Friday, 30 October 2015

This is not a funeral.

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.


Today’s pictures:

I’m too tired now for captions. You know what they are about. They are the story of this most shimmering day.

30 Oct 1 5184x3456

30 Oct 1 5184x3456-001

30 Oct 2 5184x3456

30 Oct 3 5184x3456

30 Oct 4 5184x3456

30 Oct 5 5184x3456

30 Oct 6 3456x5184

30 Oct 6 3456x5184-001

30 Oct 9 5177x3036

30 Oct 9 5184x3077

30 Oct 10 5184x3456

30 Oct 11 5184x3456

30 Oct 12 4943x2527

30 Oct 12 5184x3456

30 Oct 14 5184x3456

30 Oct 15 5184x3456






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.


  1. What a perfect send off. Beautifully written.x

  2. Beautiful. I always so admire people who don't want a funeral. This is a perfect goodbye x

  3. WOW. So powerful, Tania you are a wordsmith, even at this most difficult of times. I cannot express in words the sympathy which is needed here, but I hope my words, in some way, comfort you and bring you knowledge that we are indeed all here for you should you need us. But I'm sure that delightful red mare, her paint friend and the new most darling acquisition ( and of course, Stanley that dog! ) bring you some delight and much needed ears/fur which can soak up your tears and take in your murmurings.


  4. Beautiful. It takes courage to follow your own heart and not do what is expected or taken for granted.
    I totally agree. You did not need to be at your mother's funeral to say goodbye, and you did that in a very special way.

  5. Sounds a perfect send off you gave she and your Dad are with you forever more in every cloud, the rustling leaves, and every drop of sparkling dew on the grass or in the crease of a leaf. Smile and remember when you ride your beautiful Red Mare xxx

  6. Beautiful words and flowers. You made me cry on the train. X

  7. Oh Tania, what beautiful words... it was the perfect way to spend the day, and Red and Stanley looked after you... and that photograph of your stepfather reduced me to sobs... I hope you are all staying very close to each other... Rachel

  8. A beautiful post filled with love - and lovely flowers. You made me cry.

  9. Oh Tania, I had to take a deep breath before I read this because I knew...I just knew it would be beautiful. Your words about your father were one thing, but this, this is, as another commenter said: lovely. And so poignant and respectful but suffused with such love and family closeness. This is the thing about grief, which I fear greatly (more than anything else) is that when it happens to me, I want to do it just like you. What a strange sentiment! But that is how reading this makes me feel. And can I just say...the beech avenue is splendid and that image a few days ago of your mother's fur hat, just sublime. I am sniffling now, 7.28am on a Saturday morning as my family sleeps. Thank you for writing, always always it's a salve to read and store up. Lou x

  10. Absolutely beautiful. 'So delicious I almost fell over.' What a wonderful idea not to have a funeral, they are so very hateful. Much better to farewell her in your own way. xxxx

  11. Beautiful words. Much love to you xxx

  12. I came back to read the comments and noticed my didn't publish.
    Please know I read this post and felt you captured so beautifully a day full of every emotion. You did a bloody wonderful job xxx

  13. A beautiful send off for your beautiful mum. Sending love xxxx

  14. Oh Tania, this blog is so lovely. It's been a little while since I visited the blog and I'm sorry to hear the sad news. Thinking of you and your family, and your not-funeral day sounds just glorious.


Your comments give me great delight, so please do leave one.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin