The time he prematurely cremated my relative

A picturesque and slightly surreal British cemetery. Ancient elms towering towards a steely sky. The spire of a chapel casting a looming shadow on the sodden turf. Somber mourners shuffling awkwardly inside shedding overcoats and scarves, and promptly regretting doing so.

And the strangers.

They had no place here.

And yet they came.

Reaching the door, we paused, uncertain, looked around quickly and sat on the empty side of the pews. Not too far back. Not at the front. Equidistant.

Every face turned to us as the sound of our dripping coats plink-plonked onto the stone floors. We were stripped of artifice and laid bare to the scrutiny of the seated congregation.

Awkward would be one way to describe it. The way it is awkward to bend down and tie shoes when heavily pregnant. Or when trying to get off a dress that is a size too small in a tiny dressing room in a large department store.

“Who are they?”

A simultaneous whisper in stereo from the assembly on the right and my husband on the left.

The ponderous arrival of the priest at the altar put a pause on the furtive murmurings as we turned as one to the front.

The service started.

The service continued.

The service continued some more.

And some more.

The husband’s attention began to wander aimlessly around the space looking for inspiration. His gaze landed on a large button to the side of our pew. It was an unwise choice of location.

I captured the sudden rise to attention in his body and turned in time to see, but not alter, the trajectory of his finger towards the button.

It was one of those cinematic slow-motion moments.

My silent scream of “Nooooooo!”, at the smile that spread across his face.

The unveiling of the coffin. It’s slow unstoppable descent into the depths of the furnace below.

The horror of realizing what he had done. The pressing of the button to see if the process could be stopped.

But, like death, there was no stopping it. The coffin disappeared from view and we all knew where it had gone.

I buried my head in my hands.

Genuine grief gripped me.

That, and the knowledge that my maternal side of the family was never going to envelope us in the bosom of the home.

My husband prematurely cremated Great Aunt Mamie.

The eulogy wasn’t even over.

There is no coming back from that.

The Big Red Button


You know the ones of which I speak?

Those Big Red Buttons that say “Do Not Push”.

They should make them another colour.

French matador Sebastian Castella performs a backpass on a bull during a bullfight in the Maestranza bullring in SevilleBig Red Buttons are to most men what a red flag is to a bull.

They can’t help it.

They have to push them.

I think it is a testosterone thing.

ginger-cat-highest-positionOr like when my cat teases the dogs by running in circles across the lawn and then up a tree where it perches in feline laughter as the dogs crash into the tree trunk.

The cat can do this all day.

And the dogs never learn.

At the supermarket I try to hang back from the teller.

The teller has a Big Red Button.

swatThe husband likes to push it to see what will happen.

I think it is to announce a hold-up or some dire emergency.

Anyway pressing it makes alarm bells go off and every till in the supermarket to shut down.

Then the flying squad arrives.

I walk calmly to the exit denying all knowledge of the excited male trailing in my wake.

Speaking of wakes…

Great Aunt Mamie stepped on a cloud to join the choir invisible.

As the only representatives of my mother in the United Kingdom, we went to the funeral.

The entire day was surreal.

My mother’s relatives, whom I have never met, eyed me with some suspicion and kept referring to me as my mother’s son.

I quite understand why my mother does not keep tabs on them.

1936The coffin was arranged on a platform on the side with heavy drapes pulled open around it.

The husband and I took a pew far far away from them and about halfway back.

On the side of the pew was a Big Red Button.

As the sermon droned on, our attention wavered.

The Husband’s eye fell upon the Big Red Button.

He tried. He really did. But he had to.

It’s a primordial, biological impulse.

Coffin-crematoriumHe pressed it.

We watched in abject horror as the coffin began to sink into the depths of the crematoria.

He pressed it frantically in the hopes that it might reverse the process.

It didn’t.

No-one else seemed to notice that Aunty Mamie had departed the building.

What were they thinking, put a Big Red Button halfway up the chapel anyway?

For all those who need to push the Big Red Button I’ve included this link to the Big Red Button Appreciation Page.