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Fun at a Funeral

Salty and sweet

Red platter with grapes, blue cheese, strawberries, olives and crackers.
Salty and sweet sundowner platter at Evergreen.

I recently went to the funeral of a wonderful woman called Olive. She’d been a beloved daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, aunt and nurse. By the time I knew her she had Alzheimer’s disease, but her caring heart shone right through.

Whenever I go to a funeral, I always predetermine not to cry. It’s a silly thing to resolve but I do it anyway because I fear that once I start crying I won’t be able to stop, and the loving speeches given by relatives and friends will be punctuated by my wails.

So, on my way to this funeral I make my usual resolve: no crying. I drive 50 km with memories of encounters with Olive floating through my mind without one tear marring my mascara. I park the car, walk inside, sign my name, accept a bookmark decorated with a photo of her friendly face, nod at friends, find a seat. Still no tears. Good. I’m doing well.

When bidden by the funeral director, I rise dry-eyed from my chair and face the open doors at the rear where Olive’s coffin waits to be wheeled in. Then the music starts: Iz Kamakawiwoʻole playing his ukulele and singing ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’.

That’s when my resolve dissolves.

Tears spring unbidden to my eyes and roll down my cheeks like plump currants, round and full. In an attempt to stop them, I do something I haven’t done since I was a child. I stick my tongue out, catch one, and taste it. Salty. Definitely salty. There’s nothing sweet about tears.

Salt preserves, flavours and nutrifies life. It’s also a reminder that life isn’t just a bowl of sweet strawberries with whipped cream. A funeral is a salty, serious, sobering life moment, where tears fit right in. It’s okay for me to cry. I mull over these things as the service proceeds and my handy packet of tissues turns into a sodden mass.

Then, while we’re all immersed in the solemnity of the occasion, something funny happens.

The friend giving the final eulogy accidentally presses a button on the podium that commences the closing of the curtain around the coffin. As the curtain begins its jerky journey, there’s a squeaky metal-on-metal sound that would normally be drowned out by loud farewell organ music. The horrified friend looks feverishly under and around the podium for the button she didn’t even know she’d pressed, desperately wishing she could undo what she’s done.

We all laugh.

Light and space enter the room.

Olive wouldn’t have had it any other way.

The funeral celebrant hurries forward to rectify the situation and the curtain retreats squeakily to its correct position. The celebrant tells us that she'd been a nurse in the same hospital where Olive had worked, and Olive had always been a stickler for time. ‘This occurrence’, she says, ‘is Olive’s way of letting us know she thinks her funeral service is taking far too long. She’s telling us it’s time to move on.’

More laughter. More tears.

Life has salty and sweet moments.

And sometimes the salty and sweet are mixed together, deepening the experience.

With love, Marlane

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