I didn’t realise I was avoiding it, (it wouldn’t be called denial if I had), but as the first anniversary of his death approached — when a headstone would be erected — I realised a sense of dread about the place: a filled-in hole in the ground where what’s left of my father is slowly merging with the elements.
I had helped lift him into his coffin, so his physical death was still vivid in my mind.
A bit too vivid.
But the rituals push you towards facing it again. It’s an emotional cold shower, briefly shocking you back to where you were and what you felt 12 months previously. There was the anniversary mass, and, before that, much tic-tacing about bookmarks and prayer cards and thank-you cards and, of course, the headstone. (I take a junior management role in these matters).
I brought down two of my daughters and we booked into a hotel (temporarily transformed into Barbie’s castle for a wedding) and spent an evening having dinner with my Scottish aunt and uncle in the Barbie hotel. (My father being Scottish, so are they. But, unlike my father, they have lived in Edinburgh all their lives and were somewhat dazzled by his wantonly cosmopolitan decision to marry an Irish woman and convert to Papism. But this has never bothered them. Or so they tell me. They tell me this every time they meet me.)
After the mass, myself and my daughters slipped off to see the headstone. The burial plots are arranged backwards to the path so that the headstones declare the surname of the person interred. There was an icy jolt on seeing ‘Moncrieff’ emblazoned on the stone, but with no other details. It was like death, pointing at you. I’d never seen a headstone with my name on it before.
So we stopped and we stood. And we agreed it was a nice headstone. And I explained the line from a song we included on it. (He used to sing it).
And then we looked around and made our way back to the car.
My daughters surveyed and rated all the other headstones as we walked. My nine-year-old even became enthused by one and asked me could she be buried under something like that.
When I pointed out that I will be long dead when such decisions have to be made, her eleven-year-old sister said that she would be taking care of the arrangements, whether the nine-year-old was married or not.
The nine-year-old agreed to this, and also agreed that the funeral should be, not sad, but a celebration of life and that the headstone should be bright pink.