When my sister-in-law telephoned to tell me that our Auntie Ruby was in hospital, I scribbled it down on the wipe board I have in my kitchen for memos to make sure I remembered to inform my husband when he returned from work. Ruby was my mother-in-law's sister, elderly and a little odd. I had only met her once briefly and I don't think she quite understood who I was. Sadly, she passed away. My sister-in-law called to break the news. In the way of most mums with young children I was holding the baby, trying to stop the 2year old climbing into the fridge to help herself to cheese whilst also preparing the dinner. Without really thinking, I grabbed my wipe board pen, crossed out the 'in hospital' from my previous message and wrote 'dead'.
Although I didn't know Ruby, news of a death still triggers feelings of sadness. This time of year I am particularly sensitive to it. Fifteen years ago, my sister who I adored, died of cancer. Her birthday was in October. She would have been 51 this year.
As well as bringing back the very raw pain of how much I still miss my sister, news of a death always brings to mind the awareness of one's own mortality. Having had two babies in my forties makes me very determined to live a long and healthy life so I can watch them grow to adulthood and play an active part in their lives and hopefully in the lives of their children. The thought of not being there for that is horrible. It was a thought that was made very real for me a few weeks ago when I heard the desperately sad news that a lovely lady I had worked with and had also had children in her forties, had died aged 62.
In the face of all this potential sorrow, it was quite nice to laugh at how awful my note looked.
Ruby's funeral was a couple of hours drive away. We put on our best sombre attire, loaded the kids in the car and set off. It was always the plan for my husband to attend the service while I waited outside with the 2 year old and the baby and then for all of us to attend the wake. That is exactly what we did.
The crematorium was very nice with large well kept grounds. As the sun was shining on a beautiful autumnal day I took the children for a walk. The baby seemed to enjoy the fresh air and the 2year old loved the freedom to run after having been cooped up in the car for so long. She maybe took her freedom too far when she started running over the graves and saying 'hello flowers' to each of the floral tributes. I was about to rein her in when I thought that actually, the dusty dead would probably love to have such a bright little life light shining so gloriously in their midst. So I thought of my sister and how much she would have adored her feisty little niece and I smiled at her antics.
Graveyards are strange places. They really do seem to hold onto the sadness of mourners. It is hard not to be affected by it. I saw four funeral parties in all as I waited, passing through the system - in one door out another. It would have been a bit soulless and depressing had it not been for that heavy sense of solemnity that hangs in the air.
I had three really sad moments -when the hearse carrying Ruby arrived, when I found a grave of a 14year old boy and looking at the displays of sympathy flowers.
The thing about those sad moments is that they can really make you focus on your blessings. I am not short on blessings and I never want to take it for granted how lucky I am.