I wasn’t going to do a blog on Nicola’s funeral – the plan was to finally start banging on about life as a widowed daddy – but given the day had a pretty profound effect on so many people I figured I’d talk about it.
Funerals are strange. They’re a necessary evil, something you pretty much have to be dragged kicking and screaming to yet also the last chance to fully pay your final respects to the one you’ve lost.
We were keen to make Nicola’s send-off as happy and as colourful as possible. It’s not easy, given the devastation that everyone still feels having lost her, but her very nature was a bright, bubbly and colourful person and she’d requested her funeral reflect that where possible.
To that end, we encouraged people to wear bright coloured clothing and whilst the service itself was tough going, even with a few quips thrown into the tribute I delivered, there were plenty of laughs and stories told at the ‘after party’ and later in the evening.
One of the ‘advantages’, if you can call it that, of Nicola knowing she’d be having a funeral in the near future was that she was able to plan much of it. As well as the bright coloured clothing request, she dictated where it would be held, what music would be played and which poem would be chosen to be read in church, which was ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling, delivered superbly by her sister.
The venue was an important one. Despite not being particularly religious people, we chose the church we did because not only had we married there eight years previously, but it was also where Nicola’s parents had married, where she’d been christened and where her maternal grandparents are buried – as she now is too.
It was the scene of our happiest ever day together, so the contrast of it then being the saddest ever day for many of us was stark, yet somehow comforting too.
The hours leading up to the service were difficult. I was dreading having to go for obvious reasons, and whilst being quite used to public speaking meant doing the eulogy itself wasn’t a concern to me, I wanted to make sure what I said was delivered well given Nicola’s entire family and group of friends would be present. Thankfully, I managed to keep my emotions largely in check and it went without a hitch. I was also pleased to be able to put smiles on tearful faces.
I hadn’t been to see Nicola since she’d died. She knew I wouldn’t, as it’s something I’d have found very hard to do. As explained in the last blog, I was there when she slipped away and for around half-an-hour afterwards, but didn’t want any subsequent memories to cloud the positive ones I had of her being alive and being herself, rather than just a relative shell in front of me.
Her mum and her sister had both visited her, which I was pleased about, but on a personal level I’d have found it too difficult for numerous reasons including those mentioned.
Therefore, seeing the hearse arrive at her parents’ house was hard. Her coffin was flanked by floral arrangements spelling out ‘Nicola’ and ‘Mummy’, which in itself was hard to see, but I was also closer to her in a physical sense than I’d been at any point in the three weeks since she died and it automatically made me feel a combination of comfort and sadness.
It’s surreal knowing that the person you love so much is just lying in a box in front of you and there’s no way you can communicate with them, yet I was also happy that she was there, safe, and we could accompany her on her final journey.
The church was barely a two-minute drive from the house so the journey didn’t drag on. Following Nicola into church was difficult, although my main concern was for her parents who were understandably upset too. Seeing a selection of photos I’d put together flashing up on a projector screen just before we walked in added a sense of surrealness to it all as well.
The service itself was, as anyone who has been through one knows, sad and poignant, but as mentioned already, my eulogy was designed to raise a smile or two with stories about Nicola and thankfully that’s what happened.
The burial took place straight afterwards. That was arguably the hardest part for me. Everyone gathered at the graveside and seeing Nicola lowered into the ground was emotional, as were the formalities of throwing soil and even a rose onto her coffin. But those things also helped with the closure element too.
As everyone dispersed, I made a point of returning to the graveside alone for 30 seconds or so. It was my last chance to be alone with Nicola before I could no longer ‘see her’ – albeit she was in a coffin – and I said a few words to her before walking away, knowing there was nothing more I could say or do.
I’ll return there on many occasions, of course, and I already talk to Nicola all the time let alone at her graveside, but I’m glad I had that final moment with her at that particular time.
The ‘talking to’ subject is a strange one. On one hand, you know that at a time like I’ve just mentioned, you’re merely talking to a person’s shell, and in this case located in another shell in terms of the coffin. Their spirit has gone and you know that the body in that form can’t hear you.
On the other hand, it feels like a natural thing to do. I find myself talking to Nicola at home quite a bit, not in a conversational sense where I’m sat frustrated that she’s ignoring me (not for the first time in our marriage…) but merely just telling her stuff and how I feel.
I don’t know what happens after death, we have no proof either way whether it’s just nothingness or whether there is some way that one can ‘look down’ and see and hear what’s happening. I admit to finding the latter scenario hard to logically believe to be the case, but I guess it only matters what people find comfort in and if Nicola is ‘up there’ listening to me and able to watch us then all well and good. If she’s not, so be it.
Explaining things to Grace has also involved the kinds of what one might call spiritual ideology related to Nicola that will help her understand a little more what’s happened, but that’s for another blog.
Anyway, the rest of the day of the funeral saw us gather for the ‘after party’ and I recall seeing very few tears there, just smiles, which is how Nicola would have wanted it. Later on, we all returned back to our various bases and glasses were raised and more laughs had as we recalled the lady we’d lost.
The funeral created a large degree of closure for me. Whilst I’ll constantly miss Nicola and never forget her, getting that day out of the way was the trigger for me to start phasing back into doing some work and Nicola herself would be the first to be kicking me up the backside now and telling me to get on with life.
Four days on, that’s proving hard at this stage but I know it’s early. I still have a few formalities to finalise and a few more of her things to go through which in itself is very difficult, but if I let things stagnate for too long it will make the recovery process even harder.
Grace started nursery last week, which will form part of the next blog, so that has helped a lot too.
Life without Nicola will never be the same, but however hard it might be, it has to go on.