A Funeral on Vacation
When Life Happens
The husband of my mother’s late cousin died before I left for a vacation to Wales, where my mom is from and where most of her family lives.
I was a bit surprised that the memorial service was to occur during my visit since it was weeks after his death (I understand this is not unusual, and there is typically a backlog). I decided since I was there and spending most of my time with his niece, I would attend.
I had good memories of Bob, though I didn’t know him well. He had been the first person to deliver a shandy to me when I confessed that I did not drink beer, and also was the one to drag me out to the dance floor at a family wedding and get this introvert to let loose a bit. He was out for a good time and wanted others to join him along the way.
The small group of family members that had gathered at his home before making their way to the crematorium.
There was no police escort as we have in my hometown in North Carolina, and traffic didn’t pull over for the procession as they do here. But I know that is a dying tradition in the States, too, and my state is probably one of the few places that still carry on with it.
The funeral director, in his top hat, did stop traffic so the procession could get started then hopped in the hearse with the driver. I noticed the driver put on his top hat as he got ready to drive away. The immediate family followed in the dark limo behind. The rest of us pulled in behind.
I’d never been to a service in a crematorium, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I found it’s no different than other venues and the service was held in a bright and beautiful room. But unlike our funeral homes in my small town, they had 30 minutes inside for the service and an additional 30 minutes outside before the next crowd would assemble.
As we entered, they handed cards to us for our names and addresses. I decided this was much easier than the guest books in the States. No lines! We filled them out and left them after the service. I later saw a guy collecting them as we departed.
The room was full of people, voices murmuring. I chatted with a distant cousin I had just met for the first time. Suddenly the sound of Buddy Holly singing “Raining In My Heart” began. Bob loved music, so a poignant choice.
“The Weather Man
Says “Clear today”
He doesn’t know
You’ve gone away
And it’s raining
Raining In My Heart”
— Buddy Holly
The pallbearers made their way with a small coffin carried above their heads, their arms wrapped around each other for support. A certain level of teamwork was necessary. They shuffled and slowly moved it to the front of the crematorium. I was captivated. This may have happened at other services I have been to, but it was the first time I saw it as a beautiful last dance.
A woman led the service, and with her beautiful Welsh accent, she shared words that were not generic, but truly celebrated the life of a man who wasn’t perfect, but loved. We sang a hymn because though Bob wasn’t particularly religious he didn’t think it was a proper memorial if there wasn’t one. As I said he loved music.
His son Nick eulogized him, and I marveled at his composure as he shared memories of his dad with much humor and love. He spoke not just of the good times of his life, but of his dad’s orneriness and how Nick would agitate him to the point where he had to stay away a few days to avoid his dad’s wrath. He shared of times his dad would whisk his three boys off to the movies when they were supposed to be doing something else. And he talked about Bob’s long-time marriage with Iris, my mom’s cousin, who had died several years before and the times they had all shared together.
After the service, we all proceeded to the social club where Bob was one of the founding members. He also signed up his young boys as members at that time it began, and I heard he was forever upset his oldest son received the number “007”. Bob was a movie buff, and he evidently had a special love for Bond.
I met family members that I had never met, who all greeted me with hugs, cwtches (Welsh cuddles are the best), and kisses. “Lovely to meet you,” they all said….and I felt they meant it.
I’m an introvert by nature, with some social anxiety, so to be in a room of folks that I don’t know is usually a horror. The warmth and acceptance were felt to my soul, though, and it was as though all collectively took care of me.
One of my first cousins was there with his wife, who was a cousin of Bob’s. We’re related to Bob’s wife, so there was a double relationship there. I hadn’t seen this cousin and his wife for about 20 years, at my Nana’s funeral. While I have looked for my cousins on Facebook before, I had never looked for their spouses. His wife and I are now connected, and I will be able to keep in touch with them over the miles.
They mentioned that they might like to visit North Carolina next year, and I would love the connection to strengthen. I have always been closer to my more distant cousins over there and felt a loss not knowing my first cousins (seven from one aunt and two from another.)
We probably got up to the social club around 11:00 that morning, and my crew didn’t leave until around six. Many beers, ciders, cups of teas, and coffee drank in Bob’s honor, and much food eaten from the generous buffet. It was a true celebration of life, with many stories and much laughter. Had Bob been able to be there, he would have loved every minute of it. I believe that is the sign of a perfect send-off….and a really great family reunion.
“It’s the circle of life, and it moves us all,
through despair and hope,
through faith and love,
’till we find our place,
on the path unwinding.”
From “The Lion King”
My memories of the day are of connection. These are my people; these are my roots. I go to Wales, and though little time has been spent with these people and in that place, it is still a part of me. I always knew my sense of humor was a bit more offbeat than most around me in the States, including my mom. In Wales I find it shared with many. We look at the world with laughing eyes and tease those we love more relentlessly than others. While I love being American, I will always be Welsh, too.
A funeral is not everyone’s idea of a good time on vacation, but it added even more heart to my memories of a visit to a country and people I love. What better way to connect with people than to celebrate the circle of life with them?