After a restless night, I get up to find that it has been raining. I take Paddy for his walk. As soon as we go out, the rain begins again and continues to drench us. Paddy doesn’t like the rain and, although he is eager for his walk, once out, he hurries me along, anxious to get back indoors. The moment we walk back into the house, completely soaked, the rain stops and the sun comes out. I wonder to myself if it is Hugh having his last joke.
We leave the house before ten o’clock to pick up Giles, Keith’s son, who is coming with us. It is still sunny but chilly and the forecast is for sunshine and showers.
I stare out of the window during the journey, lost in my own thoughts. Keith and Giles say little.
We have arranged to wait in the British Legion care park for the funeral car to collect us but we are early. Eventually, Claire and her partner, Chris arrive. Mark has already arrived to set up the presentation of the photos of Hugh for afterwards. There are lots of people from the army waiting with us, some in uniform and some in their suits. Eventually, those in uniform are dispatched to the church, only 100 yards away. They must be the bearers and the guard of honour. Then the car arrives for us and we set off on the short journey to the church. At the traffic lights, there is a red car waiting in the lane beside us. The young woman driver looks curiously at the cortege. At the front is the hearse, the coffin draped in the union jack and white lilies. On either side are white flowers spelling out his name. We continue to the church and get out of the car. Across the road is the house where we used to live and where the children grew up, in another life, another time.
Although I have promised myself that I can do this with decorum and dignity, the tears well up and will not be stopped. Keith grips my hand harder, fighting his own emotion. I am dimly aware that the church is full but have no idea who is there as we make our way to the front, where the Mass passes in a blur. Claire does her tribute to Hugh and does it beautifully. At the end, his friend, Paul, goes up to do his, choked with emotion as he recalls their friendship.
Then there is the slow journey to the crematorium, through the bright sunshine, past familiar places, some of which have stayed the same and some which have changed beyond recognition in the years since I left this place.
Inside, I look at the coffin, draped with the flag and bearing a cap and a wreath of red poppies. There is a short ceremony during which these are removed and then it is time for the curtains to be drawn across, hiding the coffin from view, hiding my beloved son, Hugh, only he isn’t really there any more, I know. No mother should have to lose her child. It flies in the face of the natural order of life.
Back at the British Legion there is trouble. My younger son, James, has been estranged from me for several years now but he and his family are behind me in the car park. As I turn round, I see Mandy, his wife and speak to her, but as I do so, James pushes between us. To the side is his son, whom I have only seen as a baby, six years ago. As I start to speak to him, James pushes forward and warns me not to speak to his children. Finally, I realise that nothing is going to mend the gulf between us. Today, I have lost two sons.
I am so upset by this that I can’t face going in to the gathering so we go back to our car and begin the journey home. The worst thing is that my memories of today are now tarnished by this incident and that makes me so very angry with James.