Friday, 6 September 2013


Every funeral this year has started with a journey west. To Torquay in February and then Hereford yesterday. I don't mind travelling long distances to say goodbye; the physical miles ensure time and space to deal with memories. A retracing of the doodles or flourishes on the map of my mind, if you like. But first this.

We were sat in uncle Steven's gleaming car in the crematorium car park this morning. We watched a careless driver cut across a grassy corner and crash into a wooden 'no exit' sign. He stopped, eyed up the wreckage, raised his hands in disbelief/embarrassment/exasperation and then drove on. Happily for my uncle Steven's pride and joy, this mechanical menace decided to park a long way from us.

This was a rather light hearted start to a morning of grief and memory. Both funerals have filled me with conflicting emotion; on the one hand, heart wrenching sadness and the other, utter joy. Let me explain.

Every coffin I see contains my father, my loss. So when my step mum touched her father's black, pink rose topped coffin goodbye, for me, it was both a gesture of universal grief and personal sorrow. It filled my heart with loss and loneliness. And I wished I'd gone up to touch her shoulder and remind her that she will always have my love.

Of course the moment passed and her father was consigned to treasured memories. This leads me to feelings of joy; the pleasure of seeing old friends fills your smile, your heart, your soul. A neighbour who I haven't seen in 30 years could not take her eyes off me because she cared deeply for my father. And that connection makes a reunion sweeter. We ultimately strengthen ourselves against future grief, loss and death by travelling into our past. 

With this in mind later on we went to see the Mappa Mundi, something I haven't seen since a primary school trip. This is an extraordinary example of the mediaeval world view. A mix of the physical and metaphorical, known and merely suspected - where else would you see Clee Hill and Mount Sinai? A mermaid, a mandrake and the crucifixion? Human and animal. The artist took delight in colour, design and imagination, taking us on a journey around Hereford, Jerusalem and beyond. 

In the bottom right, a gentleman on his horse sets off on a journey and his meaning is deliciously ambigious. He could be a cartographer, an Everyman on his life's journey or dead man on his way to the next world. Or all three. Looking over his shoulder, he waves goodbye to the past, whilst he rides on into his future.

This is what we all do and no map or sign post can show us our future. We can only rely on lessons learnt and accumulated love. The destroyed wooden sign was an omen of sorts, especially when the same driver chose to leave via the one way 'no exit' road. Like us all, he didn't have a clue where he was going. And it all made us laugh when  the going was heavy. 

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