It was this time last week when a visiting out-of-hours doctor decided enough was enough and put Mum on the Liverpool Care Pathway. This recognises that death is imminent and puts comfort as the top priority. Our GP gave Mum 48 hours. A week ago.
It seemed foolish not to spend the time anticipating the funeral. After all, when somebody dies you spend a frantic week making snap decisions, not always the right ones. This time I would be prepared. I do so love to be prepared. So over this week I've been devising a funeral to honour a lady who loved bright colours, laughter and large earrings - funky but not so funky as to be inappropriate. So I've trawled the net and researched coffins, urns, shrouds. I've discovered - to my horror - that I've lost my taste for hymns and find them maudlin and sentimental. I've also discovered that there's no such thing, apparently, as 'non-Christian hymns'. A 'non-Christian hymn', someone replied archly to just that question, 'is called a song'. So I've been through other people's lists of great funeral songs. I've thought of some of my own and discovered the joy of thinking of something and less than a minute later hearing it coming out of the computer. An idea of 'bagpipes playing Amazing Grace' presented quite a choice on YouTube but the Royal Dragoon Guards stood out as if their music actually had an extra dimension to everyone else's - kind of quadrophonic out of two speakers. And so I've had fun, learned things, had my mind blown. Then today, thinking about her smile, I began to conceive a powerpoint presentation of just that, Mum's smile. And then the grief set in.
It's all very well being prepared, but I'm now in full-scale bereavement while Mum's still breathing, and that is horrible. I want to wake her up, out of her drugged dreams and shout, Smile, Mum, for God's sake, just one more time. But no, she insists on playing the withered, breathing corpse, with lips drawn in and puckered over protruding cheeks and sunken gums. Rembrandt would have loved to draw her right now.
I suppose the chief merit of preparing a funeral is that you get the chance to get all cried out before the event. Then you can stand tall and impervious while everyone else sobs into hankies. 'Smile' will bring the chapel down - we'll be carrying 'em out on stretchers. Anyone left standing will be downed by Amazing Grace. I've been to too many funerals where my objective to remain dry-eyed has been too easily achieved. Not this one. I'll get 'em all.
Do you know, the music of Smile was written by Charlie Chaplin?