Funerals are Strange Occasions… Well, I Think So.


                                            My Mum

It’s four years since Mum died. My sister arranged the funeral for eleven o’clock today. This is a post I wrote shortly afterwards. The relationship between Mum and me, and the one between her and my sister, proved so very different. There’s nothing wrong in that, but at no time was it more obvious than on that day…

I wrote… 

I haven’t been online much over the last few months; my mother had been on end of life care for over a year and she passed away peacefully three weeks ago. It’s been  a difficult time, both for her and for all the family. There have been many occasions when I’ve wished her at peace. Now she is.

I didn’t intend to write anything publicly about this. But something happened after she died that made me think and to remember a piece I wrote some years ago on motherhood, for an anthology.

I gave it the title I Am Three Mothers because, after much thought on what to write, I realised that although generally the same (and hopefully fair) in all the practical things and the everyday stuff of sharing attention, giving time, listening to each,  I was actually a different mum to each of my three children when they were young. My approach to each child differed  because they were all such diverse personalities.

With our eldest daughter I was more careful how I said things, knew I needed to give her time to tell me anything she was worried about (even though my instinct was to jump right in there…hmm…still is) She tended to try to sort things out for herself and would only come to me as a last resort. She was strong-willed, disliked authority and was loyal to both us as a family and her friends. This last, at times, tended to land her into trouble in school. She had (still has, a wonderful sense of humour – one, I like to believe, is inherited from my mother)

With our son I had a more laid-back relationship.  He loved sport and, as long as we got him to his football practice and games on time, didn’t complain much. More open about anything that worried him, nevertheless there were still times we needed to sit with him and wait for him to talk.

With our youngest daughter, his twin, it was a different matter. She put herself under so much pressure in everything she did, striving all the time for perfection that, sometimes, we had to say, ‘stop…enough… relax’. An anxious child, she needed a lot of reassurance and was very shy. She too loved sport and, for someone so quiet, was very competitive.At school she absorbed education like a sponge and loved to write stories. The family sense of humour, sometimes a little dark, burned brightly in her.

I’m glad to say that, whatever mistakes I made as a mother, they all three turned into great adults. We’re very proud of them. And it’s such fun watching them deal with parenthood!

Bear with me; I’m rambling on, I know. But this is leading somewhere…

Last week I was at my mother’s funeral. I say at because I felt it was a funeral I was a spectator to, not part of.

During the service I realised something strange. Being the eldest, and living nearer to Mum than me,  my sister had insisted on organising the whole thing. It was a Humanist service which was fine; my mother had no beliefs.

But what was odd, was that what my sister had written about Mum was totally unlike the mum I knew.

And I wonder if that is something all siblings share; a different view of the characters of their parents.

The mother my sister saw was a woman who liked poetry. So there were three poems in the service. I’ve never once seen my mother read poetry although she did like to misquote two lines from ‘ What is this life if, full of care…’

The mum I knew read and enjoyed what she herself called ‘trashy books.’ They weren’t, but she did love a romance and the odd ‘Northern-themed’ novels. (I’m always glad she was able to enjoy the first book of my trilogy – dementia had claimed her by the time the next two were published. She still managed a smiling grumble, though,telling me it had  taken me ‘long enough to get a book out there’) And she loved reading anything about the history of Yorkshire and Lancashire. Oh, and recipe books… she had dozens of recipe books and could pour over them for hours. I often challenged her to make something from them. She never did… it was a shared joke.

Mum had a beautiful singing voice in her younger days.  She and my father would sing duets together. Anybody remember Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson?  My parents knew all their songs. And so did my sister and I… I thought. The songs and singers chosen were not ones I remembered. And Mum loved brass bands! She’d have loved to have gone out to a rousing piece from a brass band. preferably the local band. She loved everything about the area and the house she’d live in for almost sixty years

Which brings me to the main gist of the service. No mention of Mum’s love of nature, of gardening, of walking.Nothing about Mum’s sense of humour; often rude, always hilarious. Telling a tale she had no compunction about swearing if it fitted the story. And her ability to mimic, together with her timing, was impeccable. She was smart, walking as upright in her later years as she had when in the ATS as a young woman, during the Second World War. She worked hard all her life;  as a winder in a cotton mill, later as a carer, sometimes as a cleaner. Throughout the talk there was no inkling of the proud Northern woman willing to turn her hand to any job as long as it paid. No mention of her as a loyal wife, even in difficult times.

Thinking about it on the way home I realised that my sister had seen none of what I’d known and I knew nothing of what she’d seen in Mum. And then I thought, perhaps as we were such dissimilar daughters to her, Mum became a different mother to each of us? Hence the completely opposite funeral to the one I would have arranged for her.

Is that the answer? A funeral is a public service. Are they all edited, eased into the acceptable, the correct way to be presented for public consumption? Because it reflects on those left behind? I don’t know.

Perhaps, unless we’ve had the foresight to set out the plan for our own funerals, this will  always be the case.

So I’d like it on record that, at my funeral,  I’d like Unforgettable by Nat King Cole (modest as always!), a reading of Jenny Joseph’s When I Am Old (yes, I do know it’s been performed to death but won’t that be appropriate?). I’d like anybody who wants to say anything…yes anything…about me to be able to…as long as it’s true, of course! And then I’d like the curtains closed on me to Swan Lake’s Dance of the Little Swans. (Because this was the first record bought for me by my favourite aunt when I was ten. And because, although as a child I dreamt of being a ballet dancer, the actual size and shape of me has since prevented it.)

Thank you for reading this. I do hope I haven’t offended (or, even worse, bored) anyone. I was tempted to put this under the category ‘Fantasy’ but thought better of it!

Chat again sometime.


This is My Mum.

This is My Mum.. She’s the one on the left. Next to her (the dark-haired toddler, is her sister Olive, who lived with us for many years) …

mum & Olive when babies

This is My Mum, a photograph taken in her early teens …

mum young woman1

This is My Mum –  The girl on the left …

Mum around sixteen

This is My Mum, elegantly posed in her late teens…

mum - young woman

This is My Mum in her Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) uniform during the war…

mum in Army

This is My Mum – on her wedding Day to Dad. Sitting in a car in a photographer’s studio with a pretend background …

Mum & Dad - wedding day

This is My Mum – with my sister and me – I’m the grumpy-looking blond one…

mum in her thirties

mum with us on the beach

This is My Mum in her forties outside the house she lived in until 2014 …

mum around forty five

This is My Mum in her sixties, enjoying the sun in the garden …

mum in the back garden

This is My Mum -aged eighty, at our son’s wedding …

mum purple suit

This is My Mum …

mum thrfee months ago

This is My Mum …

I will give her some dignity so I won’t show her as she is now;  a small frail figure huddled under the bedclothes. She  sleeps most of the time, only speaks the odd disconnected word, she’s doubly incontinent and can’t feed herself, 

My Mum would not have wanted to live like this. I do not want her to have to to live like this. I wouldn’t want to live like this  What I should say is … ‘exist like this.’

 You’ve seen the photographs of my mum as she was. That’s how I want to remember her.  In a similar way, that’s how I want my children to remember me.

This why I wanted to write this post.