It was a day like no other.
Given her long-term health problems, I had often wondered what Aunt Maisie’s funeral would look like. For such an obstinate woman, she was remarkably popular – as, for reasons I don’t fully comprehend, the entire McFaul clan seem to similarly regarded. Perhaps it’s a rural thing; they seem to know everyone within at least a 10 mile radius, and know them well at that. Me, I’ve never even spoken to my next door neighbours.
Maisie’s funeral service was conducted at her home. Hotel California is situated along a dark and relatively quiet stretch of road a few miles outside a small town. As you approach, you crest a hill, which is about 1,000 feet from the house. As A and I rolled up said mount, with the unfamiliar-to-the-place Eimear following us, we were dumbstruck by the sight that greeted us.
Nearly an hour before the start of the service, a line of cars was parked from the entrance to the house right back to us. There were police cones on the other side of the road, in place to prevent mourners from parking there as well. I was stunned when I realised there was even a cop car, ensconced in which were two officers, waiting in preparation for the events about to transpire.
As I got out of my car, I shook my head in disbelief. Not that I care that much, since by that juncture I’ll be dead, but I wondered briefly if I could hope to have even a quarter of this turnout at my funeral. I concluded that this was, in technical terms, Not Bloody Likely.
We waited for Eimear, and as a trio duly proceeded towards the house. Strangely, the vast yard that surrounds it was mostly devoid of cars (save for those of the immediate family) – it turned out, of course, that this was to accommodate the hearse, and the mourners’ cars which would be arriving to cart Paedo, my mother and aunts, and Maisie’s vast entourage of descendants to the cemetery, its gaping six-foot hole for Maisie waiting patiently to be filled.
I made the initial mistake of trying to get in through the front door. There wasn’t even standing room in either of the two rooms onto which the small hall leads. Some random old git offered to try to shift people around in a bid to accommodate us, but I thanked him and demurred, deciding to go around the back. People were randomly standing about in the yard, most of whom could have been Lord fucking Lucan for all I knew them (or perhaps not, since Lord Lucan’s smug face is not exactly an image unfamiliar to the world). I ignored them, and shoved the back door open.
Fortunately for me, my mother was standing in the back hall. I was perturbed to observe Georgie, Aunt of Evil, standing in close proximity, but I ignored her and reached to embrace my mother. Praise merciful God/Allah/Dawkins/Flying Spaghetti Monster: my mother decided to come outside, and free me from the burden of having to stand in such a cramped and oppressive atmosphere.
Frankly, I remember few – if any – of the words spoken between us for some time. I think Eimear, who is what may be politely termed a ‘motormouth’, stepped in to speak of the various inanities of which she is usually full. I lit up a fag and stared at my (new) shoes (new shoes! NEW SHOOOOOES! Did anyone else like Twin Peaks?), desperately wishing the whole sorry thing would just be fucking over.
“Oh!” exclaimed my mother after 20,000 years. “It’s the ladies!”
I looked up, aghast. ‘The ladies’ is a euphemism for my mother’s golf club acquaintances. Aside from converse with Aunt of Evil, the last thing I wanted to deal with was these women. Some of them are nice, genuinely, but several conform perfectly to the traditional golfing stereotypes: gossipy, keeping-up-with-the-Joneses, look-at-me-and-my-perfect-hair. There was one there in particular that, although admittedly she and my mother get on reasonably well, I felt was in attendance for the sole purpose of relaying events to her little cronies (Daniel: you know of whom I type).
Unusually, my mother was not horrified that these women had ‘caught’ me smoking (I’m nearly 30, for Christ’s sake!); not surprisingly, she had more important things on her mind. That said, we had been at a funeral of another member of the golf club – a good friend of my mother’s, actually – a few years ago when the subject of baptism curiously and inexplicably came up. As I went to proffer the view that this was a load of shit and that I was grateful that my parents had not presumptuously forced my infant self through the silly process, my mother kicked me under the table, and said, “oh yes, Pandora was christened in such-and-such a Church.” I remember shooting her a look of abject disgust and anger.
Anyway. As if this wasn’t going to be long enough without silly tangential musings. In the spirit of politeness and occasion, I made small-talk with a few of the assembled golfers (of whom, it turned out in the end, there were something like 10 or 12). When one, let’s call her Amy, pulled me aside and said, “Pandora. Congratulations!”, I felt the familiar tug of paranoid anxiety grip me.
“Yes – you know, for your internet writing. You were nominated for an award for it, were you not?”
“Oh yes. That,” I said, feigning a casual shrug.
“Yes, that! Brilliant!”
“Thanks. I didn’t win it, mind you,” I lied. I looked into the woman’s fucking eyes and lied.
“But it doesn’t matter,” she returned, the cause for her emphasis of the word ‘matter’ being the source of some puzzlement to me. “Just being nominated…that’s amazing. Really well done,” she purred, continuing – as is her wont, to be fair – to overemphasise words of little import.
I smiled bashfully, and once again thanked the Flying Spaghetti Monster when someone else just then butted in. I know it’s my fault that Mum found out about the awards ceremony, but in the name of retaining my anonymity – or, more accurately, in the name of protecting everyone else in this so-called life of mine from the sordid truths of said existence – I wished with a fervent passion that she’d not gone around telling everyone she knows. Even the fucking McFauls know about it, and half of this fucking blog is about them!
My relief was short-lived, however, as Aunt of Evil exited the back door and proceeded in the direction of our little splinter group.
She came up to my mother, and prodded her about something. Facing her – literally facing her – became unavoidable. I took a deep breath and nodded at her. “Georgie,” I acknowledged.
“Pandora,” she returned nervously. “A.” At least she had the grace to be embarrassed. A muttered some sort of equally-anxious response.
And, for then at least, that was that. I waited a few minutes in order to feign a politic exit, then told my mother that I wished to observe Maisie’s body.
She led me in, fighting her way through about 4,028,374 (living) bodies, all gathered in one sodding room. She tactfully opened the door to where Maisie lay, and let A and I squeeze through it.
I mentioned in my last post in this series that when Mum and I had seen Maisie’s body at the cuntspital that she looked surprisingly alive, as though she were merely sleeping. I also said that I don’t normally think that about corpses. Here is where my more standard thinking in this arena came back to reality, slapping me like a wet fish around the jowls as it did: Maisie looked fucking horrendous.
The undertakers had tried to do her make-up to exacting standards, but the biology of death dictated that they would fail in their noble endeavour. Her lips, even through her lipstick, were black. Her chin, rigid as it was in its deceased state, seemed to sag beyond her head like some rancid piece of meat. She had one of those expressions that elderly people in care homes who are devoid of teeth are often seen to sport. I won’t say that I was horrified, because I’ve had enough exposure to dead bodies to know what to expect. But, despite having that awareness on a sort of intellectual level, I was…disappointed, I suppose. She looked so fundamentally unlike herself that I couldn’t help but feel sorry that this was going to be everyone’s last image of her.
Like I had in the hospital, I kissed her(/the corpse – it really wasn’t her) on the forehead, and mumbled something or other. I think it was something like, “sleep well,” which is a fucking stupid thing to say. I had, however, said it many times: Alter Ego was fawning around her Facebook account (in between a myriad of deactivations of same) uttering such things and generally behaving like a normal person who’d been genuinely bereaved. Am I bereaved? Was I? Yes, Maisie was a constant in my life, and yes, she was never personally unpleasant to me…but it was so bloody complicated. Do I, will I, miss her – miss her as a niece would normally miss her previously omnipresent aunt? I truly don’t know the answer to that even now, a month after her demise.
By the time we left the body, the service was almost upon us. My mother negotiated her way through the preposterous crowd towards the living room, from which the same old prick of a minister we’d met on the Wednesday was to conduct the service. I tried to get away, but my mother insisted that she wanted me with her, which was fair enough. Pursuant to that, of course, I wanted A with me, which wasn’t entirely fair on the poor sod: I’m not the only one in the relationship that has a distinct and, at times, overwhelming crowd phobia.
I sort of stood in the doorway between the living room and the kitchen. One of Aunt of Boredom’s (AKA Maureen’s) two sons stood to my right, with some geezer I didn’t know in front of him. My mother was directly in front of me; Georgie was to her right. Beyond my mother, Suzanne and Student – Maisie’s granddaughters – sat on the edge of the sofa. I couldn’t see any of my (first) cousins, nor did I observe Paedo. But then, the place was that packed that spotting a cunting elephant wouldn’t have been easy.
Somebody thrust an order of service into my hands. Initially askance at this – we had to fucking sing?! – I melted a bit when I saw the picture they’d placed on the front of the document. It was a good photo of Maisie, insofar as such things exist. She was not, in her latter years, an attractive woman – but she looked so happy in this picture. More than that, she looked maternal, loving and – and it pains me to use this word – sweet.
It reminded me of the good things about her: her generosity, her understanding of the many difficulties I’ve faced (well. That she knows of..!), her willingness to put herself out for me (and my abject failure to ever return that favour), the silly yet weirdly (in retrospect) endearing way she’d always insist on you having “another wee cup of tea” before you left Hotel California. I looked at it, and tears pricked my eyes. As they do as I type this.
I tried to avoid looking at the image for the rest of the day, but I failed miserably. Every time I fought to avoid it, my gaze seemed to involuntarily fall upon it. And every time that it did, I felt that little more sad, that little more regretful. I could have done more. I could have been less negative. Yes, my aunt had bad streaks – but, like I am wont to do with many people, it struck me each and every time I saw her smiling face on that silly piece of paper that I failed (and fail) to see the good that was virtually punching me in the face. And I could have done more.
The service began with a desultory warbling of some hymn or other. For whatever reason, I can’t remember what that was; I do remember that proceedings ended with Amazing Grace, apparently a favourite of Maisie’s, but whatever this was I’ve no idea. In fact, aside from a few instances which I shall henceforth relate, I don’t remember a great deal of the service. Frankly, I don’t think I was missing much, but perhaps it is churlish to say that.
The minister prattled on about how we should be comforted by God’s amazing love and all the usual shite that the clergy bring out verbatim at funerals. He even sounded like he was on stage – on stage, and acting poorly. They (whoever ‘they’ are – not They ‘They‘, thank fuck) say that the sign of a bad actor is knowing that he or she is acting, and so it was with our dear friend here. I do remember that I actively didn’t listen to most of this, because (a) I don’t agree with a single fucking word and (b) I’ve heard it all, so many times, before.
As I felt his predictable little voice evanesce away from my ears, an odd thing happened. For want of fixating on something that wasn’t him, my mind punished me by looking at that bloody picture. And I cried. Not “wah wah wah! *sob sob sob*!”, thank…well, thank whatever you damn well like – but tears were there, in a relatively constant stream. The strangest thing about this was that, for possibly the first time in my life – my entire life, not just my adulthood – I did absolutely nothing to fight them.
I remember thinking at one point, “at least they’ll know I’m genuinely grieving,” though (a) I don’t know who ‘they’ were supposed to be (again, not They ‘They’, who would have found the whole thing terribly entertaining had they been in situ), and (b) as discussed above, I don’t know that I am genuinely grieving. Further, the thinking of such thoughts shows clear manipulation. If that was my view, then I wasn’t exactly crying for my own benefit, was I? I was crying for appearances. That is reprehensible beyond any measurable scale. In my defence, the tears were involuntary, but it strikes me that perhaps my failure to do anything about them was a cynical ploy. And that – using someone’s death to appear more human (despite my recent rant about that usage of that word – see me and my bloody self-contradictions/hypocrisy?!) – that sickens even me. Maybe (Old)VCB was right when she diagnosed me with BPD.
Ballrootvicar bollocksed on for three more centuries during which I continued to ignore him with stubborn defiance – but when I heard my mother’s name mentioned somewhere on the periphery of my hearing, I turned my attention back to the man. In whatever eulogy he was attempting to perform, he was mentioning the grief of those family members closest to Maisie. When he got round to the grandchildren and great-grandchildren, I saw the shoulders of both Student and Suzanne shake piteously. I shed a tear for them, briefly, then watched in some perplexity as Suzanne supportively rubbed Student’s back.
Deep breath. This is hard for me to admit, but I’m going to do it. I felt something that I’ve almost never felt in this sort of context; I felt envy. I envied their closeness, and lamented my distance from it. They are not just cousins; they’re properly family, which to them trumps all. However, more importantly to me, is that they’re not just cousins/family; they’re friends. For those fleeting seconds, I longed so deeply for the comfort and unabated joy of friendship, for ordinary platonic love. I have no ‘real life’ female friends, something that has never bothered me in my life to date. I’m not even sure that it was their shared gender and its more-customary-than-mine female expression (#feminismfail there, Pan) that bothered me; it was simply that I had no friends there with me. Oh, yes, Mum and A were there – but Mum had her own grieving to do, and much as I love A and feel that he is a friend as well as a lover, the relationship is by necessity different from pure, simple friendship.
Daniel lives in England, and even though he left Northern Ireland nearly a decade ago, I miss him every day. Brian and Aaron do live here, but – and mainly through faults of my own, I confess – I rarely see them. Neither of them would have come to Maisie’s funeral even if I saw them every day anyway, and neither would I have expected it of them. If anything, I found it a little odd that so many of Mum’s friends attended, yet here I am whining about having had none of my own.
Whatever the case, I envied my cousins(-once-removed) and their innate understanding of how each other felt, and though I could probably not be good friends with either of them – whilst I like them, and believe that’s mutual, we are too different to ever be close – I desperately wanted a piece of what they had that day, and was briefly overcome with the greatest void of loneliness I’ve ever known. It is often said that it’s eminently possible to feel despairing, gut-wrenching loneliness whilst in a room full of people. I have never seen a more quintessential instance of that dictum.
This is turning into an epic self-pity-party. To get back to the logistics of the event, at some point the random bloke standing to my right was invited to speak. It turned out that he was the “Pastor” from Suzanne’s Church.
Suzanne, rather unfortunately, is a Presbyterian. Any of you familiar with the denomination will probably have guessed where this is going.
He spoke with the casual but wholly palpable arrogance that I’ve always associated with plane hijackers about hell, fire, brimstone – and how an all-loving God will burn you in agony for an eternity if you don’t submit to his narcissism. Now, let me clear something up here: I know there are Christians that read this blog, and I apologise for any offence I’m causing in this rant. Despite not agreeing with you, I have nothing per se against religion, Christianity included: it is this warped, horrible version of it that grates on me so. I don’t believe in God, obviously, but if He does exist, I can’t believe that the fuckwittery of this brand of Presbyterianism can be true. A loving, benevolent force as exemplified through Christ is not the God of which these people speak. I wished, not for the first time, that I came from a Catholic background.
You know, that’s kind of amusing in a dark way. Factions of the McFaul dynasty are viciously (and contemptibly) sectarian – notably ScumFan, but not just him. I have attempted on innumerate occasions to convince the boy that this whole Catholic/Protestant divide in Northern Ireland is an absolute load of bollocks, and whilst he hears the words and occasionally makes vague gestures of agreement, he doesn’t listen. And that brings me to what I find funny about the whole thing: if, say, ScumFan happened upon this blog and read about what his grandfather had done to me as a kid, I don’t know what he’d do. However, if he happened upon it and saw the words, “I wish I’d been born a Catholic”, I can almost guarantee that he’d disown me. Pathetic, isn’t it? I love this little country, truly I do – but I detest that that will always be an entrenched part of its heritage.
Anyway, this knobhead Pastor wanked on and on with his bigoted bile, to the point where he annoyed me so much that I started making various small noises or fidgety gestures in a bid to get his attention fixated my expression of sheer disgust. He was so self-absorbed in his vile little world, however, that if I’d kicked him squarely in the nuts and screamed, “you’re a fucking wanker, you cunt!” into his face, I doubt he’d have even batted an eyelid in recognition.
During the so-called prayer that he conducted, I actually started muttering bitchy comments at him. You may recall that a million miles up the page I stated that one of Maureen’s sons, my cousin Marvin, was standing beside me, just behind this pastortwat. Although neither my mother nor the pastortwat seemed to hear any of my misgivings, evidently Marvin did; he looked up at me, caught my eye, and – gesturing to the pastortwat – rolled his eyes. I shot him a knowing grin, which he was quick to reciprocate. I knew that A, behind me, would be seething with boiling rage too, but I was so hemmed in by others’ bodies that trying to turn to him would have been like conducted an ugly 4×4’s three-point turn in a danky bedsit. In any case, due to his visual impairment, A can’t ‘do’ body language, so I had to settle on non-verbal vicar-bashing with Marvin.
After this particular twatbag had finally shut the fuck up, it was time for one more bloody prayer, this time with the bald-headed first bloke. I gazed wistfully into nothing in particular, making a pronounced point not to close my eyes nor bow my head. I never do, incidentally, but I made a concerted effort to make it obvious that day. To no avail, obviously, because the very actions in which I was not partaking were the very actions in which those whose attention I sought were.
Finally, the assembled congregation – all of whom I hope are non-choristers – ‘sang’ a tuneless rendition of Amazing Grace, and the service was over. 10,000 people milled their way out of Hotel California, and into the yard to await the next move.
Maisie’s children and grandchildren went to the coffin for one final look at their (grand)mother, and then her coffin was closed forever, and wheeled out the back door – the door she’d always used to access that house that she’d so loved so well.
This post has been exhausting to write, and – I’m sure – to read. Sorry for the heavy emphasis on introspection, but then, if I can’t navel-gazingly reflect on my own blog, where can I? To be continued as soon as I am able.