Friday, 12 February 2010

So now it's over...


The funeral was yesterday. The crematorium is like a doctor's surgery: one in, one out; next in, next out. It's a brisk business. Timing is important. The clock faces you as you enter the small chapel. There are about five rows of pews, a lectern with a microphone and a button to push to draw the curtains. The coffin lies on a table on a dais projecting into the hall. It is up to the convenor (is that what it is?) - in this case, me - when to push the button. Frankly, the coffin means nothing much, though the drawing of the curtains can't help but have a heavy symbolic effect. Everything about the chapel is new, polished, non-committed and efficient. It's like entering a lift in a three-star hotel or a conference centre, travelling a few floors, then getting out again. Perfectly horrible in other words.

I have a memory of my mother's cremation in 1975 that still chills me. There was nothing in the least personal about it. There was a religious figure who mouthed generalities and a few quick facts mugged up from my father, and the coffin disappeared behind steel doors as into an oven. Not a good pun for my mother. And there was Martin Bell's funeral where a clergyman kept referring to him as John, presumably the first name on his birth certificate.

So we made our own as many do today. We arranged the furniture in the lift: we pushed our own buttons. The music - my brother's choice - was being administered by a man called Gary, in another room. You hand him the CD's. Brother Andrew was to play the violin with a CD orchestral background so he needed the volume turned to full so he could hear it while playing. To Gary this is routine and this was slightly out of routine, possibly mildly annoying. So unprofessional.

But the service was good, moving but disciplined, and better attended than we had anticipated. I thought there would be, at most twenty-five people including us, secretly anticipating about fifteen; but it was thirty, the elderly and frail rousing themselves, making a considerable effort to get here. Andrew and three of the next generation did a fine job of reading the brief extracts from dad's recorded memoirs. Andrew played the Meditation from Massenet's Thaïs, beautifully. It was after that I pushed the button to draw the curtains. Then I read my address - just five and a half minutes - and, finally, Clarissa read the poem below, the last of 'My Fathers' series. Her voice broke near the end and I took over. Exeunt to Beethoven's No 6, the Pastoral.

Brisk file past the flowers ten back to the house where he lived with K, to sandwiches and bits of cake served by Erzsi, the Transylvanian woman who had been some cleaning for them. The youngest generation, elegant and handsome in their suits and dresses; the elderly, smiling and milling and leaving. Six of my own generation. And then away.

But the service was a proper shape. It was about him. It said some of the things that mattered. Now come many more practical affairs with the pulses of memory kicking in, fading, then kicking in again, as must happen.

Like a black bird

Like a black bird against snow, he flapped
Over the path, his overcoat billowing
In the cold wind, as if he had trapped

The whole sky in it. We watched trees swing
Behind him, lurching drunkenly, blurred
Bare twigs and branches, scrawny bits of string,

And as we gazed ahead the snowflakes purred
In our ears, whispering the afternoon
Which grew steadily darker and more furred.

His face was in shadow, but we’d see it soon,
As he approached it slowly gathered shape:
His nose, in profile, was a broken moon,

His hat a soft black hill bound round with tape,
His raised lapels held his enormous eyes
Between them. The winter seemed to drape

Itself about him as if to apologise
For its own fierceness, hoping to grow warm
Through physical contact, and we, likewise,

Ran towards him, against a grainy storm
Of light and damp. It was so long ago
And life was then in quite another form,

When there were blacker days and thicker snow.


From here on I will post the occasional excerpt from his own reminiscences. Not straight away. Tonight I read in a Norwich bookshop along with some of the youngest and best for St Valentine's Day. Back in the weave of life.


Writearound said...

George, I have waited until now to offer my condolences.It is often after the ceremonies of death and the pressing necessities of all those things that descend when a loved one dies that one has time to reflect on what this passing means. Your poems about your father are a beautiful and lasting tribute to someone who seemed truely remarkable. Those that may not merit obituries in the national newspapers are often more deserving of praise and note. Men of 'good spirit' are precious and I look forward to learning more about him in later posts. Meanwhile I offer my condolences to both you and Clarissa.

Sunny Bower Art Studio said...

Dear Mr. Szirtes (and family),

I am so very sorry.

I would have liked to have met Laszlo.
It sounds like he had a great attitude towards life.

In sympathy,
Mrs. S. Bower

Paul H said...

George, thank you sharing these past days with us. Our sympathies and condolences are heartfelt, even if they seem so inadequate at this time. One is torn between sounding trite and remote, yet wanting desperately to express a profound longing to provide comfort to you and your family.

The loss of a loved one is such an intensely personal experience: none of us can really know the multitude of emotions you and your family are going through. And yet your words inevitably cause me to reflect on the death of my own father, who, through your words seems close to me now. And your description of the funeral brings to mind many similar experiences too, especially the phrase "the elderly and frail rousing themselves". A prefect description of many funerals of elderly Hungarians I have attended.

What I would like to say George is that in you sharing your own pain and emotions, they become universal. They resonant with us all, reaching into the recesses of our grief. And I do think that surely is the task of the writer: to make the personal into the universal. And for that I am deeply grateful.

And like Mrs. S. Bower, I too would have liked to have met your father.

Lucy said...

Funerals can,perhaps, only ever be good enough, never quite what they should be.

Such a beautiful poem, I'm moved by the image of Clarissa's voice breaking and your finishing it. Bless you both.