I had a right old palaver cremating my friend this morning.
He died a couple of weeks ago. He was a guy with whom I’d shared some good times, a fellow golfer with a good sense of humour. I wasn’t able to go to his funeral (grandfather duties up north) so I sent my sincere apologies via letter to my mate's widow and word of mouth through my brother. He came home with an order of service, a smart 4-page item with a photo of our smiling friend on the front.
I always get a bit choked up at funerals so was moved by the nice snapshot and personalised order of service. I sat him on my desk for a few days and thought back on the laughs we’d shared over the years. But a few days is enough, I don’t like to mope.
So…… what to do? I didn’t want to just chuck him in the waste-paper basket, that seemed disrespectful. Nor did I feel comfortable chopping him into small pieces and putting him in the dustbin. No, I decided to cremate him. A dignified send off.
Outside into the garden I went with my pal and a box of matches. ‘Cheerio old mate,’ I said as I lit the match.
Would it burn? Would it heck! It just left a black smudge up one edge.
My friend kept smiling.
Right! I drenched the card in methylated spirits and reapplied a match. It burned with a pleasant semi-transparent shimmer. A least the meths burned, the card didn’t. Now my pal was actively laughing at me through a sheet of attractive blue flame. The meths burned away but the card remained. Slightly distorted, but very much in one piece.
Over the garden fence, friends of mine were walking their dog on the football field; they asked if I was having a BBQ. I told them I was trying to cremate my friend but he wasn’t having it. I told them the story and they went away giggling to themselves. So, I now have 3 laughing friends. I’m so glad I am able to lighten some people’s Sunday morning.
It’s our wedding anniversary by the way, so I’m keen to send my friend on his way before lunch, so we can double up our celebration to include a wake. Drastic measures required. I take an axe and chop some kindling. Then go and raid the cardboard bin for some fire-lighting material. I get a pleasant mini-bonfire going and reverently place my mate on the pyre. With a wave of farewell, I go and have a second shower – because I am now doused in evil-smelling smoke.
On the way out to lunch I go and check the fire. It’s out, but unbelievably two scraps of paper have survived - my friends smiling face and his written name.
Right! I tell him, that’s enough, you’re just taking the piss now!
I sweep the remains onto a shovel and chuck them over the garden wall. Mother nature will finish what I have patently failed to achieve.
Do I hear someone chuckling as I return my shovel to it’s hook?
Strangely enough, today is not only our 29th wedding anniversary, it is also the day my Mum died 33 years ago. Now I can add my friend’s private funeral to the calendar in perpetuity!
Just one final thought, now I'm back from a lengthy and successful lunch / wake.
I reflect on what happens after we 'expire'. Do we hang around in spirit, hovering and watcing? Or do we simply disappear into the eternal black?
Does the fact that my mate will live on in my memory, at least every 30th January, mean that he will always be around? In other words is there something tangible he's left behind in me? Will he keep grinning at my efforts to set him on fire, and will that grin last forever?
And you, dear reader, don't think you've go away with it. My mate's lingering grin won't die with me, because now I've planted it in your minds. You won't think about it all the time of course, but you might from time to time. Like when you see a fire. or someone grinning, or while attending a funeral, or........
Anyhow, that's enough. After a wake, a sleep.