Iris’s Ashes. July 19th2018.
The phone call was not unexpected, Sylvia my youngest sister, told me that Iris had passed away.
Iris, our eldest sister, had been in poor health for the last couple of months, she was a very lively ninety-four-year lady, with a very sharp mind and a wicked sense of humour.
The funeral, Sylvia told me, was to be held in the Exeter Crematorium, Devon.
Exeter is about one-hundred and sixty miles away from our home in Chichester, so we set off in good time in our little car.
As we approached Exeter, the conversation went something like this.
“Do you have the address Alan?”
“Yes, it is ‘The Exeter Crematorium’.
“I know that, but what is the actual address?”
I thought this was one of her trick questions, as I was sure she knew.
“Ah, you can’t catch me out on that one” I said.
Something in the look she gave me, made me think, that this was not the answer that she wanted.
“We have been driving for over four hours, Alan, please tell me, you know where we are going”.
“Yes of course I do, The Exeter Crematorium, everyone will know where that is, all we have to do is ask in a garage or shop for directions, I did this all the time when I was working as a washing machine mender, it’ much quicker than fumbling with a map”.
Wendy seemed reasonably happy with this way that I had developed over the years.
Just as I said this, we came to a jogger, I stopped and asked him the way.
There are times when the answer to a perfectly reasonable question, makes the blood in your veins freeze, this was one such time.
“Yes” he said, “Which one do you want”?
I felt the car shudder as Wendy sat bolt upright in her seat.
“Which-one? which-0ne? How many blessed Crematorium’s are there”?
“The one I know is about a mile away, and there is another one about six or seven miles away, but I am not too sure how you would get there”. He said
We quickly arrived at the nearby crematorium, Wendy was strangely quiet as we parked the car and entered the very grand building, I walked into a waiting room to see if I could recognise anyone.
My gaze was met with the sad eyes of the relatives of the departed, I could see what they were thinking, “Who is this? Maybe an old friend or even a long-lost cousin”.
I was thinking I wish I was dead.
The next room we entered was just the same.
A man at the door told us that a service was in progress in the chapel, we took our seats at the back, and sang a couple of hymns.
Wendy, having never met Iris, whispered.
“Is that a picture of Iris on the coffin”?
I could feel the icicles returning to my blood stream.
In moments of acute stress such as this, I have found that the best way out, is to say something amusing.
“Wendy, how can I best say this”. I said, “I haven’t seen Iris for a while, but the last time I did see her, …….she never had a beard”.
It worked like a charm, Wendy went into quiet hysterics, at least that’s what I thought, I may of course have been wrong.
We left quickly, with Wendy still shaking, the man at the door gave her a sympathetic nod, he must have thought she was too distressed to carry on with the service, which in a way was quite right.
We arrived at the second Crematorium just as the mourners were coming out, as luck would have I saw Roz’, my niece.
I told her of our little difficulties, and she said.
“Never mind, uncle Alan, we are having something to eat in Cullompton, about ten miles away, just follow me in my little red car so that you don’t get lost again”.
Her little red car was about five cars ahead, and we were soon directly behind her.
“I wouldn’t have come this way to Cullompton, perhaps she knows a quicker way”.
Roz’ was driving quite slowly so as not to lose us in the heavy traffic, then she turned into Cullompton Health Centre car park.
As Roz was a nurse I quite reasonably thought it was OK to park there, thinking the pub where we were all meeting was nearby.
I parked our car next Roz’s car, and to my surprise a little old lady got out and gave me a very odd look, I started to explain why I had been following her so closely for the last ten miles, but I don’t think she wanted to know.
We finally found the pub but thought it best not to mention the day’s events.
On the way home, poor Wendy, it was all too much for her, she seemed a bit subdued, but after a while she started laughing, I mean really laughing.
It just goes to show that my method of making a terrible situation bearable, by making it into a joke really does work.