I am a girl who carried her grandmother’s coffin down the aisle today*.
I am the granddaughter of a woman born in 1923, to parents who were Victorians, whose mother was in service in a stately home.
A woman who was sent to occupied Europe in early 1945, who smuggled British army soap to impoverished German citizens who had been left with nothing. She used to talk about how she expected to hate them – the enemy. But when she finally saw Germans in the flesh once victory was declared in Europe, she was horrified by the conditions they lived in. The soap was one thing she had that she could give them.
Looking at her photos, mostly formal, posed, a million miles from our world of pouty selfies, I see myself. I see myself in her. Her smile and her curls and her legs. I see her in my sister, and in our cousins too. A simple thing, but strangely comforting that our relation to her, and to each other, should be written so clearly across our faces.
Together, along with my dad, her only remaining child, and my mum, we carried my grandmother’s coffin while Sandy Denny wondered where all the time went. We read poems. We sang. We laughed at my dad’s jokes. We admired her photos. She didn’t believe in any god – and neither do I, if I’m honest. When pressed, her only belief, she said, was in being kind. Not the stuff of world religions, perhaps, but pretty hard to quibble with.
As I listened and spoke, laughed and cried today, I realised that my grandmother’s funeral represents a lot of things about the way I want to live my life. With kindness upheld as a value, full of laughter, with a love for adventure but no fear of solitude, with informality and a willingness to just roll up your sleeves and do it yourself.
Most of all, though, I realised that I’m lucky she was in my life.
* This is not exactly the tale of who I am, but I couldn’t not write about my grandmother’s death today, the day we said our final goodbyes. Funerals, in my limited experience, make me think of life, not death. Reflecting on where I come, I suppose I am explaining some more about who I am.