Metro 70

Richard Herring: Laughter and tears at GrandmaÂ’s funeral

Thursday 27 Jun 2013

My amazing grandma Doris died this month. She was 102 and the last of her generation in our family. I am now a grand-orphan.

At her funeral, I alternated between feeling sad she was gone, happy at so many warm memories and hopeful that my dad would do something funny so IÂ’d have a story for my new Edinburgh show. Funerals bring up complex emotions.

Doris was a popular and vivacious woman who looked out for everyone but herself and it seemed a little unfair that there were so few mourners at the crematorium.

But of course, this was because sheÂ’d lived for more than a century and all of her contemporaries were gone.

I suppose itÂ’s better to attend lots of funerals than have lots of people attend your own but those selfish pre-deceasing friends made her look like she had not surrounded herself with other people.

When nothing could be further from the truth.

But three generations of her family were there to mourn. My sister burst into tears every few minutes, though my dad said he wanted the service to be a celebration of a life well lived and that this was not a time for tears.

Ironically, my sister pulled herself together and got through her reading without blubbing, whereas the emotion hit my dad just as he started speaking about his mother-in-law and he welled up.

There was laughter too. Mainly during the first hymn, when the tape was playing too quietly. One member of the congregation had a rather loud voice and, unable to hear the track, we ended up singing at different paces, producing discord and confusion.

We knew we shouldnÂ’t laugh but of course that just made the laughter all the more tantalising. We tried to hold it in, unsuccessfully. I knew if Doris was there then sheÂ’d have been laughing too.

There were pictures of my gran on the order of service: with my grandad at my mum and dadÂ’s wedding, smiling with her cake on her 99th birthday.

There was one I hadnÂ’t seen before of her aged about 20, posing formally in a photographerÂ’s studio. It was strange to see her as a young woman and even stranger to realise that the photo had been taken in the 1930s. How long her life had been!

That must have been a special occasion for her – having your picture taken must still have been a rare thing. Nowadays a photographer can reel off a hundred frames without expense but I suspect this might have been the only shot taken that day.

She sits demure, yet confident, a Mona Lisa smile playing on her lips. I was fascinated by the details: the chair, the carpet, her shoes, her bracelet. As well as what I couldnÂ’t see: the photographer, the camera, the studio. All presumably gone now.

I experienced a little echo of how she would have felt in that moment and the moments that surrounded it.

SheÂ’d left behind 1930s Middlesbrough to enter this oasis of relative glamour. Inwardly excited, she kept cool and focused. Her head would not be turned but sheÂ’s justly proud of herself.

She couldnÂ’t see all that was to come but that spirit would help her face everything life would throw at her for the next 80 years.

I am sad that, to future generations, sheÂ’ll just be a face in a photograph, as her parents and grandparents are to me.

And sad that I know so little about her, really. But I know I will miss her. She was the heart of our family.