Okay, so here I am on holiday and I’ve survived. It’s been a weird few days. As usual the journey wasn’t fun, and hubby had to do it all (I don’t drive and the boys haven’t got their licences yet, not that we’ll be able to pay the insurance when they pass their tests, lol!). 300 miles doesn’t sound a lot, I know, if you happen to be in the US or Oz, but for us it is the other end of the country and frankly the roads, even the motorways, aren’t really geared for trips of that length. They don’t run in straight lines! Anyway, five and a half hour journey, no problems except for the exhausted husband, and off to see brother before checking in at our VERY basic, breakfast-not-provided, Travelodge (no prob – the beach diner favoured by my brother does a great full English). It was good to see little bro looking so much in control, quite the reverse of the sick and depressed person he collapsed into when Mum died 18 months ago. He had arranged everything – funeral, flowers, speeches, wake, everything – with minimum input from the other siblings. Admittedly my sister had been to visit once or twice but he doesn’t work at his most efficient when she’s around. She wants to sit and talk about things, which is understandable, but stops him getting on with jobs; and, to be absolutely honest, he doesn’t like the way she is eying up the furniture!
So after we had all settled, the following day we were all over bright and early to welcome my sister with her husband and 3 kids, my other brother with his (separated) wife and two of their kids, plus two of my 3 cousins. The heightened emotional state of all gave a rather volatile feel to the atmosphere and there was a hint that typical scrappy little quarrels and overreactions might kick in later on! However, at this point it was just lovely to see everyone. I was actually running round taking photos, because I just don’t know how much time may elapse before I meet up with them again – another funeral, or a wedding maybe. However, I was not impressed at first with the foul-mouthed and seemingly somewhat arrogant individual into which my eldest nephew has evolved since we last saw him a good ten or eleven years ago (he hasn’t been available at several meetings in between – he was on vacation at the time of my Mum’s funeral). I think a lot of it is probably a cover up for basic insecurity, but it stays with you when the first thing he utters after a long time apart is an obscenity! Later on, our Son no.1 actually challenged him for the way he spoke to my sister: “If I said that word to my mother she’d punch me in the face!” Which I would have. So I was very proud of him.
The crem service was very personal and celebratory, so I felt that this time there was a certain closure for both parents. We had the Bach-Gounod Ave Maria, which Dad loved, and his favourite jazzy numbers from ‘High Society’; we talked about the amazing footballer he was in the 50s and how he didn’t sign for Chelsea because football didn’t pay enough in those days!! For me all of that was relevant and important. Dad was talented and fun to be with. However I was a little more uncomfortable when there was stuff about his devotion to us and affection for my mother. I wasn’t close to my father because he didn’t encourage closeness. He was deeply self-focused, often manipulative of my mother, and, at least on the surface, critical of or indifferent to us as we grew up. I remember some terrible stand-up arguments during my teens, and the elder of my 2 brothers became a petty criminal partly because of his lack of a strong male role model. However, you have to do a send-off recalling the good things, and I did understand him a lot better as we all got older. He was always pleased to see me, too. I think as the eldest I had more attention and fondness from him. The rest arrived within 3 ½ years and that must have been a huge culture shock.
On to the celebrations, which my brother had arranged in that very beach diner where his friends had shown him such support and encouragement. The friends were all there and I did a little speech, part-me, part-brother, to express our feelings about our parents and our gratitude for how brilliant and helpful the community had been to him. They all said they were very moved. I hope so. I don’t know what he’d have done without them, with all the relatives so far away. And then in some cases alcohol took over, prompting (depending on the amount consumed) intense conversations, uninhibited singing and personality clashes. Would Foul-Mouthed Nephew be able to drive his brother and sister home later, given the quantity of drink he had consumed? Would Second-Eldest Niece ever stop making such a fuss about dirtying son no.1’s suit jacket? Who was going to take Extremely Drunk Family Friend home? Why was Youngest Nephew so quiet and withdrawn (feeling ill – 2 big public exams tomorrow)? Then later, when everyone repaired back to the house, Son no.1 welled up in maudlin tears about how he never has any contact with this side of the family! Second-Eldest Niece was crying in a totally separate place about the same thing. Both were tending to rail at their parents about it, like the fact that they never phone or IM or FB each other has anything to do with us – Son no.2 got really upset about this and berated Son no.1, sharp words were exchanged – you know the kind of thing. Fortunately we all know our family’s tendencies and that we tend to go hyper on celebratory occasions, so everything was reasonably amicable again by the time we had to part and things returned to relative sanity.
The journey home was not as uneventful as the trip out. It was a hot run and hubby got really tired, mysteriously taking not one but 2 wrong turnings, which put us behind schedule. I received 3 texts en route from my head of department about job deadlines that I’d completely forgotten about and had to be sorted urgently before I got back. Still, eventually we collapsed through the front door. There were nearly 40 work emails awaiting me, a good half of which required answering, and two essays to mark before next day. So I didn’t get to choir rehearsal as planned. I seem to have this ridiculous image of myself as Superwoman. Calm down kid, it’s been a hard week!
There will be a massive amount of admin to organise, but I do think we are over the worst of this. I’m looking forward to Little Brother having a life of his own after 20 years of taking care of my parents. I’m sure he will cope with aplomb. Many thanks again for all your words here (and TJ’s, too). They have meant a great deal to me and the family.
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"We make our lives out of chaos and hope. And love." - Angela Montenegro