• The hardest talk

    26 May 2010

    The last couple of days have been hard. After my Grandad died on Sunday, his body was taken away to be embalmed and was then returned to the house. I stayed up all night with some of the family -- it's a tradition here that someone keeps the corpse company all night when it is resting at home. I grabbed some sleep on Monday morning, then returned for the laying out -- that's another tradition here in Ireland, where people who knew the deceased are invited to come and view the body before the lid is put on. Often that happens in a funeral parlour, but we had the viewing in his home, in the TV room where he had spent so much of the last 19 years since retiring and moving back to Ireland from London. His children sat inside with him, while all of his grandchildren who were present (along with some of his great-grandchildren) stood in a line outside the house, shaking hands with everyone who had come to visit. It was a huge turnout, close to 500 people -- he had been a hugely popular and visible local figure all of his life. We were there for 4 hours. Then the family gathered inside the room, said our last goodbyes, and the lid was laid in place -- always a horrible moment, since you know that's the very last time you're ever going to see the dead person's face. We then drove to the village and walked after the hearse all the way up the street. He had been a great hurler, and had won lots of medals at county level, so the local GAA members gave us a guard of honour, players marching along beside us -- it was a very nice touch. I helped carry the coffin into the church, then we had a short service, then we left him to lie by himself in church overnight.

    On Tuesday we had the burial. Mass was at midday. I had volunteered to do a little eulogy about him. He had written a few books of memoirs during his retirement, and I decided to read out an extract from one of those, to remind everyone of what he had been like. I'm well used to speaking in public, but this was easily the hardest talk I've ever given. I was very emotional, and when I began speaking I almost broke down in tears. I managed to press on without crying, but then my right leg started to shake wildly! I don't think anyone could see, as I was standing behind a podium, but I was aware of it all the time and couldn't stop it. I was delighted to be able to speak at his funeral, and wouldn't have had it any other way, but it was also a relief when I came to the final line and was able to return to my pew. After that we escorted the coffin to the graveyard and I helped lower it into the grave and tossed in a couple of shovels of dirt, then watched as it was filled back in. Having bid Grandad a final farewell, we headed to the Corner House, where food had been laid on for everyone, and we spent the rest of the afternoon and night remembering him and toasting his memory. He might be gone, but he will never be forgotten by those who knew him and loved him -- and that was virtually everyone whose path he had crossed.

    Today was strange. I feel disjointed, without purpose. The last week had been devoted entirely to Grandad and preparing for the inevitable. Now I've started the return to normal life, but it will take a while to readjust and get back to my regular patterns. When a loved one is taken from your life, it's impossible to just bounce back as if nothing has happened. You need to take a bit of time to find your feet again. And that's good -- it reminds you of how much the deceased meant to you, and how richer your life was for having them in it.

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