Note: This post was originally shared on my “widowhood” blog, “Frances 3.0: Still in Beta”.
Typical of so many couples, Paul and I never spoke in specific terms about funerals. We’d chat here-and-there about things, but neither of ever said “When I die I want the following…” We were both so very healthy and young; I suppose it never seemed to be such an immediate need. It was just a few hours after Paul died that my Dad arrived and later started asking me questions about what I wanted to do. I was in such a daze; I didn’t even fully comprehend what was happening and all of the sudden I had to start making decisions.
I knew the first thing I had to do was call his family in England. I remember calling his eldest sister and telling her the news. It was one of the hardest things I’d ever done; telling someone 6,000 miles away that their baby brother died in the early hours of the morning could never be easy. I remember apologising over and over again through my sobs. His sister called the rest of the family, and they soon gathered together to make arrangements for travel.
No one pushed me; no one gave their opinions. I was just asked what I wanted to do. I don’t know how I managed it but I recall making decisions with certainty at the time. I decided that I wanted to have a burial in my hometown, Cle Elum, Wash., as well as Paul’s hometown of Billingham, England, and upon learning that the Catholic Church would allow for his remains to be separated, so long as all remains were buried in consecrated ground, I opted for a cremation. Paul’s family was flying in and wanted to see him one last time, so I knew we’d have to bring him to Cle Elum and have a cremation there.
My Dad then started making phone calls to the funeral home and the Priest. And I sat numb on the couch, wondering what to do next. Over the next few days I made decisions about flowers and urns; went to the airport with my Dad to pick up my in-laws; spoke with the Priest; and cried – a lot. I didn’t eat; I didn’t sleep; I didn’t shower.
Paul died on a Sunday and never got his Last Rites. On the next Wednesday we had a viewing and a blessing by the Priest. Friday we had a Rosary. Saturday we held his funeral in the church where we were married less than four years earlier, then he was buried in a plot next to my grandparents.
Services in England were arranged by Paul’s family and held at the church he grew up attending. There, he was interred in his parents’ grave in a small churchyard where a small, black granite marker was added with his name. A few days before hand, his sister took me to the funeral home to decide what the marker would say. It was simple, and the design was already determined – matching his parents’ headstone – so there wasn’t anything to agonise over other than the fact that I was having my husband’s name etched on a headstone.
I look back at it now and wonder if my shock was a help in the decision-making process. If my mind had been completely clear and I had the will and energy to think about these things, would I have been able to make a decision? I don’t have any regrets about the choices I made, and I don’t believe that anything I did or didn’t do would have caused Paul to shudder. I’m a true believer in funerals being about the living, and about helping them with their grief process. I know it sounds crass, but Paul was already gone, it wouldn’t have made a difference to him, and I’m certain that he would have wanted me to do what was the most comforting to me. But still, every decision made I stopped to think about what Paul would have wanted. And I suppose the answer is the same thing I wanted: To be happily sitting on the couch watching EastEnders together that Sunday instead of me thinking about funeral arrangements.