While it would be wrong to call it a good-news story, it is at least comforting to hear from my sister that, as and when the time comes, our mother’s funeral is all but paid for.
Turns out that there’s some sort of advance payment scheme – mortality’s version of the Christmas club – whereby the undertaker trades off the benefit of money up front against the risk of prices rising unforeseeably sharply between now and the dreaded day. It felt unseemly to press for the full details.
Had only the phone line itself gone dead at that point, but no, I then learn that the interment of Dad’s ashes at the local cemetery brought with it the right for family members’ ashes to join him there at a later date, so he and Mam will lie together. “And I’m going there too,” my sister adds.
So that will be the three of them together forever, while my ashes (if I can’t retire to Ireland, my remains will) frolic in the breeze along the Cliffs of Moher, a mere 500 miles away. My sister would probably regard this as symbolic.
I am desolate at the odd-one-out scenario, which has arrived out of the blue like an express train from the fog. It is a mixture of guilt and sadness, tinged with anger that I am only just addressing the issue now. Yet who thinks of this stuff when they are 20, 30 or 40? Who amongst men, at any rate? Just as we begin Christmas shopping on December 24th, so it is consistent that death’s niceties fall to be considered only when we find ourselves at the gateway to life’s final decade or so.
Burial of any kind would be out of the question, as it happens, my claustrophobia having been childishly invested with the same immortality as my yearning for Ireland, but the spectre of permanent separation still hovers, even if non-believers and believers alike would chide me for it. You’re dead, nothing matters, or you have moved onto a place where 500 miles is what’s known as a footstep. And how many miles separate some of those white crosses in French fields and the graves of those who loved what lies beneath? Does that distance diminish what they had?
As I often do, I try putting myself on the receiving end. Were my children to intimate that their final resting place of choice would be on the other side of the world from Co. Clare’s famous cliffs, would I be heartbroken? No, because it would take nothing away from what went before and I would also consider there to be a certain glamour to our global reach in death.
I will probably stick with the plan, but it’s not resting in as much peace as it has been.