It’s not silence, of course. Never will be. I’ll keep talking about my mum – and my dad. They can’t be forgotten, especially as the numbers fall elsewhere, and fewer and fewer people remain who remember them. It’s the words, and the stories those words shape, that keep us alive in a sense. No one should have to die again, not when they’ve already died once.
But it’s a kind of silence as far as The Long Goodbye is concerned. This will be the final post, because the famous Thermos has been put out to pasture and the bulk of my mum’s ashes have been interred. On my dad’s birthday, 10 October, my brother and I made the trip to Southend’s Sutton Road Crematorium to put our mum, and our own troubled relationship, to rest.
In the surprising sunshine, which seems to follow me around whenever I have ashes-related business to attend to, we walked from Southend rail station to the crematorium, which sits beside some industrial units and the kind of road-side tea vans where vanished girls were often last seen in the 1970s. The crematorium is directly opposite the cemetery. ‘Do you think they have a rivalry?’ I asked my brother.
We were early, so we walked around the grounds, reading the plaques beside rose bushes and trees. Benches have become a kind of modern equivalent of the family tomb: several little plaques along their backs, each bearing the name of people from the same family. I raised the idea that we could do the same for our parents, but not here: instead, we could put their names on a bench in Ramsgate, where we went for holidays. Where we were a family.
As we continued our walk, we stumbled upon a clod of earth that had been cut out from the ground. ‘I think that’s us,’ my brother said. It was in the plot called ‘February’, near the square where my dad’s ashes had been interred in February 1979. Strange to see the hole ahead of time; to know we’d be back there in less than an hour to fill it.
We sat in the waiting room while the service before ours was concluded, and someone we didn’t know was seen off with a rousing punk version of I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles. It made us laugh, and I hoped it was making the people who’d lost this someone we didn’t know laugh too.
Then it was our turn. We were led out into the grounds and given our instructions. We scattered handfuls of our mum’s ashes into the hole in the ground, then took the urn between us, turned it upside down and watched as the rest of our mum (and the remnants of her coffin and everything that I’d put in it) filled the hole. ‘Happy Birthday dad,’ I said. ‘Bye mum.’ In silence, in my head, I said a lot more.
We threw some earth over the ashes to cover them, then the hole was filled in and we were assured that someone would be back to neaten it up. We made our way back into Southend where I caught sight of a pie and mash shop. We did the right thing.
My day ended in the company of someone who has twice volunteered himself as my ‘go-to’ person for scatterings and their aftermath. It’s always appreciated. Lots of red wine. Lots of laughing. Lots of talking about my mum. And no silence.