Covid-era funeral restrictions are heartbreaking. But small gatherings have their own value | Adrian Chiles

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If my friend’s mum had lived a few weeks longer there would have been many more of us at her funeral. As it was, we were among the permitted 30 in number. I was greatly honoured to be invited. Patricia was the formidable, much-loved matriarch of a large family I grew up with. My friend, one of her five children, works in Malaysia; the Covid rules meant, heartbreakingly, he couldn’t travel.

It was a beautiful, simple ceremony, in the incredibly pleasant setting of Kidderminster’s Wyre Forest crematorium, after which we all gathered at one of Pat’s favourite places: a fish-and-chip restaurant in Broadway, Worcestershire. There, I sat with my friend’s sister and three brothers, and their families, laughing as we reminisced. It was a memorable afternoon that would have had Pat’s heart singing.

It was only afterwards that I realised how part of the wonder of the day had been its very smallness. There was something about the pre-pandemic era that was all about bigness; we surely saw the apotheosis of this when Trump claimed he’d be doing something or other “very bigly”. There’s a place for bigliness, as he might put it, but smallness has an awful lot going for it, too.

In normal times, hundreds would have been at the funeral. I would have talked to lots of different people but spent no time at all sitting around quietly with those grieving most. I appreciate this is a discordantly selfish attitude to take, plainly of no consolation to the many people who knew and loved Pat as much I did, but had to be excluded. In fact, if my friend had managed to get back from Malaysia for his mum’s funeral, I probably wouldn’t have made the cut myself, which is exactly the kind of irony Pat would have shrieked with laughter at if she was reading this.

There is a value in smallness that we may have forgotten to appreciate until the pandemic reminded us otherwise. Over the past year we’ve had to make the most of the few people and places with whom we’ve been allowed to commune. For some of us this has been awful; for many others, like me, it has been something of a revelation, a taste of true mindfulness as we’ve been left with no choice but to luxuriate in the details: the trees in the park, a walk, something on the telly, a loved one, a bag of flour, a 24-pack of bog roll. These things we have learned to love anew.

Big gatherings, be they weddings, funerals, parties or whatever, have their attraction. You get to talk to and meet loads of people and the energy can be wonderful. But the danger is that if you talk to everybody, you end up not really talking properly to anybody. And this is where we are heading back to now; I can feel the smallness slipping out of reach again.

After the funeral, I sat alone in my carriage on the train from Kingham to Paddington. The staff onboard were very nice. “It’s just good to have someone travelling for a change,” said the man. I suppose that’s the problem with smallness: while it may well suit you, if you’re getting a lot of it, it’s a sure sign all is not well with our world.

“If you don’t mind me asking,” asked the lady with the tea trolley, nodding towards the seat next to me. “Why are you travelling with a plant?” I explained it was a rose bush each of us at the funeral had been given to remember my friend’s mum by. “Oh, what a lovely thing,” said the lady, tinkling her trolley off to the next carriage. And now that rose is in its own final resting place in a pot on my terrace. There, I hope it will live long and prosper, in happy memory of Pat, and in tribute to the joys of smaller things.

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Covid-era funeral restrictions are heartbreaking. But small gatherings have their own value | Adrian Chiles

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