Coping with grief: 'That sick, hollow feeling after losing good friends'
ARE funerals always this cold? I stomp the grey concrete, blowing air half-heartedly between blue lips through the prison bars of freezing fists. So a year began, it ends, with a wooden box and a church.
The similarities are dispiriting. The first church also faced diagonally onto two roads. Each church sat in a cheerless cement car park. Each had columns and stone steps around which, once again, we all mill awkwardly.
At that first of three funerals, which was for a work colleague we all liked, I greeted a close friend wordlessly, using just eyes. We huffed and blew out our cheeks, shuffling icy feet, never guessing one of us would be next. It was cold at his too, less than three months later.
I walked the short route from graveyard to afters with another friend at that one, heartbroken but chuckling bitterly at some of the funeral service 'bloopers'. When we came to the hotel, we lost each other in the clamour of it all, catching each other's eye again just once from where he sat at a table, palms down, cuffs immaculate. He arched his thick eyebrows at me, eyes glittering. I never saw him again.
I meant to visit him in the early summer, when he went into hospital. "I'll be the one wearing the Simpsons dressing gown and the expression that says, 'Did I really give up drink for this?'" he joked. I cancelled. Some simple thing, ridiculously complicated, got in the way. Time just shuddered on. It's not like he was supposed to die.
A certain Rube Goldberg gave his name to machines of ludicrous complexity, designed to accomplish simple tasks. A hen lays an egg that rolls down a chute and hits a spoon which strikes a match and lights a candle to burn the string that holds a knife that falls and cracks open the egg.
How over-designed, I can't help thinking, is our day-to-day, for something so ludicrously simple. Eat, drink, laugh, love.
I look at the box that contains my friend as it arrives to my third funeral this year. For a time, he did what good friends do: he made me feel like I was the only person that mattered. We ate, drank, laughed, and talked about the things we loved.
The box is lifted onto shoulders and carried slowly up the aisle, where candles are already lit, ready to burn through some invisible string, raise the goblet, break the bread, swing the incense and slowly propel the box back out the door and off to wherever they deposit great eyebrows when all their good humour and excellent sense cannot work them any more and they are left, like us, empty.
I follow along slowly up the aisle, vision blurring, then I take my seat, numb. We stand, we sit. Chant, repeat. The clockwork machination of Mass lurches slowly forward.
My mind drifts off mercifully to the photos he'd shared on his phone of sunrises through the skeletal trees of Templeogue; to the silver-service coffee and 'tuna melts' we went halves on at Buswells; to his leather gloves on the table with his newspaper, his black scarf and Crombie; to the conversations we became lost in; his admissions of weakness and encouragements of strength; to a solitary candle in a room.
Click. Whirr. Click.
I don't even know Mass, or at least I didn't before this year, though as a child, fresh off a plane from the States to a school in a corner of Wexford, I sneaked into First Communion classes. At a school service later, my parents were, in equal parts, tickled and horrified as I took the wafer. I was fists and spittle with the disappointment, sure that I was supposed to have been given a mint. And so religion and I parted ways.
There's a time to laugh in church and a time when it is wholly inappropriate, so I hide my face and shake. Someone beside me hands me a tissue and I realise I might just be crying after all.
For a second, I can almost feel my friend nudging me with his knee and confidentially raising a finger to his lips. 'Sshh! This is a good bit.' It's not, of course. There are no 'good bits'. Funny guy.
When the coffin is hoisted again and makes its way back down the aisle and I fall in behind it once more, I feel a sick, hollow want to fill with stupid tears and I swallow hard.
I'd rather live with it.
And I wish it was the same space left by all my losses, just hollowed anew, but it's not.
Each death is its own deep hole.
I turn the key in the car and depress the pedal with my foot. Petrol is ignited. Action. Consequence. The Rube Goldberg machine of my life is once again set in motion.
Breathe in, breathe out.
How many breaths from oblivion are each of us? 10 million? That sounds like forever, but it's less than a year.
In and out. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven…
So we go on.
Click. Whirr. Click.