Funeral

St Werburgh’s Church, Wembury
Tuesday 6th May 2003 at 3:00pm
followed by committal at Drake Memorial Park

***

Yesterday was a beautiful day, the sun was out in force and casting radiant sparkles on Devon. Mum and Dad went into Plymouth first as they had to pick up some people on the way and Mel, Sy and I followed in afterwards so we didn’t have to leave Molly alone for too long.

Arrived at Nanna’s house bang on time, the black procession cars on our heels. Had just enough time to pop into the house and see Nanna, wave at and hug various relations who had made it down from across the country and be pointed in the direction of Bill’s card that had been delivered that morning. Nanna was very touched by it and particularly appreciated the message written inside.

Then we all departed to the church, Mum travelled in one of the funeral cars, the rest of the Downes contingent following behind in the Peugeot. It felt very surreal driving through Plymstock and out across to Wembury Beach, it was such a gorgeous day it didn’t quite seem real. As we crossed the crest of the hill and dipped down towards Wembury, the sea view opened out before us and the Mewstone became centre stage. Couldn’t help but remember all the times we had gone to the beach with Nanna and Grandad when we were young. Putting on our wellies (galoshes) and traipsing through the pebbles, hunting for tide worn pieces of coloured broken glass, bits of driftwood, cowries and other treasure washed ashore. Grandad would be ever vigilant against traces of ship tar, and always ready with a smelly tobacco drenched hankie should, despite warnings, Sy or I have got mucky.

Wasn’t at all sure what to do when we got out of the car, Sy and Mel had each other, and Mum called Dad over to her. Felt like a right lemon til Dad held his hand out for me too and gave me a hug.

There seemed to be quite a few people already seated in the church when we arrived. The family were led in as a procession and the church looked fantastic, all decked out in white and yellow floral arrangements.

Mum got separated from Dad and I in a touch of confusion regarding seating, but at least we managed to get a pew behind her if not next to her.

I had to try very hard indeed not to simply burst into a proper flood of tears throughout the service, was very glad that mum had thought to provide me with a packet of tissues, clutched them throughout and tried to use them as discreetly as possible, but turned a good few of them into a soggy mess.

The hymns were arduous, I can’t sing at the best of times, and always feel particularly uncomfortable mouthing the words in church. Though I don’t think I could have made a sound even if I had tried, my throat was so tight and sore I’d have really strangled “The Lord’s my Shepherd” and “The day Thou Gavest”. Dad more than made up for my lack of vocals though and it was good that I at least knew the hymns chosen for a change. I’ve always hated hymns in church when you’re supposed to just belt out the words but no one really has any idea about the tune except the organist (and I sometimes wonder about that too). Took me back to years of school assemblies when Tavistock College was much more religious, and attending church with the Brownies and Guides. Couldn’t remember if Nanna and Grandad came out one year to watch me carry the Guide Flag in the Remembrance Sunday Parade to St Eustachius.

Anyhow, the service was odd. Weird enough being in church when you only attend for weddings and funerals, without the vicar being strange. He spoke about Grandad in a formal prayer with his back to the congregation and the coffin which seemed a bit weird, though I realise he was addressing God. Still, wasn’t expecting that, thought a memorial service would have been a bit more personal in a way. And, as soon as the service was over Dad and I noticed that the vicar pegged it outside to his car and had a crafty cigarette!

After the service we then had to follow the funeral cars over to Drake Memorial Park. Right by Saltram House where we used to go feed the ducks with Nanna and Grandad, across from the deer gateway, is a large park of remembrance where, together, Nan and Grandad had chosen a plot for their final resting places. Surrounded with trees it seemed very tranquil and a perfect spot for Grandad.

Somewhere between the church and this park I suddenly felt a kind of relief. I was so glad that the weather was so nice, even though I wish Grandad had been around to see what a beautiful day it was, it felt appropriate and I was glad. Still had to concentrate hard on keeping the tears at bay, but somehow as we drove towards Saltram, past the Fairy’s Doorknocker, it felt better.

I’d not been to a committal before. Nanna Downes was cremated, her ashes are scattered up on Pork Hill. So, I had no idea what to expect. Certainly didn’t foresee the tatty green temporary shelter erected over the grave with made it difficult to stand around it. Felt very alone again and trailed Mum, Dad, Sy and Mel around like a lost puppy.

Went back to Nanna’s afterwards for light refreshments. The whole funeral seemed to have gone by very quickly. Actually, it was this part of the day that was the strangest. The house became filled with all these people I didn’t know, but who seemed to have rather a lot of information on me! More and more of the family ended up congregating in the kitchen under pretence of serving duties.

Missed Bill very much and kept almost bursting into tears whenever he was mentioned. I was very glad that he had come over at Christmas and had the chance to meet Grandad but couldn’t help wishing that he’d made it to see us married. I know it was unlikely that he’d have been able to travel to the States for the wedding, but Bill and I are hoping to eventually have some sort of family get together this side of the pond too.

Also, it’s been upsetting me that despite the ordeal we are undergoing at the hands of the Texas Service Centre, if we had had a timeline similar to Vermont I probably wouldn’t be sat here now and would have been unable to attend Grandad’s funeral at all.

Eventually Sy and Mel decided to make a move and go back home to sort Molly out so I went along with them. It was still a beautiful evening as we drove across the moors and past Cadover Bridge, another place I associate strongly with Grandad. I wish he’d been able to hang on longer, but despite everything, it’s comforting that I have no bad memories of Grandad and know that he was up and driving about and still enjoying the countryside he loved until his death.

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