I laughed. I cried. I absolutely refused to wear black. I wore a mad dress covered in butterflies, and my mother’s pearls.
There was a lot of loveliness, a lot of sweetness, a lot of love and a lot of sadness.
My stepfather gave a speech so heartfelt it left the room silent. My brother gave a speech so funny and dazzling and brilliant that it left the room rocking with laughter and remembrance. My sister ran through the speech with him after breakfast, and gave him the tune to sing it with.
I made about eighty-seven cheese puffs, and they ate them all.
All the people who had looked after her in her later years were there. They gave her so much.
One very kind woman said: ‘I wish I had known your mother before she was ill.’
‘Oh,’ I said, ‘she was so beautiful. She looked like Grace Kelly. She was tiny, but she was tough. She used to ride out my father’s great big steeplechasers, the huge horses who came over from Ireland. She could not hold one side of them, but she rode them. Seventeen hands and feet like soup plates, she used to say.’
A thoughtful gentleman said: ‘I have had a lot of bereavements. I don’t think they are gone. I think they are in the next room.’
Then he laughed. Because we are British, and we must laugh at wakes. ‘I’m not sure that is strictly true,’ he said.
‘Well,’ I said. ‘It’s a lovely idea.’
There was a pause. I wondered whether I should say what I wanted to say. It might be too solemn. I said it anyway. ‘I think,’ I said, ‘they are in the wind, in the hills, in the woods.’
That was the end of that conversation. He looked around. I think perhaps he wondered whether there was another cheese puff.
The children ran around. The youngest of the great-nieces was wearing a coat which my mother bought for my sister from The White House in 1960. It was put away in tissue paper until I was old enough to wear it. Somehow, it has survived, elegant and pristine, and now it has gone through the great-nieces until it found the littlest one, who wears it with an air.
I played hide and seek with the great-nephew, who was alarmingly good at the game and wished it could have gone on all day.
The children were asked this morning where they thought Granny M had gone. ‘Heaven,’ they chorused, dutifully. Then with a look of mischief, and also in chorus: ‘Where she gets to do exactly what she wants.’
We sent her off well. We remembered her well. We raised a glass and laughed a laugh. I am very sad, and very happy. And very tired.
This shot is of the older brother, the sister and me, after the wake. The younger brother is not in the photograph because he lives in Bali, where, apparently, he has been making special whale sounds in honour of Mum. (Don’t ask. Really. We don’t. But the old lady would be laughing her head off at the thought of it.)
Oh, and I can’t resist this picture too. It is of me and my mother, very soon after I was born. All our photographs were burnt in a fire when I was fifteen. (Everything went: books, furniture, pictures, all the memories and mementoes of childhood.) Somehow, this photograph survived, and a few years ago I had it framed and gave it to Mum. She hung it by her bed, and this is where I photographed it this morning, before the people came.