On Friday I went to a funeral and yesterday I went to a three-year-old’s birthday party. Both were good. The funeral was for the husband of a friend who lives close by and is one of my long-time writing companions and I wished with all my heart that he would not die, he was not old. He wasn’t someone I knew well, but sometimes it doesn’t take much for a person to reveal what is essential about them. The goodness and simplicity of the funeral felt in accordance with the character of the man. I wept, as I have done at each funeral I have been to (there have been four) since my father’s death. As my friend’s husband was a Buddhist, there was a monk dressed in saffron robes who chanted by the coffin which was made of some kind of raffia type of material and reminded me of the Moses baskets that new babies are held in and is the most beautiful coffin I have seen and, I think, most perfect for carrying a newly-dead body from this life. I have no sense of where the dead go to, no conviction that tells me they are still alive in the spirit. Much as I would wish to believe that my father were somehow “there,” it is his absence rather than his presence that I experience most forcefully. But where belief and conviction fail, faith leaps (sorry, could not resist) in most extraordinary or ridiculous fashion – I can’t and won’t decide which it is and feel that perhaps it is both. I have this faith that the substance of a person, the soul, is there, wherever there is, perhaps returned to the place it came from before incarnating into the physical body at birth. I have also this intuition that tells me it is important, and not only for those who are still alive, how we conduct ourselves and rituals at the time, and in the days after, the death of a person.
The birthday party was for my nephew, the son of my half-brother, one of the many half-siblings from my father’s second marriage. Born shortly after the death of my father and with a Portuguese mother, he has the Portuguese version of my father’s name: Michael. The party was held in the grounds of a youth club/sports pavilion. There was a bouncy castle, balloons, a cake with Noddy and Big Ears in a car with the birthday boy’s name on the number plate, a party conductress (can’t think what else to call her) and a clown that shouldn’t have been there. The clown had been booked and then cancelled in favour of the party conductress, but the clown’s wife hadn’t passed the message on, so there he was all painted up and ready with his box of tricks. He said as he was there that he would like to do the gig anyway, paid or not, and in the event he was given half the fee he would have had. He was a nice person, but his tricks consisted mainly of twisting balloons into different shapes and giving out lollipops. I couldn’t quite see the point of the Conductress who got everyone singing Happy Birthday with the unnecessary aid of something pre-recorded and followed this up with pass-the-parcel and Mr. S and I couldn’t help reminiscing how we used to do the singing, games and puppet show of Mrs. Rabbit’s Cottage, all by ourselves. But still, it was good to be there with small children who (now that I no longer have them) I sometimes miss, and with the open-hearted loving kindness of the fully-functioning side of my family.