We wondered how she would cope. In the days, weeks, following Father’s death Mother said little. She followed her normal daily routines with no variation other than those duties we imposed on her. Even her attendance at the funeral was unmarked – it might have been the funeral of any acquaintance from the town. Returning home she removed her hat, hung her coat and set about making teas and coffees for the family. Her only remark was apparently addressed to herself, “It is appointed unto man once to die and after that...?”
We watched in growing disquiet. Did she really understand that Father was gone forever? When would reality set in? Was this evidence of grief turned inward? Or perhaps she was in denial?
It was Bessie, third in line of the girls, who verbalised the greatest change.
“She smiles, but she doesn’t laugh anymore.”
We had all noticed it, but it seemed right – death is not an occasion for laughter. With the exception of Ruth who was overseas and was unable to get home for the funeral, the family gathered together en masse and even Godfrey was seen to wipe his eyes from time to time. Tears lubricated our conversations. Except for Mother - she didn’t cry.
We lingered. Life goes on and those family members who lived further afield returned to their homes and labours, but with frequent re-gatherings and daily telephone calls. When we came together memories surfaced and the empty space left after the funeral began to fill again. Tears eased and laughter returned. Except for Mother: Mother didn’t laugh. Bessie underlined it with her observation.
But Mother once laughed readily.
The house was too big for Mother living on her own. We helped her sort and pack those things she did not need to keep. Father’s will was clear and concise. Godfrey and Terence were his executors. There were no anomalies, no differences of opinion. It was a family matter and the family was of one mind.
Except for Mother – what were we to do with Mother?
The house was not the problem. It was an old family home, passing to the eldest surviving son through the generations, always provided that the wife retained tenure until her death. Or was otherwise suitably accommodated.
Anne offered Mother the flat-let she used for guests. Mother refused.
She said, “This is my home. It was my home from the time your father and I were married. It will be my home until I die.”
That was how things were. And this was how things stayed. In time we forgot to wonder and to worry. Still we got together as often as we could and Father continued to dominate our conversations as once he had governed our lives.
We were teasing Terence about his need for new glasses and he admitted to having finally made an appointment to see the oculist in a few days time. Terence was notorious for forgetting times and dates. Father was a stickler for not being late for any appointment. This was the only contention between our parents. Father was always ready and waiting well ahead of time. And he harried Mother without offering any help while she got the children ready and did such chores as were necessary before leaving. How well we remembered being pushed into the car while Father grumbled, “Mollie, you’ll be late for your own funeral!”
Now between various advices offered Terence to help him remember the time and date of his upcoming appointment, Bessie’s voice rose above the others, “Teddy, you know you’ll be late for your own funeral!”
Mother began to laugh. She laughed until tears coursed her cheeks.
In between the gusts of laughter she gulped an explanation. “Your father was quite right, you know. For almost sixty years we did everything together, we were never parted. But he always said I’d be late for my own funeral – and he was right!”
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