Dead people. Not nice to view. I can still remember when my Nanna died in Liverpool in January 1965 at age 67 -- she was born August 4, 1897 in Gateshead, County Durham. It was around the time of my seventeenth birthday, and I had gone back to live with my grandparents after spending five years in school in the United States... I was homesick. By early '65, I was at Quarry Bank High School for Boys, where John Lennon went around a decade earlier (the Beatles were originally known as the Quarrymen); some of the boys had books with his name in them.
My Nanna had been diagnosed with angina. She died at Sefton General Hospital on Smithdown Road. She had an enlarged heart from getting rheumatic fever as a girl. The doctors asked my Grandad if they could kindly have the heart for research. Grandad refused. Good for him. I don't know what I would feel about such a request today. Since I work in health care it occurs to me that such a chance to examine the heart might have advanced science. Or not. Mmmm.
I think today it's a bizarre ritual but my grandfather chose to have the open coffin in the lounge. That was the "posh" room at the front of the house where we entertained guests and my Nanna had her best ornaments on the mantle piece and the windowshelf, in contrast to the dining room at the back of the house looking out on my grandad's rose garden and small greenhouse beyond the back lawn.
When guests visited us, my grandfather would sit enthroned in the lounge drinking his favorite Teacher's scotch and smoking a Burma cheroot. It was also where we had our small lighted Christmas tree each festive season.
I refused to go in and see the body when I was asked to do so, but late at night I did sneak in. My Nanna had cotton wool in her nostrils. It made her corpse appear even more other-worldly. I don't think that's something an American funeral home would do, and why they did it in England for Nanna I don't know.
My Mum flew over from Baltimore for the funeral. It was around the time the aged former prime minister and Second World War leader Sir Winston Churchill died. On the black and white TV, we saw the Union Jack-draped coffin being paraded through the streets of London. He was ultimately buried at Bladon churchyard, Oxfordshire, within sight of Blenheim Palace where he had been born in 1874, a member of the family of the Duke of Marlborough whose ducal seat was Blenheim.
No Union Jack-decorated coffin for Nanna. A long-time footballing friend of my Grandad's named "Uncle Bruce" had a funeral business. In the cold January air we climbed into shiny black limousines to follow the hearse to the crematorium at Anfield cemetery past leafless trees.
Nanna has left me:
the coffin disappears,
curtains slowly close.