The road leading down to the house meandered through the forest and for the most part was covered in dead leaves. The charm of autumn had gone, leaving the stale smell of rotting leaves in its path.
Of course today would not be pleasant, it was never meant to be. Originally, he had tried to plan his emotions well in advance of the occasion, but that never works. One can never account for the other sensory stimuli that will flavour the event like the subtle seasoning of pepper. The cold, the crispness of the air, the smell of the leaves.
In his imaging of the day, these items had never featured.
He was meant to be detached and dutiful. This was a duty more than a pleasure or a painful process. This was a chore, pure and simple.
He had even come prepared in the event that no one else would come, in the boot he had his own shovel and a pair of Wellington boots.
But that was ridiculous, of course people would come, however in his imagination he had always discounted anyone else’s presence from his mother’s funeral. It was meant to be a quick affair, just him and the Rabbi, and maybe the cemetery groundsman.
Pulling up to the house, he could see the other cars already there. His sisters had come with their husbands, he could hear their kids playing in the garden somewhere. His own children were now grown up, but did not remember their grandmother in anyway and so he made the decision to leave them be, not to bother them with what was after all meant to be a chore. He hadn’t even told his wife where he was going. When the call came in, he accepted the news with very little emotion or sound and she had been oblivious to events on the other end of the line.
She would have wanted to have known and he knew that she would have wanted to come with him today, but he refused to let his mother hurt his wife any further a long time ago. Today was no exception, even in her death, the difficult emotions would take some processing and he did not want her to be present on the day he finally shut the chapter on his mother’s life.
Getting out of the car, he was surprised to see the building still standing. It was ready for demolition a long time ago, the masonry was starting to crumble round the edges and looked as if the roof might collapse in on itself, at any moment. Perhaps the house itself was just waiting for the old woman to die, before collapsing and burying all her effects along with her.
His sister had been present with her mother at the time of her death. She was a doctor, but her devotion to her mother went beyond the Hypocratic oath she had sworn many years ago. She described her mother’s final hours as distressing, as her mother complained of being lonely and continually cried until she finally passed away in her sleep.
Of course, to him, she was bound to be lonely. She had successfully pushed everyone and anyone that could possibly have cared for her so far away that there was no chance that they would be around at a moment like this. Except for Leah, who seemed to be blind to the brand of venomous hatred that her mother preached.
As he stepped into the house, there were a lot of old faces that looked to him like they were waiting for some sort of inspiration. For someone to tell them how they should be feeling today. His other two sisters, looked upset and confused. Whether they should be mourning their mother or the life she robbed them of.
He walked straight up to his father and said “Ok, its time. Lets get going.”
The undertakers took this as a sign and loaded the hearse with the coffin, which seemed shorter than he remembered her being.
They all drove in silence towards the cemetery, each of them desperately trying to find the meaning in the occasion.
“Its all duty. Just a duty. Respect for the dead, but not the woman.” He kept telling himself, separating the corpse and the personality that inhabited it twenty four hours ago.
She was a young woman, comparatively, at sixty four. But she had chain smoked much of her adult life, leaving her with heavy lungs laden with cancerous tumours that finally sucked the life out of her.
Of course, she could have lived longer, only she had refused treatment or diagnosis a long time ago. Her understanding of medicine and doctors had always been primitive and superstitious but ultimately any treatment would only ever had prolonged her existence and could not prevent the inevitable.
The Rabbi meant well. The words he spoke, praised her as a woman of virtue, a good mother and a Jew. She had been none of these things, but everyone forgave him because he was at least brief. They all needed to get this over with as soon as possible.
The earth was soft and they buried the coffin more quickly than he had anticipated. It was an unceremonious moment that somehow lacked the sense of closure he had hoped for, but there it was. A life reduced to a mound of earth and the tears of an old man who had never managed to stop loving his wife.
Difficult to believe, this wasn’t how he had planned it, almost like he had been cheated of an emotion.
Ironically, this is just as she would have wanted it.
At least she was gone.