April 26, 2011

On death and Ice Cream.

My Uncle Johnnie died a few weeks ago. My Mum’s oldest brother.

When you’re gonna go the fat lady starts singing and that’s it.

The fat lady singing. That’s a term that comes from Opera and my Uncle Johnnie was some singer. And not only that the man could seriously dress himself! An English Gentleman with the beard and handlebar style moustache, bow ties, great fancy hats, he was always impeccably dressed.

I went over to London with my Mum for the funeral. I have to say, I’m not normally inclined towards funerals. The Catholic funerals I’ve been to in Ireland always seemed to be very grey occasions. But I’ve always been close to my cousins, I’ve only seen them once or twice in the last 20 years, even though, they seem like brothers and sisters to me. So I went.

What a glorious warm, sunny day it was! Whether it was that the changed the perspective or not, I don’t know. The church was bright with colour, lots of rich purple and flowers everywhere and as the service started, everyone seemed to join in.

We sang hymns. Uncle Johnnie’s singing group where there holding it all together (the organist didn’t have a clue what was being sung until Amazing grace and then you could hear him start to improvise and jazz it up a bit… this made me laugh and cry all at the same time!), but I knew all the songs and the singing suddenly made it a celebration of a loved man’s life.

Yes sure, eveyone was crying. It was different though. The church was just filled with love, not really loss. There was a sadness, but more than anything it seemed there was a pride as well, everyone proud to have shared some time with this man who was so obviously moving on to good stuff no matter how you look at it!

And at the burial in Cheam in the west of London, the graveyard is on a hill and at the top of the hill, my Uncle got buried with the most perfect view of the whole of London.

It was really hot up there with the sun beating down. Everyone wearing sunglasses. Just in earshot we heard the sound of an Ice-cream van (those of you unlucky enough to have ever experienced an Ice-cream van as a child, they are recognised all over Britain and Ireland by the sound of the bells… normally some well-known tune… for some reason, normally “match of the day”). Everyone laughed a little I think. It was hot and an Ice -cream would have been perfect!

I actually got quite emotional at this point (not only because I love Ice-cream), it brightened things up in some kind of way. Even though we’d all lost someone, it was less painful.

What I didn’t know until after was that Uncle Johnnie had an Ice-cream everyday for as long as anyone could remember, from the same Ice-cream van.

Johnnie had become good friends with the Ice-cream man. The man couldn’t make it to the funeral or wake, so instead he sat outside the gates of the graveyard and played the bells.

God only knows if Uncle Johnnie is eating Ice-cream in heaven. But I’ll certainly remember him every time I hear those bells playing “match of the day”, sensing the excitement from all the kids and remembering what I felt like as a child, hearing those bells and rushing to the living room on a saturday afternoon shouting; “Can I have an Ice-cream Dad?”

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