Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Vikings and Burials

26th January 2009

Today is the funeral. The list is all checked and completed. Correction, the many lists are all done, executed like a military operation. I had to approach the organizing of this funeral as if it were a project at work, so that I could focus and retain my sanity. But every now and then it would REALLY dawn on me that I was effectively planning some kind of perverse wedding. A lot of the preparation is much the same … inviting, notifying, bureaucracy and paperwork.

I wonder if funerals were invented as a way to occupy those left behind, in their first shell-shocked days … POST-ARMAGGEDON … to keep them busy, so they don’t cross the very thin line between sanity and insanity.

I have barely slept, none of us have. Jean and I are up first. We share a cookie between us and drink a gallon of tea each, with the obligatory Marlboro Lites, naturally.

Dad looks old this morning and I think … OMG, don’t you leave me too … I can’t take it … NOT now. I would break, Jenny would definitely break and then we’re ALL stuffed. All that’s wrong is that he is obviously nervous about today, and he feels like he is going to vomit. He looks right at me and says,

“I wish it had been me instead of …”


“I know Dad, I know.”

His eyes look bluer than usual and I realize it’s because they are filling up to the brim. But he won’t cry in front of me. Oh no. He’s a man through and through and I can’t dis(respect) that – after all, he had a son that was pretty similar, and I liked him enough to marry him.

I think it’s wrong that he should have to bury his son. It’s against all the laws of nature, and something that no one should have to endure. He’s not only lost a child. He’s lost his drinking partner. He’s lost the son who took after him … they are both a man’s man with a strong code of values, ethics and morals … their own self-imposed standards which they will live by to the end. They are both soft too. I can see where Cliff inherited the clear blue eyes, the fearlessness … and the jaw-line if you look at photos of Dad when he is younger.

I eat one slice of toast and then go to talk to Cliff and have a cry in the shower.

“I am petrified, Cliff. I love you baba and hope I make you proud today. I’ve done my best, I really have and I’m going to try very very hard, to be strong today.”

Then I flit to, a repetitive cycle of:

“It’s not FAIR. Why you. Why YOU? You’re a good person, the best person I’ve ever known in my life. You did nothing but GIVE and teach. Why couldn’t it have been a friggin’ paedophile, or someone that’s nasty to animals, or someone with no morals – I’ve got PLENTY of suggestions. AND THEY HAD BETTER NOT SHOW THEIR FACES TODAY. You worked so hard all your life, you worked so so hard on extending and renovating our home. Always smiling, never complaining, relentlessly. You didn’t get the chance to sit in it when it was completely done, and me bring you iced drinks in the garden and eat “al fresco”. It’s breaking my heart, it’s killing me Cliff – I CAN’T BEAR IT.

It doesn’t take long to shower and dress. For the first time since Cliff died, I’d shaved my legs and trimmed my fingernails and toenails, two days previously. My bag and shoes were polished three days ago. Clothes checked and hanging up for four days. Handbag packed three days ago.

I go downstairs quickly as I don’t want to be alone long. I WILL BREAK AND THEN NEVER STOP. Into the lounge with Jean, and put on my make-up. Jean looks horrified when I clamp my eyelashes with an eyelash curler. I think she thinks it is some kind of primitive instrument to torture people with. So I feel an explanation is needed:

“it’s so my eyelashes are stuck out – away from the skin – so tears won’t turn me into a panda.”

I then put on the beautiful ruby and diamond earrings that he bought me for my 40th birthday, four years previously, on board the Navigator of the Seas, cruising round the Caribbean. I fight the tears because I remember so clearly. His face, excited, asking me to choose a colour,

“blue or red”

and I say I don’t mind. In truth I preferred him to choose because he had impeccable taste in every piece of jewellery that he every bought me. Twenty minutes, he returns to the bar that I am sitting in, enjoying a book and a vodka, coke and ice. BIG GRIN. Pretend annoyance.

“you are such a bitch. You wouldn’t choose and I couldn’t decide, so I got you both. Happy Birthday darling.”

I then put on the second item that he selected that day. A necklace with a kiss made of sapphires and diamonds. I smile at the memory. And then start to think about the wonderful time we had together in New Orleans.

Now I am getting OCD with the earrings and necklace, checking that they have not fallen off, at least once a minute. This will last ALL day, but thankfully, the need to check improves to around once every 5 minutes.

I’m ready and HYPER. The adrenaline is still coursing through my veins and I wonder if it will leave me tomorrow. I am a cat on a hot tin roof and decide that as it is 11h30, it’s not too uncivilized to have a tall vodka, coke and ice.

Some one – I honestly don’t remember who – says,

“Dad said that no one is to drink (alcohol) before the service.”

And I respond,

“Dad said I can do whatever I want” then enjoy the first sip. It slips down fast, so I allow myself one more, and go outside to get some fresh air, and more Marlboro Lites. It’s sunny and feels hot on my face. I am relatively calm.

Ten minutes later, Brian appears through the door and I think for a moment that I am going to let go. BREAK. On no. But, a little of the strength that I acquired on the 5th/6th January remains – a RESERVE – and I smile and hug him. We both display some impressive facial leakage, then slip into our usual banter, bouncing off each other with ease. Brian and Cliff have been friends for over 30 years. It is suddenly clear. Brian is also as much my friend as he was Cliff’s and he has been for quite some time.

Five minutes later, Jayde comes through onto the patio, looking like Alice in Wonderland, just like she did when she was 12 years old. She is nervous as hell but I can tell that she has resolved to be strong today.

Soon after Steve saunters through, looking more like Steven Spielberg than ever, sporting sunglasses and appearing relaxed. I immediately feel calm. The big brother is here.

Now Lloyd arrives and I battle my tears again and succeed. I demand a bear hug and he obliges. That also hurts because Cliff’s bear hugs were similar. We chat about his upcoming fight. He hasn’t been in the ring for five years, but he’s chilled about it. I ask him for the details – the venue and date – and contemplate going, but rapidly backtrack when I decide that I wouldn’t like it if got hit. AND THAT’S WHAT HAPPENS EVERY 3 SECONDS IN BOXING. Normally I would jump at the chance to go ringside at a heavyweight fight, but this would be to watch someone I know and LIKE.

My nephew arrives next. My sister, niece et al have dropped him off on his own because I have requested that I meet them at the Crematorium, simply because I have to protect myself. I have to remove anything that will make me or let me turn into a wreck –

A WORST CASE SCENARIO PLAYS THROUGH MY MIND … I collapse on the floor during the funeral. I throw myself on top of the coffin. OMG. I go hysterical and start running round screaming at everyone.


The anything is my sister. I KNOW that when I see her, hear her voice and she touches me, I will expose my belly, let myself be vulnerable, open the floodgates a crack, perhaps 5 mm. PERHAPS. So, my sister, desperate to pee is outcast to find a toilet in Margate somewhere. Probably a pub if she has any sense.

Lloyd tells me,

“you’d better phone Shaun because he’s not here yet.”

Thank you Lloyd – you have got your act together, and you are checking that everyone is here that should be, and you’re keeping an eye on the time.

I do.

Shaun tells me he’ll meet me there,

“don’t worry yourself, I’ll get there 10 minutes before you even arrive.”

I assume he’s a bit nervous about the coffin-carrying thing. He’ll be feeling emotional too. He’ll take this duty very seriously. So, I don’t think anything about it – he’s dealing with his shit, his limits, just like I am.

Time has flown on the patio. It’s now 13h50 so I go to pee, brush my hair and put fresh lipstick on. Someone suggests we wait in front of the house, still outside, so I can SMOKE more.

We go through the lounge and hallway and I kiss John and Sharon hello. Graeme looks like a rabbit in headlights.

We’re quiet standing out here now. We are ALL composing ourselves for what’s coming next.

I see the hearse approaching and feel:

Love, fear, loss, dreams that have been cruelly ripped away from us, and BUTTERFLIES in my stomach. My legs feel like they are shaking but Jayde assures me that they are not. Then I have to check hers. Hers aren’t visibly shaking either.

I say to Jayde – who is now starting to look like a startled deer,

“don’t look at the coffin hon.”

I make her laugh by telling her how I asked my Dad, at my Mom’s funeral when I was 29, if the “chimney sweep looking man” was going to walk in front of us ALL THE WAY to the church. He had told me, whilst not managing that well to hide the amusement and laughter in his voice that he would only walk to the end of our road, much to my relief.

I don’t notice the limo’s pull up. They move like ghosts anyhow and now I understand why I don’t like Bentleys. It’s because they are synonymous with funerals, hearses, black, widow, loss and misery.

I am now in the ghoul-mobile, sitting in between Jayde and Mark. We are linked together as I am holding their hands. TIGHTLY.

Dad is behind me in between Jean and Jenny.



So I break the silence. Un-ceremoniously and unapologetic.

We glide past the Benjamin Beale pub … where, a lifetime ago, I was 18 years old and met Cliff. This was his local for many years and was always my sanctuary. I knew where I was safe. I also met Shaun and Danny there. And others. Some of them are dead now too. WTF? Change the subject in your head and MOVE ONTO something nice that Disney might have thought up. Disney doesn’t do it for me today, I want:

dark humour, inappropriate, uncomfortable, satire.

We then pay homage, still gliding in the ghoul-mobile to the beach, where Cliff ran his pedalo business some 33 years ago. He slept on the beach and had a little beach hut, with net curtains and a fridge, during the summer. Late nights and happy memories that he shared with me.

I can’t help myself. I HAVE to turn my head and glance at our old flat. Suddenly I want to escape and run back there to a different time, through some mysterious time wormhole. I visualize running up the stairs and finding Cliff and Hammer (our Rottweiler) waiting for me.


OMG, the pain is unbearable. I start fidgeting and Mark notices that my knees are frozen because the aircon was set to full and cold, and my knees are directly in front of the vent. I hadn’t noticed.


We’ve arrived. I named the crematorium “the house of misery” when Cliff was distraught after his Mum’s funeral. And it is. That’s what the sign-post SHOULD say.

We have been to too many funerals there. And now. HIS.

Jayde starts talking really fast,

“OMG, there’s so many people out THERE. OMG, OMG”

I look but can’t see them. I don’t understand what everyone is referring to.

WHAT crowds? WHERE? Whatever.

I am still looking and do recognize Rob who is looking at the hearse, and then at me, with utter disbelief on his face. Can’t see masses of people though.

WTF are they talking about?

We get out of the cars. I check that the pallbearers are right behind us. Yes they are.


Ok, pep talk to self. Check.

Now, I turn round to completely focus on Jayde. When she sees the coffin slide out of the hearse, she starts bouncing on her legs, like you do if you are carrying a baby on your hip. Visibly shaking. HANDS, LEGS.


“Look at me. Look at me hun. Shhhhh, shhhhhhhhhhh, it’s alright darling, just focus on walking and hold my hand. All you have to think about is NOT falling arse over tit, and ensuring I don’t either. OK? OK? Yes. Good. When we follow the coffin, find a focal point, like someone’s bald patch, and just look at that. Ok? Mmmm? Yep? Good girl.”

She’s OK, relatively speaking.

Now I remember that Shaunie is meeting me. Where is he? WHERE IS HE??????? I know that he will be here. BUT I CAN’T SEE HIM. Starting to have a little panic now because I don’t want to meander around aimlessly. I’m too short and won’t be able to see him. OMG, there ARE a lot of people here actually.

Lloyd introduces me to Marcus’ son Damien who is standing in for him as a pallbearer because Marcus is in Thailand. Surreal. He is just like his father. His mannerisms, voice, the way he knows how to speak to people.

Lloyd now shows me where Shaun is. He looks like a contender in the ring before a fight, all coiled up ready to pounce on his opponent. He has NO idea about my state of mind or how I’ll react when I see him.


I walk towards him. CONFIDENT. The crowd parts and I’m aware of people trying to get my attention and even beginning to hug me, but they can’t because I have a mission and I am not stopping. Not for anything or anyone.

NOT NOW. NOT NOW. DON’T YOU GET IT? I can’t handle sympathy, tears, being touched, or the pitying looks. NOT NOW. Jesus.

I smile as wide as I can as I get nearer, and his face changes from tense to sunny. I sense relief coming from him. I do stop to say hello to Wendy who came up with him, and automatically give her a hug. I say to Shaun,

“Come on, I’ll take you over,”

and proceed to hold his hand and lead him. WTF am I doing? This is the man who literally babysat me and was given responsibility for me when Cliff was away. He’s NOT a toddler walking through the kindergarten gates for the first time. That said, he happily goes along with me and I leave him with his fellow pallbearers.

I turn away after glancing at them all during their briefing. Their faces show how important this is to them. They are listening INTENTLY to every word the Undertaker says. They must feel pressure with all those eyes on them, and the fear of making an error does NOT bear even comtemplating. I can't watch their faces.

No, Boo this is so NOT the time to play our a worst case scenario in your head.

OK, empty head. Check.

WTF, now I can hear my body:

Heart banging so hard it’s going to jump out of my chest in a minute.

Mouth is dry.

Hands are wobbly.

Ears are ringing.

Stomach is doing backflips.

Oh nooooooooooo, I don’t think that my legs are going to carry me to the pew.

Now we are moving. Focus on nothing except keeping Jayde from running ahead, overtaking the coffin and sitting in front pew, whilst keeping me with her by the wrist.

Sitting. In between Mark and Jayde, all holding hands again. Mark’s hand is white. He’s not complaining soI keep my vice-like grip. On both of them. Actually my hand hurts. The one that Jayde is holding.

The men have carried Cliff beautifully. With dignity, pride and respect. The heaviest weight was in their hearts.

The man who is reading the Eulogy that I wrote for Cliff looks overwhelmed by the size of the audience.

He introduces the Eulogy and explains that he is reading it out loud on my behalf.


He starts reading … monotone, slowly. WTF. The style reminds me of the first boarding school I went to – a convent – where we had to attend mass every day (or it felt like it). His reading style is reminiscent of the priest – speaking in Latin. Is he going to do this ALL THE WAY THROUGH. It’s not tenable. No!

Then it becomes transparent that the reading style does not matter. The noise when everyone, in there and outside, turns the first page of the eulogy over - is LOUD. They are all reading it along with the “Reader”.

We get to the first song that Jayde has chosen,

“Blowin’ in the Wind” – Dylan

and her skirt is getting damp from her tears.

I stroke her hair.

Now more slow reading. Ahhh, he managed to speed up a bit.

Next song. “He ain’t Heavy, he’s my Brother.” – the Hollies. I cannot and will not look at any of Cliff’s siblings. I just can’t. I can feel the tears waiting behind my eyes.

More reading, a smidgeon faster. Hoorah. He is reading with some inflection.

Oh no. Here we go. It’s time for Dido’s “Thank You”, and as I hear the opening music –SHE HASN’T EVEN OPENED HER MOUTH YET – the tears are rising, faster, they’ve gone past the point of no return, and the floodgates are open, more like at 100mm, which was not what I had envisioned. I am now WRINGING MARK’S HAND. I am tensing myself from the toes up to my neck, then back down again. Up and down throughout the song. I think it stops me doing the whole shoulders going up and down as my body is racked by sobs. Silently crying. Can’t get tissues out because don’t want to – CANNOT – let go of the hands. Mark notices that big fat teardrops are making a puddle on my skirt, literally, and passes me a wad of Kleenex. But I use it once, then leave it on my skirt because I HAVE TO HOLD THE HANDS.

More reading, more sombre, but we are approaching the end. It’s definitely picked up speed.

The gauntlet. The last song. “Across the Divide” – Joe Cocker. My heart is BREAKING. PHYSICALLY TEARING AS I SIT THERE. I CAN FEEL IT. The pain is unbearable. I think I am going to lose it. I feel so sad. Empty. Nightmare. I want my Cliffy. I always buried my face in his chest every time we went to a funeral in this house of misery, and I cannot believe, cannot grasp that he’s never going to stand next to me again. My beautiful strong husband. Then I channel my thoughts and feelings back into the day. Every tiny minute detail thought over, agonized over, recorded on Jenny’s PC, added or crossed off a list, prepared to the best of my ability. THIS IS THE LAST THING I CAN DO FOR HIM – I kept saying this over and over again. My Auntie Paula taught me this when my Uncle Peter died. My Auntie Carla told me this when my Uncle Stuart died. They are my role models in this moment of weakness and I remember how dignified they were at my uncles' funerals, and I know, 100%, I will pull through.

There will be no histrionics, no free floor show, courtesy of yours truly. I want him to be proud of me today.

Now the end. The hardest part of today. But not nearly as hard as him actually DYING. Nowhere near it on the booing and painTM scale. The Viking horns are sounding for Cliff. It’s haunting, evocative of a millennia ago, but entirely appropriate for my husband. I cannot see the coffin slide away from view because I am not there.


I whisper,

“Bye darling, Bye Cliffy.”

I can’t SEE. ANYTHING. Too many tears obliterating my vision. I don’t care.

The Viking music is STILL PLAYING. I say to Mark,

“it’s going on too long. They should have stopped it.”

ETERNITY, TORTURE. Two hundred and fifty people all standing out of respect, not one sound apart from this haunting music. ENOUGH ALREADY.

I wave at the “Reader” and signal to cut it. He in turn signals at someone unseen in charge of AV. Phew – fading, and out.

We three sit down. Mick Gore comes to lead us out. I feel strange and buzzy, like when you get low blood sugar if you haven’t eaten for ages.

It takes all my concentration simply to stand, and then I seem to be rooted to the spot. Now have to decide which foot to use first when I move. This seems entirely reasonable and normal practice to me at the time. We move, crab-like out of the house of misery, because I still WON’T LET GO OF THE HANDS.

I have always loved my nephew, who is 7 years younger than me, but now I’m overwhelmed with the love and pride and gratitude I have for him in this moment. I see him as a little boy again with my Dad, then as a man and a father to his own daughters. He has stood by me faithfully, and even knew that he was expected to check Jayde’s and my makeup had not run, without even being asked to do so. I tell him later that his Granddad would be immensely proud of him, and he cannot speak to respond.

I could not have done it without him.


I’m equally proud of Jayde and can honestly say that the pallbearers will NEVER understand what it means to me that they carried Cliff and looked after him.

Later on, I am told, time and again, that they have never seen so many grown men cry. I am also told that it was the best funeral service that many have been to. I wrote the Eulogy for Cliff not the congregation but don’t say so.

We look at the flowers, but I can’t remember what they looked like. I don’t bother to read the flower cards as I know that they will give them to me later. I DO remember the roses on the coffin that I ordered, and we all paid for – the whole family. THEY ARE GLORIOUS. Marcus’ sister Janice has outdone herself.

I remind Mick Gore to remove 9 of the roses, so that we can dry them out and keep one each.

Finally I see my sister Honey and we hold each other, both crying openly. I let go. No one exists for a few moments, and people stay back, allowing us this time. I see Vicki waiting to hug me, but then she has gone.

Gaynor cuddles me and says

“It was BEAUTIFUL. I am SO proud of you.”

Carl smiles one of his big wide smiles and gives me a cuddle.

I go looking for someone, and see Danny in the crowd and make my way towards him. BEAR HUG. He lifts me up so I am dangling, like a 3 year old does when an adult picks them up. Being 3 years old is good. I honestly want to be one ALL day today, and perhaps for longer.

Turn round and head back towards Lloyd. I know who I can trust most of all and where I will feel safe today. The pallbearers. Because they are an extension of Cliff. It’s the same if they are all there, or not. Each one will act the same with me regardless. I am in his territory and know that this may be the last time I get to run around oblivious, as “Boo”, surrounded by all of them at the same time. UNTIL THE NEXT FUNERAL. Oh god. I remember suddenly Cliff saying that his would probably be the next one and he was right. This freaks me out totally.

I walk through a sea of faces, only really seeing my family and the pallbearers. NOT YET. DON’T GET DISTRACTED BY ANY FRIENDLY FACE OR ARMS REACHING OUT TO HUG YOU. NOT YET. Why don’t they seem to know that I HAVE TO KEEP MY SHIT TOGETHER? NEARLY THERE. CALM DOWN.

My boss Sue has positioned herself with the men, clearly noticing my behaviour pattern. HUGE HUG. Sooooo good to see her. Feel safe, normal, even laugh a couple of times. She tells me she is so pleased she is finally looking at me for herself, and that she is proud of me.

Now I sense other faces. I can feel them. The guys from home. They have all come down together and they want to speak. That’s cool. Four of them. And Paul’s two daughters. And someone who I KNOW, I KNOW, I KNOW him but my brain is not computing. FINALLY. It’s John’s son – he laboured for Cliff last winter and socialized with us. Happy Days. Not today. He doesn’t speak to me at all. Not once. He doesn’t need to – his eyes speak volumes and I thank him for coming and tell him how much it means to me. Mute. Eyes still talking for him. Weeks later, John tells me that when he told him the news, his son John went to bed for the day and cried solidly throughout the day.

Coxy passes me a gift bag and I am polite but confused. Do you give presents at funerals? I ask Mark. Is it etiquette now? IS IT? IS IT? IS IT? No reply. Eventually,

“look in the bag”

I do. It’s a framed photo of Cliff on Coxy’s little boy’s motorbike, pretending he’s a bad hairy biker on a Harley, wearing that smirk. God I love him so much. Bless Coxy.


“Lloyd, get me out of here, please, NOW”

“Yes. Ok, let’s go. In the car. Alright Boo, you’re in.”

He shuts the door.

Sanctuary. Don’t mind the ghoul-mobile so much now. Tinted glass. Perfect.

Breath. Breath. Breath. OK.

This time it’s the pallbearers, Jayde and I. Cliff’s environment. These men are hurting but they cast it to one side for us. I love them for it. Their solidarity today is palpable and it’s almost as though Cliff is with us in the car too. BUT NOT.

Why aren’t we going. Mick Gore is de-thorning the roses, VERY carefully. Jesus, just give them to me. Let’s move. Let’s go. I am desperate to leave this god-awful place.

Gone off the ghoul-mobile again. WTF? We are moving along at a snail’s pace. WHY. There is no coffin. Maybe these cars don’t have wheels and they glide along like spectres. Why have a Bentley if you don’t use the power in the engine? HIT THE GAS. PLEASE. Oh for chrissakes. I grow:


We arrive at the harbour and I hop out. No trepidation or decorum here. I don’t want to wait for driver to open the door to open. I am poised ready, with Marlboro Lite in mouth and lighter in hand. Mark understands and gets out as soon as it stops. I escape.

That’s better. One more.

Lloyd waits patiently,


and I follow him upstairs. The venue is perfect and so is the food. The girls are lovely too. I am allowed in the kitchen to leave stuff in there.

A drink is put in my hand.

“Thank you”

I spot Dave’s sons and go straight over to them. I get confused and I am speaking to Dave. No I am NOT. Ryan has Dave’s eyes. Except he is better looking and looks uncannily like Johnny Depp. Justin is gentle and knows exactly what to say to me. We joke and I realize that this is the last time they will be with their Dad’s “people”. WE will stay in touch though. And we do. I tell them that Dave and Cliff would be so proud that they came down, they said that they had to. And give me a card “to open later” and when I do, they’ve put, “with lots of love from Ryan, Justin and Dave Reading xxxx”. I suddenly feel like my umbilical chord has been cut … but this time it’s for Jayde. Have I ABANDONED HER? Have I FORGOTTEN her? Shit no. She sees me looking around, panicking and comes over to me before I find her. Introductions. Blah blah, this is Cliff’s daughter. Blah blah these are Dave Reading’s sons.

“Oh hello”

and immediately, transforms RIGHT IN FRONT OF MY EYES, into girlie, giggly, self-conscious, silly. Giggle giggle giggle. I am finding it hard not to grin a LOT.

Then I can FEEL Cliff. WTF are you DOING? BOO? HELLOOOOO? NOT Reading’s sons. Boo-oooooooooooooooooo? Boo!

Not today. They are gents and we go outside for a smoke. Jayde joins us after 2 minutes and has composed herself. Shame. It was sweet.

Back in.

Feel pressure. Feel I MUST say “hello and thank you for coming” to everyone there – approx 160 people. I achieve this more or less. My sister advises me to stand anywhere and tells me that people will come and speak to me when they want to. She also adds that it’s nice to spend time with people from way back in Cliff’s past, late-teen, early-twenties, that have also left the area, that I may NEVER see again. I hardly have any time with family, especially the Mayhew contingency, but they are not precious.

I only start to cry ONCE at the wake, outside. I see David Sellier.

“Oh, there’s David”

“It’s David?! And Faye!”, slowly comprehending. Had NO idea they were coming. They have come to pay their respects and show their support. It really affected me in a nice way. Very touched and I’m so pleased that they came. Faye has become a good friend to me.

Faye mentions that my boss Sue is at the bar with some people so I run up immediately to check that she’s ok. I bump into her on the stairs on her way out. She has a flight to catch. I didn’t know she was in the bar. I didn’t see her and feel bad that I haven’t spent any time with her. She doesn’t care. Hug, HUG, normalcy personified. My mentor and the best line Manager I have ever had. Amazing that I report to her NOW that I really need a good supportive Line Manager.

Mingle, chat.

The room goes noticeably quieter when Cliff’s ex-wife and I cuddle each other and chat. “It’s OK” she announces to EVERYONE. “It’s the middle one I don’t like. She’s alright. I love her. I love you Margo. Well done today. Thank you so much for including Jayde in all the arrangements.” She treats me like another daughter, and I happily behave like one.

The girls walk round with trays of bubbly and OJ. Lloyd is a guardian angel.

Brian and Steve both make speeches and both of them break when they ask everyone to raise their glasses.

I stand in the middle of the room. ALONE. Proud. Smiling, raising my glass and showing the world what “Mayhem” married. I know I have accomplished what I promised I would do. I have kept my shit together. The day has gone as planned. Nothing forgotten. DAMMIT, except the Memorial Book I forgot to put by the food, so that people could write memories, stories, anecdotes and whatever they wanted to write. Brian saves me yet again. Another guardian angel. He gets back up and says that the book is by the food, so at least a third of them get to write in it. Weeks later I will receive more to paste into the book.

Gradually people leave. Little by little. Getting easier to say goodbye as I can see if they are preparing to leave and they can find me easily. There’s more space and more air to breath.

Today, I’ve only had to turn my face and glance at any one of the men that Cliff has known, worked with, helped, drunk with, fought with, but always respected. And they seemed to have INSTANTLY known that I’m thinking of talking with them. For the last couple of hours it’s nearly only the “real men” remaining, as my Dad called them. I feel like this is my time now. To luxuriate in the story-telling that they will share with me, to just be with them.

One man introduces himself to me as Jimmy.

“Jimmy Hollands?”

“Yes!” He’s visibly pleased that I’ve heard of him and I can place him in Cliff’s past, in the stories that he shared with me.

I learn today how much of his life he shared with me. I am able to finish ALL the stories that they tell. I think that he gave me his past by sharing it with me, and he has given me the future by teaching me. God I miss him so much, it hurts. It actually physically hurts as well as the emotions. I love him so so much. I drift off and have to check myself. ENJOY the stories. ENJOY the stories. This is the last time I will go out feeling this surrounded and “with him”. This thought almost destroys me. It’s very real.

I look at Chris and smile and wave. He makes a space and I stand to chat for a while. Then I think I can see his wife, and ask him if she’s with him.

“Kim, come see Boo”. She’s lovely and I will get in touch with her and visit. I love chatting to them. Feel normal. Safe. Happiest talking about Cliff, or listening to Cliff stories.

Chris is “surprised” that someone didn’t come and pay their respects. I’m not bothered. He is definitely bothered and says he will pop in and see them the following day. Lucky people. Bad luck. He doesn’t want to pry but asks if they owe Cliff any money and I say they don’t. Am I sure? His wife tells him off and he grins like a mischievous schoolboy. I understand FINALLY. Men fix things – I forgot. Women TALK. Not men. They want to make it better and fix it. They can’t. But they can collect debts and punch someone for being disrespectful – and they MAY feel better for it. I have no idea.

I chat with Shaunie before he leaves. It’s been an emotional day for him too. He doesn’t make friends easily. He could but he chooses not to. He knows most people aren’t what they portray themselves to be. He and Cliff got on so well and just bounced off each other with ease. Happy memories. He’s struggling to get the words out that he wants to say. He does though and I am glad when he walks away otherwise we would have both let it go. And I know that if I do, I won’t be able to stop. He tells me that he loves me – like family - and he will always be here for me. I knew that anyway. But it means the world to be told and to receive confirmation. Especially NOW.

Oh no, someone who Cliff didn’t particularly like, who he was indifferent to actually, is heading my way to talk. He does my head in. BIG TIME. Irritating little man. Oh no, no, nooooooooo. I have spoken the last “noooooooooo” instead of thinking it. But extremely quietly. Danny heard me. An arm comes around me and scoops me up. I tug Jayde in with me.

“what’s the matter darling?”

“Nothing now” as I see the BORING irritating man going off in another direction.

These are my people. Some have left. This is my world. They KNOW me and accept me for who I am. They KNOW how much Cliff had to protect me from myself – my ability to talk to complete strangers and accept them at face value. I am Boo here. Only Boo. Margo is not here. We can really talk now. I can feel him close. All these men have come to show their respect. Not one foot put wrong. Nobody drunk. Nobody arguing. Wars sets aside for the day because of what they thought of Cliff. I love them for it.

Around 20 of us remain. We really know each other. We go downstairs into the main bar and relax on the armchairs, chatting. Lloyd is going on duty – security. He asks me if it’s ok for us to move downstairs but I know he’s really telling me, because he has made a commitment to Cliff today and he will see it through. Which means I need to be where he can watch me. I’m fine with that. Used to it.

Brian is dancing with Amanda. Amanda has had a lot to drink but she is lovely. Not a bad bone in her body. She is doing a sort of salsa/flamenco thing and he is going along with it. Lloyd and I are laughing at Brian.

I stand with Lloyd for a while. Quietly. Just stand next to him. The club will shut soon, so we will have to go. I admit to him,

“I don’t want it to end, because then it’s really over. I’m okay here with all of you. It’s like he’s here.” My voice breaks and I can’t speak now.

“I know” and he does.

Jayde and I have drunk enough to sink a battleship, but we are still stone-cold sober. HIS TWO GIRLS. HE LOVED US BOTH SO SO MUCH. Oh no, this isn’t tenable. I can’t take this. I can’t do it. Then I think of how proud he would be of us both today and I find a tiny piece of strength left in me.

We say our goodbyes. BEAR HUGS. Smiling but feeling the loss. HEAVY weight on my heart. And on me. It’s coming at me like a tidal wave and there’s nothing I will be able to do to stop it.

Mick has not drunk any alcohol today so that he can drive us back. Manda and Mick drop Jayde and I off at Dad’s. I’m not ready to let her go yet.

We have a drink. Dad has drunk a bottle of cognac with Rudi but you wouldn’t know it. Everyone is going to bed. Perhaps they were waiting up for me? Jayde and I have one more drink on our own and I order her a cab. We are both getting tired. EXHAUSTED. The adrenaline is leaving me now after 20 solid days.

Jayde leaves and I feel empty. Es appears.

“I wouldn’t leave you on your own.”

She’s in her PJs and has to leave early to travel back to Denmark. She pours me a drink and we sit quietly. The tears come. But they are quiet. We sort the flowers out so they don’t wilt and rot. I remember that they have to be hung upside down in an airing cupboard so we fashion a contraption to hang them with, out of a rubber band and a heavy-duty paper clip, then hang it on a cupboard door, ready to be put in the airing cupboard in Dad’s bedroom tomorrow.

I feel so exhausted I think I might sleep. Up we go. I quietly slip into bed with Jenny, absolutely wiped out. I say to Cliff ( in my head),

“I hope you approved and I did my very best darling. I really really hope that you liked the Eulogy, and that you’re proud of me. I’m sorry that I wasn’t this strong when you were alive.”

INSOMNIA. I. can’t. get. no. sleep. (Faithless is now playing in my head and that probably doesn’t help).

Twenty minutes later I feel the wave coming at me. I manage to slip out of the room quietly and get downstairs before the sobs rack through my body.

It’s indescribable. This loss was beyond my comprehension only one month ago. The pain is very real. I miss you so much. I love you so much. I want you back. I know that you can’t come back, so please come and get me. I never thought you and I would be apart. It’s not right. God no, not this. I can’t bear it. I can’t do this. Please Cliff, come and get me, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE.

After an hour or so, I realize I am cold and feel numb emotionally. IN SHOCK. I am so tired I find it hard to walk up the stairs. Get into bed. Get out of bed. Find massive teddy bear. Get back in.

Jenny asks if I’m OK. Clearly not that quiet slipping in and out of bed.

As I fall asleep. SLOWLY. So much going round and round in my head. I have to picture him, his hands, his face, neck, every part of him until I am convinced that I haven’t forgetten a thing. I have to think of him smiling. Things he said to me. I CAN’T REMEMBER HIS VOICE. PANIC. PANIC. SHIT. Calm down Boo, you have camcordings, phone videos too. OK, that’s alright then.

Relaxing again now. I think about the day and how proud I was to be his wife. I always was and always will be, but today was a landmark in our history together. A dreadful unwanted landmark, but a landmark nonetheless. I think about the support from everyone and the updated cellphone numbers that have been added to mine and IT’S CLEAR … THIS IS THE LEGACY HE’S LEFT ME. THE NON-TANGIBLE LEGACY. HE WILL STILL PROTECT ME BUT THROUGH THESE OTHER MEN. A SMALL CIRCLE OF THEM. BUT YOU ONLY NEED A FEW. YOU’RE LUCKY IF YOU HAVE A FEW. Brothers in Arms.

Then a final thought before I thankfully drift to sleep. Another gift. Another legacy. My FAMILY. My FAMILY is really the family I was born into AND this one. MAYHEW. That is my name after all. They are no longer in-laws – they have become mine. They are blood because they are his blood and therefore mine too.

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