I am sat in bed with coronavirus symptoms.
My husband Oliver and daughter Honor keep telling me I haven’t got anything wrong with me. I tell them to leave me alone in my room isolated because I certainly don’t want them to catch what I haven’t got.
I am ok. Fever has gone. But I wait for more.
I have a cough and a sore chest and can’t do much, just changing the bed sheet is now a no-no, after yesterday’s, breathless, drama.
I have time to think though.
I can’t stand watching any more news or drastic stories of death and Covid 19.
There is death everywhere and now when we are faced with the death of Italy’s and Spain’s thousands it’s as though death has started to creep through the channel tunnel. There is gloom in the air. It is as though fear has made the crossing on a P&O Ferry and we all are, shocked. What is this thing, fear and death? How very dare it come to our beloved island and worry us all. Does it have a visa?
But those of us who are familiar with sorrow and grief and knowing what it is to experience a loss, don’t feel the fear so much for ourselves. Only for our families, who may be young, or old.
I work as a civil celebrant these days. I have always wanted to marry people in my own romantic vision of my better self, and I almost performed a marriage ceremony last year. But these days its all funerals and soap. See below how I make my living and fill my soul.
- I am a civil celebrant working with bereaved families to deliver loving and memorable funeral services with or without prayers or hymns. I am the person at the front of the crematorium talking to everyone while everyone cries back at me. I support the families through their grief. It’s not easy. It does not pay well. But it is emotionally and spiritually rewarding.
- I make soaps and bath bombs in my spare time to cheer me up. I sell them at village markets and do a mail order service. I make all sorts. The dark art that is making these dissolvable and foaming entities, is both hit and miss. It does not pay well. But it is emotionally and hygienically rewarding.
I was going to tell a story about my brother but instead today, I will tell you a story about number 1. Being a civil celebrant.
Number one. Being a civil celebrant.
It is a strange thing to become, a civil celebrant. I don’t think I have met anyone who says at the age of six when asked, what do you want to be when you grow up? “I want to bury people and see everyone cry”. No.
When I was asked what I wanted to be when I was 6, I said I wanted to be a comedienne (It was a Saturday night after all and I think we had all just finished watching Les Dennis at his piano). No you don’t, said my mum. You want to be a doctor, or marry a doctor, or be a secretary. No, I don’t. I thought. It was about this time I learned not to tell my mum again that I wanted to be a comedian. It spoiled her dreams.
I loved my mum.
After she passed away in 2006 I waited three years before I tried out being a comedian. I went on stage in Manchester Comedy Club in my smart blue woollen dress, black tights and ankle boots. I was going to stand for five whole minutes and make people laugh before the gong went. I was going to effectively, ‘Beat the Gong.’
It was the first time I had been on a stage since I played a Nazi general in the Huyton College 1988 School production of The Sound of Music. I had been 15 and had to wear a glued on Nazi moustache, which has haunted me ever since.
Anway, there I was on this large stage in front of a professional microphone.
And there in the distance sat my sister and her family smiling with hope and joy and next to them, my blonde friend, Natalie. Surrounding them were hoards of young men and couples holding onto bottles of beer like joysticks betwixt their denim thighs.
I took a deep breath, i probably touched my fringe, then began to tell my jokes. I thought I was fab. I was not.
Why was no one laughing? Especially when I told my joke about me being the daughter of a publican and having to see a psychiatrist because I was disturbed; “I see drunk people” – I said this in a whisper. Then I said it again, in even more of a whisper, a whisper with volume and rasping “I see drunk people”
Had they not seen the film the Sixth Sense? Or were they all deaf? I paused. They couldn’t ALL be deaf?
And then the hackling started.
Nothing can ever prepare you for these two things in life. 1. losing a mother and 2. being hackled by the punters in the Manchester Comedy Club.
“Beef curtains” some shouted.
“DO YOU FANCY A SHAG?” came another bellow. I looked through the lights at the little fellow with the narrow nose, just to make sure I was making the right decision. I spoke clearly into the microphone, “Nope!” And this reply, to my utter surprise got everyone laughing. I looked at everyone bewildered. And then, I didn’t have anything else to say.
I had no more jokes, no more will to be there and my black tights in my ankle boots started to shake along with my legs as the adrenalin hit me. What was I doing?
I began to doubt my decision to ever be a comedian. My six year old decision, clearly hadn’t been thought through.
The compere was sat at the far corner of the stage on a drumming stool, with his long hair splayed on his broad round shoulders. He spoke into his own professional microphone which was a lot lower than mine. “Shall we get her off?” he sneered. He was sat next to a large brass gong, he was holding the gong stick with a padded end. I was threatened with the crowd’s rejection – hundreds all at once about to damn me to the doom of the gong and my big idea of ever wanting to make people laugh.
And then, all of a sudden my blonde haired friend Natalie jumped up on to the stage, grabbed my professional microphone and started telling everyone off in her buttery Lancashire accent. “Right you lot, stop being such bastards right! This is my friend Mary and she just wants a chance. RIGHT? Stop being so ‘orrible and give her a chance ALRIGHT?” The crowd cheered. She continued and walked the stage and pointed her manicured fingers at them with real passion.
I looked at my boots smiling. Yes Nat, you tell them. Then the long haired seated gong master in the corner spoke. “Do you wanna’ ‘av a go, love? You’ll be better than ‘er”
“NO!” said Natalie. “ I do not want a go! She’s come all this way, she is dead funny, and she is so lovely, and you lot don’t know how lucky you are, if you just gave her a chance.” The crowd went quiet. Clearly they don’t like pleaders. I chewed my lip.
The hairy fat gong man uttered some expletives which I will not repeat and did his thing. “BONG”. The dull shrill shook through the air, the bong of wrong doomed us as being unacceptable comedic material and part of me agreed with it.
We were rejected for being crap comedians. Both of us, and Natalie wasn’t even meant to be part of the act. Together we never beat the gong. We looked at eachother, her with the microphone, me in my blue dress. We walked off the stage. And then suddenly, there were cheers and applause and more shouts for beef curtains. Part of me thinks they were a bit sad to see us go. I on the other hand, was not.
Natalie and I finished our third bottle of wine outside the comedy club in the cold Manchester air laughing and then me crying and then we went back to her house where I vomited.
She was a great friend, Natalie. One of the best.
A few years later, Natalie would die. She left behind her a seven year old daughter and a mother. She left a lover, an estranged husband, a sister, father, brother and friends. She lost and left work colleagues, her job, her life, her child. Natalie lost her life. And everything that went with it.
At her funeral in the Rochdale Crematorium, the vicar stood at the lectern and told us not to think about Natalie’s battle with cancer as being a fight that was won or lost. I can’t remember the exact message, but something stuck with me that day. Watching the vicar talk as he tried to make sense of it all, dressed in black and white with grey hair and sad eyes. A few years previously this same vicar had performed Natalie’s marriage. Then he had baptised her daughter. And now he would press the button for the curtain to be closed around her coffin as he committed her beautiful body for cremation.
As well as the memory of Natalie’s daughter crying to Somewhere Over the Rainbow before releasing a balloon to the sky for her mummy, in heaven, I can remember lots of tears on my face and big black cars.
We went to a pub for the wake. Her dad walked amongst everyone and made sure that we all had an order of service to take home. Then he drank with his second wife. Under the bay window he would sit and fiddle with the beer mat under his glass of red wine as I told him how sorry I was. He looked embarrassed. I went outside. On the other side of the dry stone wall in the bear garden where I sat with Oliver there were sheep grazing. They were shedding their white wool as they nibbled on the short grass. I cried. He told me not to. I tried not to. I looked over and saw the roof of Natalie’s house in the distance. I had visited her there just weeks before. I knew her eyesight was almost gone when I visited, but she said she liked my dress. I told her I would buy her one just like it. We drank limoncello. I had brought with me from Italy for her. She had hers from a sip cup which I held to her mouth. I used a mug which was sat on the bedside table. She touched my face and told me slowly, thanks mate, I love you. I love you too, I told her. I kissed her warm swollen cheek.
She had two brain tumours, was disabled down the right side and could still express love. She was still the same Natalie that berated the bear baiters at the Manchester comedy club a few years before. She was still my beautiful blonde friend from Lancashire albeit changed and distorted by the cruelty that is illness. She still could feel love.
I see Natalie most days. Her photo smiles at me from behind the mugs in the kitchen cupboard where I keep her Funeral booklet. Her dad was right to make sure that I got one, and everyone else there too.
I would go on to be present at more funerals of friends and parents. Alison’s funeral in 2017 was when I got my chance to practice standing in front of a microphone, again. I think it was this experience that made me think about become a civil celebrant and it was another friend Karen, who just blatantly told me, Mary, that’s what you should do.
But that’s enough about me…… please click on this link and see that I am trying to raise money to help people …… https://gogetfunding.com/alison-bereavement-society/
Until the next time…. be happy xx