost and the poor state of the finish on the wooden bench after the revised plaque had been repositioned. I offered, to members of our family, to go to the crematorium, sand down the bench and restain it in order to repair the botched job done by someone at the council.

However a couple of family members, referred to as THEY, THEIR etc from hereonin, live fifteen minutes away and THEY went ahead and restored the bench instead. (I live three hours away.)

Today, because we were staying with THEM, we had to purchase a spray of flowers - in secret - as THEY objected to my taking flowers to put on 'mum's and dad's bench'. THEY said the council don't like it and THEY said mum always objected to flowers on benches (first I knew of this but THEY are prone to magnifying a point in order to win some battle or other.)

Having purchased the spray of flowers, in secret, yesterday, I walked past a supermarket coffee machine, which had spare paper take-away cups. I have to admit to purloining one of these as I thought it had been set aside (and would help in my subterfuge).

Now ... how to sneak the flowers, unseen, into THEIR house and put them in water ready for the crematorium 24 hours later? I didn't try ... that's the simple answer. I asked Richard to open the rear door on our car, I placed the paper coffee cup in the rear cup holder, poured water in it from the glass water bottle I had with me ... et voila... mission - stage one - accomplished. The flowers could stay there, in water, safely, unseen, overnight.

Having only ever been to the crematorium in a limousine as a mourner I don't know the route as a driver. THEY printed a street map for me, being helpful, while telling me about all the potholes, roadworks and every other road problem under the sun. For the amount of troubles we would encounter we might as well have been setting off for a trek across the Sahara. 

Today I woke early (6 am) (with my ongoing back pain), washed my hair, went to make breakfast at some ungodly hour but THEY were already up. THEY were unable to cope with making me a hot breakfast drink as I was downstairs much earlier than THEY expected. The fuss my presence created doesn't bear description ... 

THEY told me there was no point my going to the crematorium early as the roads would be dreadful. I said nothing. I, however, wanted to go before 9 am to place flowers and take a photograph for remembrance before funeral parties arrived. It is inappropriate, I feel, to be clicking away when mourners are in a state of distress over their own lost loved ones.

I was, of course,  ready to go to the crematorium as close to 9 am as possible. What happened next was not what I was expecting.

Before I left the house THEY handed me a bag of cleaning materials to do up the bench. THEY said it was in a terrible state. I was perturbed. Did I really want precious moments remembering my parents to be sabotaged by dish rags and detergents?

I was getting somewhat incensed at this point and went over THEIR heads. If THEY could be petty I could go one better. 
        'If there's moss on the bench it'll need bleach or a bathroom spray to clean it. Can you get me some?' I said, as if addressing domestic staff. Reluctantly some bleach, in spray form, was found. 

Thankfully the map THEY had produced for us worked. There was no traffic congestion, I saw none of the horrendous road works THEY anticipated, but because of the fuss and performance about avoiding a dreadful (15 minute) journey, three funeral parties were already at the chapels when we arrived to ... yes ... clean the 'family' bench. Having (badly) secured the flowers (lilies, roses, greenery) on the bench the wind blew and knocked them over straight away. My idea of placing the flowers in the take-away coffee cup with water, and covered with ribbon or similar, had to be abandoned as the wind was so fierce the whole display collapsed and had to be rearranged. In the end, ever watchful for funeral parties who may need to view their family flowers on the balcony where I was 'working', I made a wedge out of a floating ribbon which landed at my feet from another family's floral tribute and stood my flowers up, on the bench, without water. The spray won't last long without water, but what to do? I felt as desperate as Sgt Troy in 'Far From the Madding Crowd' when his pitiful planting of bulbs, in his sweetheart's grave, is destroyed and washed away by a torrent of rain water from a gargoyle sited above her headstone.

I was cross, sad, tired and frustrated that I couldn't have a few quiet moments with my parents at the place of their memorial bench. Mourners from funeral services began to drift out of one of the chapels. For two pins I wanted to abandon the 'clean up' and just pause for a moment, with a sense of dignity. That's why I was there, after all. The mourners didn't come our way, however. I looked at the flower display I'd created. I felt more relaxed and pleased, took a photograph and had a quiet moment. Mission - stage two - accomplished.

Next to our bench was the blasted bag of cleaning materials; latex gloves, sponge wash-ups, cleaning cloths, an apron and the bleach spray. Yes there were tiny spots of moss on the bench, but that's as bad as it got. It's kept outside for other mourners to sit on and is prone to a little moss-gathering. If I sprayed bleach on it would it really help anyone recently bereaved to have a dignified funeral ceremony while smelling noxious fumes as they looked at family flowers and paid their last respects?

The funeral parties from the other chapels hadn't yet made their way to the balcony where the benches are placed. I took a chance. I sprayed the moss, rubbed at it, without fiddling with latex gloves, and removed the vast majority of the 'offensive' moss and mildew. I wiped over the seat and arms of the bench and, remembering what THEY said, disposed of the rags in the waste bin.

Our family bench is the most well-stained, most polished and most attractive-looking of all on the balcony. But does that matter? Surely the spirit of calmness, relection and remembrance are far more important than an obsession with being the perfect bench hosts. 

Back at THEIRs, by roughly 10.30 am, not only was what I'd done to the bench not good enough but my suggestion that I sand down part of the bench and restain it - on another occasion - was met with ferocious outrage.

     'That bench needs completely stripping down with paint stripper. It'll take a whole weekend to do. It can't be done when funerals are on and it needs to be stripped on a dry day. We can't do it ...' (No-one ever asked THEM to.)
     'Then,' the harangue continued, 'the bench has to dry, then be washed down with soap and water, then left to dry again.'

     'I might manage to redo the bench where the new plaque has been put - maybe on a warm summer's day, at a weekend, ' I offered.

      'And then when you've done all that you can restain it. And it'll have to be done the same day. It'll look awful otherwise. AND you'll have to unscrew the plaque and rescrew it tight afterwards.'

     I was so furious with this nagging I poured myself a huge glass of white wine, even though it was only 10.30 am. THEY never drink, of course, and found my behaviour extremely odd.  Good. I went upstairs and packed, wanting oh so much to come home. We had, however arranged to have coffee out and a fish and chip lunch, with THEM, before driving back. In fact having coffee then fish and chips were pleasant enough experiences and by the time it came to leave THEM we were all in much better humours.

But, as for the garden of tranquility, was it ever envisaged to be the scene of such domestic disharmony? Surely going to pay one's respects to one's parents should be a time of peace and quiet contemplation? Not an episode of 'How clean is your house?'


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