My wife died earlier this month. We knew it was coming. A lump in the breast begat bone tumours, begat liver lesions. In the end, cancer in the brain carried her off quickly. A ‘good death’.
I keep staring at my wedding ring and its redundant metallurgy. In one of our final lucid conversations my wife urged me to be ‘sensible’. No tantrums. I don’t rear up when another call centre executive offers me condolences for her ‘passing’.
Someone exercising similarly benign thoughtlessness called me a single parent recently, and that didn’t feel quite right either. Rather, I have entered a world of Victorian melodrama. I am the widower. I feel like Colin Firth in Nanny McPhee, staring perplexedly at the grate, but without the happy ending.
My wife and I were married for 20 years. It was a loving and fruitful union. Six children. Six still-young children. In a Britain of shrinking families and elderly couples enjoying unprecedented longevity, I am an anachronism twice over.
Make that thrice. Because, when it comes to the conventions which increasingly govern contemporary funeral rites, I am ill at ease. This is not about our Catholicism. My wife will have a Requiem Mass. But I think the choices we made when she was alive about the ceremony which will mark her death are logical, not theological.
For instance, I do not want to give a eulogy. There is nothing modern, accessible or inclusive about me trying to stand up before a funeral congregation and tell them what my departed wife meant to me. Yet several friends have asked: ‘Will you say something?’ It’s as if by saying no I risk being insufficiently ostentatious in my grief.