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Births, deaths and marriages

Funerals are preferable. Less planning involved. Less scope to get messed about. That tends to happen a lot with weddings you know. Dates change. Or venue is moved. They’re unpredictable. Funerals are more fulfilling in many ways. There’s a short lead-in; the phone-call comes, you’re relied on heavily to navigate folk through a difficult time. The enormity of the occasion, and all that. The event consistent with what the deceased would’ve wanted. In retrospect, usually. Not for the deceased, of course, but for those remaining charged with honouring the wishes of their dead. Often they’re unsure what these wishes actually mean in practice. They’ll often come up afterwards and say “that’s just what so-and-so would’ve wanted”. They couldn’t imagine what all this was about beforehand. But they’re relieved by the time it’s over. It’s enormously fulfilling. Helping to give them peace of mind. A moment that makes it all worth it.

He interrupts himself to offer me a cup of tea before asking me where he left off. I forget because I’m impressed by his resistance to the urge to overturn my automatic decline of the offer. My first answer is accepted. I must remember to remember that as a useful indicator in determining how straight a talker a person is.

Where was he again?

Weddings. Now, the training is completely different to funerals. Different skills required, as you can imagine. There’s less confusion about what it’s all about as the couple is involved in the planning and the length of advance preparation so no-one turns up surprised. The fee is higher but usually capped in and around say £300 to £400. Funeral fees would be much less expensive. No more than £150. Free if the deceased is a member. Now the couple will likely have a preference, too. It gets a bit more personal with weddings. With funerals, the funeral director has a list and will call whichever one is nearest or available. With weddings, it’s all about preference. But it’s never a personal thing. You might remind him of his previous mother-in-law or something. Not saying you will, just that it can come down to something as arbitrary as that. You’ll never know about it. They’ll have preferences for age, gender, too. It’s just chemistry sometimes. But nothing to be offended by.

He hears his wife coming through the front door. Nice to meet you. Nice to meet you, too. Another offer of a drink. Coffee this time. I’m fine, thanks. I’m sure.

Where was he again?

Fees. A modest living can be made, but only if you live quite frugally, mind. Money can’t be the motivator. Unfortunately corruption has crept in with some benefitting from the training then going off and operating independently, charging fees that aren’t ethical. That’s really why there’s a cap on fees, to avoid this sort of thing. Travel costs can be added on top. But of course it’s impossible to legislate against it, and there’s no knowing for certain that it won’t happen. In addition to the training there is a more extensive interview that helps us make a character judgement. Insofar as that’s possible obviously. The course fees? In around two thousand per course. That includes five days residential and all associated costs.

He was going to say something else before I asked him that question. Details of the courses are available on the website. The training coordinator will do a brief interview based on information included on the application form, and if successful, you’ll be directed back here.

Ah he remembers what he was going to say.

Naming ceremonies. These can only be done if training in weddings or funerals has been successfully completed. And just on the subject of fees. You’re obliged to declare your income on a quarterly basis with ten per cent going back to the Association.

That seems reasonable. Yes, it is entirely reasonable.

This is all so reasonable, I’m two inane smiles away from breaking out into inappropriate laughter.

Humour? Why, yes, you’re entirely right. There is room for that also. There has to be. So any further questions?

Good question! Some people do drop out of the training, though more often they defer it due to personal circumstances, and that can be accommodated depending on their situation. Not everyone passes the training. With funerals, there is an opportunity to conduct a demo in an actual crematorium. People can pass the training but fail on the assessment. Communication skills and personality are vital factors, too. But often, people might start off lacking a degree of confidence but it grows with the training, and it’s lovely to see them blossom.

What was that I asked earlier?

Borders. Well, there’s only three crematoriums on the island. Travelling in either jurisdiction is perfectly acceptable. Weddings, also. There’s no point in someone travelling up from Cork to Monaghan if I can get there sooner. But with the legislation having passed there in 2013, most people will prefer just the one wedding ceremony so we don’t get asked as much.

What was I going to ask again?

Inclusion of prayers. Hmm. Well, that’s an interesting one. And one that is debated at length during the training. The common option is to allow some time for silent prayer. Others won’t allow any reference to a supernatural entity whatsoever. Some, like that one you mentioned, will allow a short prayer but this will only be allowed to be spoken by a family member or guest. I would say that there are times when you’ll have to make a judgement on whether this is for the couple or family or whoever. It might be that what they’re really seeking is a spiritual ceremony after all. And you’ll just have to be upfront about it. But yes, it’s a period of transition for many. As I say, there’s a healthy wave of secularism beginning to wash over the country but we’ve a long way to go. It’s the critical mass we’re looking for. A time when a funeral director can ring up and we won’t ever have to say there is no-one available to do it. Unfortunately, as a consequence of too few of us, there are many who are just not having their wishes honoured.

A big firm handshake at the door. I try my best to see it and raise it. Let that be an indicator to him.

Dear daughter

Of the many reasons for not writing about you, there is one that overpowers my ability to even try:

So often when I am taking you in, studying your face, registering your charms, listening to you talk to yourself, I am already imagining a time when I will be looking back on the moment trying to assemble it in my mind over and over again.

I don’t have a word for that either. Whatever it is, it causes other words to wilt before they make the page. But I’m willing it give it another go..

*chews pen*

Generation Next

“So, what secondary school is she gonna go to then?”

“Huh?”

“Will it be The Royal?”

“How d’you mean?”

“Well, she goes to a Protestant school so she’ll have to go there then, won’t she?”

“Eh. No, it’s not a Protestant school, it’s for everyone. Protestants, Catholics, Muslims. Have you heard of Muslims?”

She shakes her head to indicate no.

“OK. Well, it’s for children from all different sorts of religious backgrounds, and those with none at all”

“No it’s not, it’s Protestant”

“No it’s not. It’s got play dough”, a voice chips in from the other end of the see-saw to settle the matter.

In conversation with eight-year old and three-year old cousins.

Did you read Róisín yet?

A common mate call among pairs of mothers and daughters echoed along our national phone network on any given weekend. An Ireland-shaped matrix of relationships that leads them to find in her columns those common touchstones on the pitfalls and playfulness of life. A recurring item on the agenda for the weekly weekend catch-up. Invariably, it reminds one of the other, or of themselves together. Distilling what they’ve been “saying all along” into ways they’ve never heard put, or possibly as compassionately or honestly, before.

As a bridge between generations, my Mother and I have been tip tapping back and forth over her columns to each other for years. Plucking out similar calamities and falls from social grace for a duet of laughter. And letting a few seconds of silence speak for themselves when it comes to more fatal falls of the heart and good intentions. As an interpreter of the hard stuff between generations of the same blood, Róisín’s been doing it pro bono for as long as I can remember.

Last week was no different.

“Did you read Róisín yet?”

It’s rare for both of us to be on the same page. The other is always just on the brink of sitting down to do so. And there’s her crossword and Sudoku addictions to attend to first.

Last week was no different.

“I’m just about to sit down. But I heard her on Marian. That took some guts”

“It did, yeah”

But last week was different. Instead of waiting till the next call for her to catch up, I felt an unpremeditated urge to keep going.

“Ma?”

“Yeah?”

The few seconds of silence steeled us both.

“What is it?”

“I had an abortion, too, Ma. I just never found the right time to tell you”

Her sigh of relief audible.

“Well, isn’t it lovely that it was Róisín who helped you to tell me?”

A woman who has been giving us both permission to talk as women for years . The significance was not lost on either of us.

Lost highway

Instead of howling incantations to the moon on the feast of St. Mental, I caught myself indulging in the shameful act of housework. How the hell did this happen?, I beseech the universe to reveal as I hit the bits on the living room shelves visible to visitors.

Allowing unstable hormones within polishing distance of the main exhibition of your life is risky. A sort of emotional Russian roulette. Bang. Oh a lost earring. I wondered where that went. Bang. A car tax reminder. Bang. A moment of clarity pops up and rolls down through the compulsive game of psychological pin-ball.

It starts with dusting around the bills languishing on top of the photo albums on the bottom shelf. Would you look at that. There’s that tree from my folks’ back garden shooting up through their bath with my niece splashing about. My Mother did love to accidently re-use spools of film. There she is again on graduation day. My Dad’s forehead is massive in that. I feel my own receding hairline for a wildly inaccurate prognosis. There’s….another car tax reminder. Before I know it, I’m cross-legged on the floor with a slightly melted Buddha in one hand, and a forgotten book in the other. The latter housing this message on the inside cover:

book inscription 1

It was written unhurriedly then handed back to me as I was about to knot my handkerchief to follow the double yellow line brick road. Naturally, I heeded this essential advice and made sure not to walk with any obvious intent, especially towards cakes or airport check-ins. I kept all movements casual. Why? Well, because I was already doing so for years anyway. Plus, as further reasoning beyond the comma reveals:

book inscription 2

Exactly. With the exception of airport check-in. And the occasional hairdresser.

Reading back over it, it dawns on me just how faithfully I’ve applied it to life. Dreams and ambitions are also shuffled towards with all the speed of rogue hunger pangs helping me help myself to a fig-roll on the sly. The net result of this philosophy is that you forget to ask yourself where exactly you’re headed. And the cumulative effect of a life-time’s excessive biscuit habit cannot be off-set against the method used to procure them.

The feeling of being adrift is immune to securities assumed with settling down, and dining on the varied privileges of conventional living doesn’t always satisfy your appetite. I’m first generation first world at our feet. It’s wise not to reveal too much, but I doubt that full-stop was ever intended to be included in the interpretation. Next thing you know it’s a lifestyle choice! Whatever that is. (Lookit, I’m still working that modern disease through)

Pin-ball over, I wait for the dead leg to subside before rising to my feet to check the contents of the fridge for dinner with a revised version going forward:

Try to look like you’re on the path to somewhere,

That way you might remember to ask for directions.

But, it’s all direction, right? Ah, just one more game of pin-ball….