The Funeral

After the service had officially ended, the roller shutter went up at the bar and there was a surge toward it, with a queue four deep forming in minutes.

‘Did you want a drink, Jo?’ asked Bill.

‘Just a soft drink for me, thanks,’ she said, ‘I’ll drive back if you want one’

The funeral had taken place in a football club of all places, in a small town about two hours south of where they lived. It was where Lucas had grown up, where he had played football and where he had returned for a brief holiday before his suicide which had brought them all here today.

They had set off early, to beat the traffic and had picked up Beth on the way through. Beth didn’t like to drive too far on her own and her husband was working that day so Jo had offered to give her a lift.

‘We should be there good and early,’ said Jo, as they headed up the on ramp to the  freeway, ‘I had a look at the map online and it is about an hour and a half, so we have about an hour in hand.’

‘How long do you reckon we should stay?’ asked Beth. ‘I mean, I don’t want to be rude and leave early, but I promised James that I would be back in time for the school run.’

‘I just want to get out of there before the fight starts,’ answered Jo.

‘What on earth do you mean?’ said Bill. But Jo just stared out of the window.

‘Do you reckon there will be many people there?’ Asked Beth. ‘I was looking in the paper for a funeral notice all week and saw nothing.’

‘They put it on Facebook,’ Jo replied, ‘the family have no money so they are trying to do as much as they can themselves. They didn’t think people read papers anymore, anyway.’

The car park was unmarked, a large area of red dirt and gravel and when they got out of the car, the sun was already beginning to bounce off the surface. There were a few other mourners clustered. Some were dressed in black, but many were not. There were a lot of tattoos – and that, as Beth remarked later, was just on the women.

Kate appeared from inside the clubhouse and came over to them. She gave both the girls a hug and shook Bill’s hand.

‘I am just helping Lyn out,’ she said. ‘I got these reserved signs printed off at work and I am putting them down in the front rows. She does not want his dad and all the kids swarming all over the place.’

She walked back to the clubhouse carrying a sheaf of papers.

‘Mum and dad were separated,’ explained Jo to Bill. ‘It has been, well, tricky.’

‘Go in and give Kate a hand,’ said Bill. ‘Beth and I will wait out here.’

The clubhouse inside was no cooler than the outside. Someone had set up rows of plastic chairs. There were the colour of cheap tights and sat in three sad semi-circles in front of a lectern.

Kate and Jo spread the reserved signs on the chairs, then Jo looked around to see if there was anything else she could do to help. Some people were moving around in the kitchen, filling an urn and unwrapping paper cups from plastic sleeves. One of the women was older, her blonde hair had been set in waves and she was wearing a cotton dress with a flared skirt. Its red and white print reminded Jo of Christmas.

She remembered meeting the grandmother at the hospital when she had gone to visit, when it had become clear that nothing could be done and that Lucas was now a body being kept alive on life support. He looked asleep, but the machines that were helping him to breathe told a different story. A half-filled bag of urine sat on the floor as his undamaged kidneys continued to work and a catheter drained them.

Then, as now, the grandmother kept her public face on as Lyn had chatted away talking about the days that had led up to the suicide – the signs they may have missed, the problems he had not talked about, the desperate attempts to revive him and finally, the decision the family had taken to donate his organs. Those kidneys were probably still working now, Jo thought, just not in Lucas.

Back in the car park, a long black vehicle pulled up and swung around to reveal a white coffin.

‘Oh no,’ said Kath, ‘what are they doing? It is supposed to go to the family house and arrive with the family in the limousine.’

She went over to the car, spoke to the driver for a minute and the hearse pulled away and drove back down the road.

‘So typical of Lucas,’ Beth said, ‘early to his own funeral.’

‘He always was a high achiever,’ agreed Jo.

Finally, though, the Limo and the hearse returned and everyone shuffled into the clubhouse and sat on the plastic chairs. A music track that Jo did not recognise started playing over the speakers and then cut out and restarted. The glitch kept repeating itself while everyone sat and tried to pretend it was not happening, then finally the track started up and continued.

A small procession wheeled the coffin through the front glass doors. Six young men accompanied Lucas to the front of the assembled crowd, dressed in his shiny white coffin. Someone, his mum probably, had placed all the medals he had won on its surface and photos of him smiling beamed out from a screen above where he lay.

The service began with an impassioned speech by the celebrant, who had obviously been asked by the family to talk about suicide and who threw himself with gusto into this most difficult and delicate of tasks.

‘When I am low on vitamin C,’ he declared, ‘I take a pill. And depression is the same. It is a chemical imbalance in the brain.’

‘If you are feeling down,’ he went on, warming to his subject, ‘then just go and see your doctor. He will give you a pill and you will feel better. It is no different.’

‘Oh God,’ whispered Beth to Jo.

‘And it is to you young people I am talking especially,’ he continued as every young person in the room was suddenly moved to stare at their feet, ‘just go see your doctor – it is that simple.’

A number of people then stepped forward to pay their respects, huddled in twos and threes at the microphone, some standing too close and difficult to understand, others crying as they remembered happier times.

Then it was over. The crowd were invited to step forward and lay a sprig of rosemary on the coffin.

‘Are you going up?’ said Kath to Jo.

‘I don’t think so,’ she replied, ‘I know it is supposed to be for remembrance but I can never quite get the idea out of my head that he is going to be cremated and will smell like a leg of roast lamb as they commit him to the eternal fires.’

About half an hour after the shutter had rolled up on the bar, the voices in the room were beginning to get slightly louder. There were at least three sets of step siblings in the room and Jo wondered if some of them had come to the service a little ‘pre-loaded’. They would need to be leaving soon and she nudged Bill to let him know.

As they headed towards the car to begin the long drive back, she thought of Lucas on the day she had seen him go up to collect the last of the medals that had been on his coffin. Slight of build, smart and serious of face, he had been determined to be the first in his family to leave the small town and make a success of himself.

And now he was back and he would never leave again.  She thought back to the words of the celebrant and wished like hell that it all really was just that simple.

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