So, Mike, how are you?

Oh, I’m fine – but then, it’s not me you should be asking after. K has lost his only sister, his parents have lost their only daughter, R has lost the love of his life – and that’s just the immediate nearest and dearest. This is a grim period for all concerned, and it’s pointless to pretend otherwise.

I’m probably not going to say much more about any of this on the blog, though. Some matters are better kept private. Suffice it to say that I’ve learnt a lot about the grieving process in the last few weeks, and that some lessons have been more easily learnt than others.

However, M’s funeral was beautiful and extraordinary, and a matter of pride for all who were involved in the planning of it. A lot of care had been taken to personalise the ceremony, and the effort paid off, leaving all of us with a profound – if sadly temporary – feeling of uplift and release. We had estimated around 75 mourners, and so were flabbergasted when around 300 turned up at the crematorium – far more than could be fitted inside. Thus about half the mourners were obliged to listen to the ceremony outside, relayed through loudspeakers.

M arrived in a stunning bamboo coffin, bedecked with white flowers, and was carried inside to the sound of Air’s “Mike Mills”, from the Walkie Talkie album. The service – from which virtually all religious content had been excised – was conducted by the funeral director: a family friend, who knew M well. M’s 12 year old cousin read her self-penned poem, after which I delivered the main address: a tough gig, but made easier by the fact that I knew exactly what I wanted to say, and how I wanted to say it. It was an odd experience, giving a speech to the accompaniment of muted but sustained sobbing throughout, but at least I was able to induce some smiles and laughter as well. (I also inadvertently “outed” K to half of Cheshire, but that’s by the by.)

Diana Krall’s “Narrow Daylight” was then played in full, after a few words of introduction from myself. This wasn’t an obvious choice for a funeral, but then we didn’t necessarily want something that would beat you around the head with emotion. Expressing sorrow yet also offering hope, whilst also hinting at some of the qualities which made M so special, the song’s allusive nature thus provided space for quiet reflection – and, for those who wanted it, prayer.

After a second self-penned poem (delivered by M’s friend and former neighbour J) and after the brief committal (inevitably the rawest moment of the day), we filed out to Van Morrison’s “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You”, which we had decided to move to the end of the ceremony; placed earlier, its unabashed sentimentality would have been too much, too soon. The sun had finally come out, and so we stood outside for maybe fifteen minutes or so before heading off to the reception, as K’s family were gently besieged by well-wishers.

During the reception, the strangest feeling of mellow calm prevailed. People were smiling, chatting and mingling, almost – but not quite – as if at a family celebration. But then, we had been celebrating: M’s life, her beauty, her lovably sweet nature, her understated strength, and the affection and support which she quietly offered to so many.

But of course, the longest and hardest part of the grieving process starts after the funeral, when the cards and flowers and letters and phone calls stop pouring in, and there is nothing left to plan, and people start trying to pick up their daily routines once again.

For me, an escapist by nature, last week’s five days in London gave me the breathing space which I needed – or rather, which I felt that I needed. Because, to my surprise, bewilderment and distress, last weekend was where I stumbled for the first time. It turns out that, for those who grieve at one remove, their grief sublimated by the need to be constantly strong, supportive and wise, Denial and Anger can make their presence felt in ways that can take some time to recognise.

Let’s leave it there. I’m back in London for three days (and two nights) a week for the rest of June, after which I shall be working full-time from Nottingham once more. London has been a wonderful experience in many ways, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t going to miss many aspects of big city life – but on the other hand, and for overridingly obvious reasons, it is also high time that I returned.

For, as has been all too clearly demonstrated in the past few weeks, my place is right here. Where I belong. And where I am needed.

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