Heredity versus remembrance

So, you may have noticed I haven’t been blogging much. Oh, you hadn’t noticed? OK, fair enough. No, this isn’t a blog about the Mike Leigh film. Or testicles. Well, maybe it’s slightly about testicles, but not in the way you were hoping. Off you trot.

OK, the rest of you, hello! Yes, I’m not blogging very much. I am a tightly wound knot of seething raging anxst and my mojo has been snagged in the tangles and can’t work free just at present. If I tug hard, I get a giant snarl – do any of you knit? Have any of you tried to find the end of the yarn in a centre-pull ball and got what we knittery types cheerfully call ‘yarn-barf’? Like that, only with off-topic wailing.

Let’s just pick a snarl and thrash our way about in it.

H’s Grandmother’s funeral upset me, in a way that his Grandfather’s funeral really didn’t. Grandfather’s funeral and memorial celebration the next month were extremely moving, powerful, beautiful, funny, occasions, and it was abundantly clear how loved, how missed, how memorable, he was. I cried, I still miss him, I found both events comforting and joyous, and I think a lot of other people did too. This was Grandfather. He was wonderful. He is part of us all.

Grandmother’s funeral was small and quiet, which is probably what she would’ve liked, so it’s not that at all (Grandfather’s funeral was also small and quiet (memorial celebration, not so much)). The people who spoke, her friends, her co-religionists, who’d known her from a young bride, simply had very little to say about her. The conductor of the service (who was one of those who’d known her all her adult life), get this, spent more time reminding us of the schedule for the afternoon and where we had to be when than eulogising her.

We had letters from Grandmother’s cousins reminiscing about what a funny delightful young woman she’d been, but this radiant creature didn’t feature in the funeral at all. She’d somehow been wiped out by marriage and motherhood. And now old age and death had wiped out the private, quiet, lady, who wrote good letters and loved music and flowers and among whose scraps of paper we found a beautiful poem she had written on the back of an envelope and buried in her desk. All that was left was this hollow shell – supported her husband in his work. Raised several children. Died. That was all the people who’d known her best and longest could say for her, on the day we buried her in the same grave as her husband, with her children and grandchildren standing there listening.

(I told H, if I get a funeral like that, I’m climbing out of the casket to make a fuss, I swear. I’d rather be remembered with shudders as the book-obsessed cantankerous old mad cat-lady with the tongue like a razor I shall insist on being than remembered so perfunctorily).

This is the poem my MiL asked me to read at the graveside:

Heredity
by Thomas Hardy

I am the family face;
Flesh perishes, I live on,
Projecting trait and trace
Through time to times anon,
And leaping from place to place
Over oblivion.

The years-heired feature that can
In curve and voice and eye
Despise the human span
Of durance – that is I;
The eternal thing in man,
That heeds no call to die.

The reason given for my reading it, instead of H? I am good at reading aloud, I understand poetry, I wouldn’t make a hash of the sense of it coping with the enjambed lines, interesting syntax, and metrical variations. I can cry and still speak clearly. I am not particularly self-conscious about public speaking (I read it very well, thank you). H’s poem was easier, but considerably less apropos for him. He should’ve read Heredity. I could have coached him, if we’d been sent the text sooner. He’s the one who looks like his mother, and therefore like his Grandmother. I’m the barren wife who has slammed a portcullis in the path of this particular family face, and as long as H stays loyal to me, there ain’t gonna be no leaping over oblivion. Call to die, heeded. Human span of durance, all you’re going to bloody get.

So, there’s that. Grandmother’s actual memorable self has pretty much disappeared, probably in large part because she married and had kids, but we’ll remember and celebrate that above all things, even as we forget what made her unique. Get the barren one to make the point especially. Then we can all look at her as she reads it, and at her husband’s family face, and back at her, and appreciate the fuck out of that irony.

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16 responses to “Heredity versus remembrance

  • Bionic

    Well, if that isn’t the worst casting ever, then I just don’t know. I’m also not so convinced I like that poem for a funeral, anyway. Does seem rather erasing of the recently dead.

    I can’t think of anything clever that makes it all better, alas, but I am very certain no one would dream of foisting a funeral like that on you, even without threats of zombie-ing.

    I’m sorry things aren’t better. I hope they will be, and soon.

    • May

      I thought it an odd choice of poem myself, but (sorry, H), the psychology of H’s family is FUCKING WEIRD. So I shut up and read it because MiL asked me to, and I love MiL, and it was her mother’s funeral, so.

      I hug you for your sympathy and kind wishes.

  • Valery Valentina

    mmmmmmmm, this is support for my belief that some people use poems simply because they have no idea what to say for themselves (and it doesn’t occur to them that other people would). Or it simply means I have no understanding of poetry and I just don’t get the message.

    I’m better at helping untie yarn-barf. un-knot and rewind.I find that soothing. And I’ll make pots of tea to boot.
    My new friend has allergies for lactose and gluten, so I’m trying new cake recipes. (with chick peas and chocolate)
    Sorry for my attempt to cheer you up, sorry about the funeral upset.
    thinking of you and H (and the unlimited irony of this universe)

    • May

      Being ‘into’ poetry myself, I can totally see where a poem mught say exactly what you want to say, only more beautifully and with the bonus of a more universal layer of meaning than just yoru own grief, tying you into the commonality of humanity, which can be very comforting, and if the Deceased loved a particular poem, it’d be very meaningful to remind everyone of that part of his/her personality. However, I think you’re right, some people do use poems simply because they don’t have a CLUE what to say or think. I have no idea which is the case here. I didn’t chat to MiL about it, because I was feeling sulky, and didn’t want to let her know I was sulky, so for all I know the poem had some extra-special meaning to her.

      H likes sorting out yarn-barf. The pair of you are delightful friends for an impatient knitter to have.

      Though the mind boggles at chick-pea and chocolate. Really? Gosh. Perhaps I should try it. I like chickpeas. I like chocolate. Together? Hmmm.

  • Womb For Improvement

    Quiet funerals are depressing in quite a different way that busy, lively ones are. They make my heart ache.

  • twangy

    Nodding. Nodding. Yarn-barf, very fitting.

    I know people find funeral planning morbid – for whatever reason (general contrariness, perhaps) I don’t. It’s useful. It is real, it makes life more precious to contemplate its end. My mother, for instance, wants black horses with plumes and Rachmaninov. So that’ll be cheery.

    The point being, I am all ears if you care to share your plan, now, while young and hale and hearty. In the meantime, I will be hoping the universe does a long-deserved volte-face for you. Irony is fine and dandy in Hardy. Not so in life.

    • May

      Black horses with plumes and Rachmaninov sounds glorious. I mean, we’d all be weeping ourselves sick and it’d be so very gothic, but gloriously cathartic and meaningful. I shall have to plan my own funeral forthwith. I’ve already decided I shall need to leave VERY STRICT INSTRUCTIONS about poetry and readings. If anyone tries the ‘Death is nothing at all. I have only slipped away into the next room’ type of thing I will RISE UP and HAUNT THEM. From the next room. Pointedly.

  • a

    Maybe you were better suited to read that poem than you realize. It sounds like you and H’s grandmother have some things in common – funny, delightful, radiant. Appearance isn’t everything.

    We just had a memorial service for my aunt in February. I found it very depressing, because, although we were all happy to talk about how wonderful she was, so few of her friends are left and I don’t think any of them made it to the service. She never married, had no children, and was devoted to the church. And yet, the priest didn’t know her and didn’t have anything personal to say about her. So, everyone disappears, I suppose.

    • May

      I only ever once saw a glimpse of the funny delightful radiant Grandmother. By the time I met her she was a very quiet, meek, colourless sort of little old bird-like lady. We had very little to say to each other. It was only when she was in hospital and beginning to unhinge and lose track of the year and who everyone was that she took my hand, and told me about some fascinating things she’d done during the War. She’d been a librarian herself, before she married, and remembered that I was one too, and suddenly there was a link between us, and then the dementia got so much worse and that was that. It makes me so sad, and rather angry, that she spent most of her adult life being flattened.

      Condolences on the loss of your aunt. We all disappear, yes, but so soon after the service? Alas, alas.

  • Emily Erin

    Oh May, I am so sorry. Hang it all, it’s so damned unfair. All of it. Know that even when your posts are sparse there are those of us who are cheering for you and hoping with all that we have to hope that things will change. I’m with Twangy– Irony be damned, I want a new tune for you.

  • Hairy Farmer Family

    Yarn-barf, eh? I think I encountered a similar phenomenon trying to untangle a 50m roll of 5-strand raffia ribbon earlier this week. The temptation, after a little time of increasing frustration has passed, is to give the thing an almighty tug on all its ends and swear loudly at it, in the preposterous hope that That Will Solve It. I wonder if it ever has?!

    I grinned hugely at the idea of you climbing out of the casket, grimly intent on post-mortem riot, because I more than half believe that you really could if you wanted to. My belief in your powers of event-direction and crowd control is nearly boundless, even from beyond the grave. No lock shall hold or portal bar, etc.

    I’m not sold on the Heredity poem for a funeral. As you say: it’s rather The King Is Dead, Long Live The King. I think the irony implicit may not have been apparent to H’s wider family, but – yes, it’s a bugger. Although, if ever a word encapsulates this whole business, then Durance will do as well as any.

    • May

      Tugging viciously and swearing must have worked once, in Times Immemorial, and it was such a shock it was burnt into our DNA. Because we’ve all tried it. And then dealt with the sad disaster.

      And I shall totally leap out shouting ‘Cower now, brief mortals! For I am Death, err, tumpty tumpty BAR!’ And give everyone who laughs a gold sovereign so I shall.

      Oh, yes, exactly! The King is dead, long live the King! EXACTLY! THAT was it! That was niggling me! You are a geAYnius.

      Also H’s family don’t do irony. It has just occured to me, but they completely don’t. I think H may have been a little irony-deprived when he met me. Sarcanaemic, if you will.

      As for durance vile, well, that particular Burns poem ends:

      Our force united on thy foes we’ll turn,
      And dare the war with all of woman born:
      For who can write and speak as thou and I?

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