Music surges through the speakers. Salt-N-Pepa tell us to push it, and I survey the sea of shocked faces. Not really funeral fare, Mum.
‘No sombre music, Gillian.’
Yes, Mum. No sombre music. But you could have at least let me warn folks.
‘Who doesn’t love a good surprise party? This’ll be a surprise funeral.’
Not so much of a surprise that you’re having a funeral, though. Years of being whittled away by various drug therapies should have given us all time to adjust to your death. It’s funny. Despite all those years fighting for health, all the months in hospital when it was clear there was nothing left to do, your death was still a shock.
Whispers and giggles chase each other in ripples through the funeral parlour. I hear more than one “that’s so Marian” muffled behind cupped hands.
I run my palms over my jean-encased legs.
‘And no wearing black, either. I want a celebration of my life, not a room full of gloom.’
The mourners sparkle with colour, feathers, and finery.
“Wear your best party clothes, and celebrate Marian’s life,” the invitation had proclaimed in 14-point font that looked like the opening titles to Bewitched. That was after being showered in confetti made from gum leaves. No bits of plastic glitter for you. Even in death, you’re determined to be ecologically conscious.
Mine will be the only eulogy today. At least you left me that much mourning. Funerals are for the living, Mum. For us to say goodbye.
‘You can say goodbye without descending into beating of breasts and tearing of sackcloth, Gillian.’
You were stubborn, I’ll give you that. That’s probably why you outlived your doctors’ predictions by so many years. Three months, they’d given you from your first diagnosis. Three months. You confounded them by eight years. Some of those had been good, too.
You’d travelled in the first few years, seen everything your sedentary single-parent life had not allowed. And you’d kept copious travel diaries. I pour through them in my 2 a.m. tussles with my own conscience, wondering if I did enough, cared enough. I search for glimpses of you hidden between effusive descriptions of art and architecture, tucked quietly between meditations and yoga, dancing with dervishes and singing with gospel choirs. You’re there, celebrating life and following your bliss. Oprah would have been proud.
Those years sustained you through the ones that followed. The years of medical procedures, and bland mushy food. Of losing hair, energy, friends. Of losing your sense of self.
The final sibilant strains of the song sputter out. I make my way to the podium and survey your community. These peacock feathers that kept your spirits flying, that sat by your bedside holding your withered hand, that read you poetry and told you dirty jokes, that never let you feel alone, stare back at me.
They’re all here for you, Mum.
‘They’re here for you, Gilly. Funerals are for the living.’
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