Managed to carry a coffin without falling over today. Given my general balance difficulties, this was an amusing relief for all involved.
A’s grandfather’s funeral was a big part of a good day today, and not too upsetting for most. I suppose it felt more fair than most funerals; 94 years is a pretty good innings, really. Or, to be less British, a long time at bat. GCP was a WWII Veteran, and at the crematorium some of his friends from the Royal Welch Fusilliers did a very touching flag salute and trumpeted the Last Post. The Ode of Remembrance was recited by a 92?-year-old who served alongside C- in Normandy, and behind the recitation – We Will Remember Them – there was a sudden pressing weight of all the lives that have been given, or altered, in service to King and Country. Powerful stuff, which stuck in my throat and made me miss my family and feel very insignificant simultaneously.
Both of my deceased grandparents served in WWII, and the threads of their lives were woven into the same ether today. Twelve and a half years ago, RDJ’s funeral was understated and his medals were undiscussed; I remember cousins I and R sharing their surprise that he’d fought in WWII. We wondered why he’d never talked to us about all the cool, heroic things he’d done. Six weeks later, MED died in a VA Hospital. Her military funeral at Gettysburg came free with her national service history and felt, unsurprisingly, like a military operation. It was a hazy hot and humid August day, but sharp-heeled riflemen made the air crack like it was December, and the flag made a disproportionately crisp snap every time they folded it. We were all a bit limp in the heat and rag-taggle in general, and in our family diorama the sharp edges of the flag stuck out like a sore thumb. I remember feeling like the military had loaned Baba to us for 50 years, and was claiming her back very efficiently. Fifteen minutes, Three shots, Taps, Done.
Today’s ceremony was all much gentler than the American hut-hut-hut-fire routine, and more personal somehow; perhaps because I’m older and more appreciative of the tradition; perhaps because the flag that covered the coffin had been used for this purpose for many years, and would be used maybe only a handful of times more; perhaps because the regiment was small and its veterans attended to their own; or perhaps just because the ceremony was indoors and gun-free. Anyway, it caught us all off-guard, and there was a chapel-wide rustle for kleenex during the last post.
Well – that was a cheerful paragraph. After that we were only moderately irreverent in the funeral car, and there were only a few eyebrows raised that there were female pallbearers and occasionally smiling faces. And I got to hold a baby and talk bees simultaneously at the wake.
Today I’m grateful that our forebears got to come home from the war, live relatively long and relatively fulfilling, unscarred lives, and give future life to us. I’m grateful that their fallen comrades made this possible. I’m grateful that the living can honour the dead, whether by military ritual, by religious ritual, or by physical service. And above all I’m grateful that almost all of the people I love are still living, and living well at that. What a luxury to have so many loved ones mostly healthy, mostly happy, and just a plane ride,car ride,short walk, or hallway away.