There may not be a word in English for ‘Multiple belongings’ like the Welsh ‘cynefin’ but there should be.
I have just returned from the funeral of my dad and, for the first time in my life, find myself as an orphan. What I found most difficult was breaking all the connections to the past that the family had made over the years living in Roker, Sunderland. Small connections like stopping the milk, Sunderland Echo and fortnightly delivery of Ringtons Tea which had all continued without break for more than 50 years each re-enforced the finality of this event. I have drunk so much Ringtons Tea in my life that it must be detectable in my DNA.
Phoning to tell the relations gave me a stark shock that the generation that made funerals and weddings a storytelling bonanza are all but gone. My dad was the youngest and all the siblings have already departed this realm or are in care homes or house bound. The other striking realisation was that I have no close friends in the North East now yet I received 35 very much appreciated messages of sympathy on facebook showing that our new sense of belonging is very different, becoming multi-national and more virtual thanks to the Internet.
Funerals like many other businesses have taken the one-stop shopping model to an impressive but expensive state. One brief interview with the funeral director sets up all the cars, flowers, newspaper (and internet) obituary, minister and service. The only other necessary meeting was with the local council registrar of deaths who with one click of her keyboard stopped passport, driving licence, pension, benefits, council tax, medical records and a whole lot more, which deserves to become a mobile phone app one of these days.
Meeting with the minister was a fun way to celebrate a loved one, we shared all the funny stories, many jobs and surprisingly full life that dad had had. At the service in the crematorium on Monday he then showed his ministerial experience by drawing a full and rounded picture of dad in words and stories pulling on the connections each and everyone of the congregation had with such a wonderful man.
The key story that he shared was one than my dads mother Polly (my nanna and best storyteller I have ever known) used to tell at all the funerals and weddings in the past . When Ernie was about seven he climbed onto the roof with a brick tied to a few rolled up newspapers.. The chimneys were straight in those days. White sheets were laid out in the sitting room, Ernie then dropped the brick down the chimney to clear the blockage. As he descended he was met by the next door neighbours with blackened faces. He had dropped the brick down the wrong chimney.
We entered the crematorium to a piano version of ‘Clair de Lune’ having deemed Tomita’s version, which my dad absolutely loved, a little too quirky and we left in floods of tears to the tune that was his absolute favourite from the Highlander movie, and forever a family jest that it would make a perfect exit, ‘Who wants to live forever’ by Queen.