Today, I said goodbye to my mother.
In a last act of dazzling brilliance, she left instructions that she did not want a funeral. No fuss, she said. So we gave her no fuss.
She would be taken to Moray for cremation, which is what she asked for. My stepfather and step-sister were to go with her. I would stay at home. The mortal remains are gone and mean nothing to me; I did not want to see them burnt. She exists now safely in my heart and that is where I keep her.
All the same, I wanted her to have good flowers, so I did them last night and watched over them until the early hours in a strange sort of vigil. This morning, I took them up to the florist, because I needed more eucalyptus. You can never have too much eucalyptus. The ladies in the florist were perfect. They know a lot of death; I have sometimes been in there happily chatting when the undertaker arrived to collect the wreaths. They knew precisely what to say and they said it and I thanked them.
I delivered the flowers to my mother’s house. I had to take some photographs before they went in, partly because I was swanking at my own brilliance, and partly to show the brothers and sister. I laid them on the ground and was contorting myself to get the best angle when the farmer drove by on his tractor. I adore the farmer. I like to think he sees me as a true countrywoman, a woman of the earth. I talk to him about sheep and weather and dogs. His surprised face when he saw me dancing about a huge floral arrangement with my camera made me laugh and laugh. So when I delivered my rather melancholy burden, I was not weeping but laughing.
The Stepfather, absurdly elegant in a suit of midnight blue, looked faintly surprised but took it on the chin. We looked at each other, a vast ocean of unspoken emotion between us. We did not need to put it into words.
My sister had requested that we pick some flowers from Mum’s garden to put in the coffin, so my step-sister and I did that, finding the last of the white roses, some fragrant rosemary, some delicate marjoram and some shiny green mint. My step-sister made them into a pretty bunch, tied with a white ribbon. They were enchanting.
Then, even though it was only eleven-thirty in the morning, we made cocktails. We drank some very special Scottish botanical gin with blueberries in. (It comes from a small family distillery and on their website they suggested blueberries and we are very suggestible at the moment. It was so delicious that I almost fell over.)
I saw them off and went home and watched the racing for a bit and then I went down to the field to get on my red mare. She was sleeping when I arrived, but kindly rose to her feet and moseyed over to greet me, even though this was not riding time at all. I had set an alarm in my pocket and my plan was to be in the saddle at the moment my mother was cremated.
It was a fucking awesome plan.
(So sorry. Grief makes me very sweary. Also: there is absolutely no edit button.)
The sun, which had not been forecast, had fought its way through the early rain and cloud, and was dancing and dazzling, gentling the good land, lighting the bright autumn leaves so that they glowed with life and promise.
My alarm went off. Stanley loped up the field. The red mare stood very, very still. She had taken me up to the far woods, and I looked into their dim mystery and said goodbye.
I said: ‘You are not gone. You are in the woods, and the wind, and the sky, and the earth. You are in my heart and my mind. I carry you on, safe, free from pain, all suffering fallen from you.’
The mare fell to grazing and I let her. Stanley stood like a statue, scanning the horizon.
Then I sang a song. I sang What Have They Done to my Song, Ma? Because that was her favourite song when I was six years old and I remember it blasting through the house and everyone singing along.
Then I said some Yeats. I spoke the words into the limpid air.
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
It wasn’t entirely appropriate, but it’s the only poem I know effortlessly by heart, and Yeats is my old, old friend.
And then I picked up the mare and sent her into her fine, rolling canter. My mother never could believe that I rode her in a rope halter, that she would come to a dead stop from voice only, that she could carry herself like a dressage diva on a loose rein. ‘Do your brilliant canter for Mum,’ I said. And she did. Stanley loped along beside us, his eyes amber in the sun.
Then we stopped and looked through the trees to the south. The mare was very, very still, peace rising from her like a benediction.
Not really goodbye, I said to my mother. You can stay with me now. You can ride with me every morning. Now you are free.
And then I looked at the Scottish light and watched the three mares happily eat their hay and went back to my house and gazed at the hill and felt grateful.
It was a bloody marvellous funeral. I cried, I laughed, I rode, I sang.
I think she would have loved it.
I’m too tired now for captions. You know what they are about. They are the story of this most shimmering day.
As I finish this, I suddenly realise what it was about. It was love and trees. Almost every day I come back to love and trees. Without even thinking about it, without even meaning to, I gave her love and trees. She would have liked that.