The Dog's In The Oven

Hymn singing

Posted in Uncategorized by dogintheoven on April 14, 2010

As I started to write this entry I was in reflective mood, my mind on funerals – not death so much but eulogies and, in particular, the type of eulogy that focuses on whatever it was that eventually did for the dearly departed who happens to be in the box on burial day rather than the life that came before then. This, I always feel, is a wasted opportunity – a waste of a chance to remember a life that may well have been full of joy and love, a life brimming with excitement and adventure and a life packed with achievements. A eulogy that celebrates all that is, in my eyes at least, a memory of a life worth making and a much better sending off than simply remembering the end.

These thoughts were on my mind as my parents had just returned from a funeral of a dear friend of theirs and my father had remarked on the quality of the words spoken at the service. It had been a good life and even if the end had been painful, it was the life that had been well remembered and not the death.

Perhaps more importantly, though, the funeral also gave me a chance to spend a good hour or so talking with my mother about the service and wake at which many family and friends had gathered. The details were somewhat vague, of course, and she wasn’t quite sure who’d been there or not, but the names she did recall were all familiar to me from my childhood so I was able to ask for stories from the past, which she was delighted to supply.

One woman she mentioned, I think it was the widow, she described several times as “such a pretty girl” and the name stirred vague memories for me. One vivid childhood memory I have is being made to collect the coats of my parents’ friends as they arrived for dinner parties and to deposit these garments upstairs and out of the way. It was a job we children shared and always seemed to me quite an exciting distraction from our usual bedtime routines.

The mention of this “pretty girl” my mother now spoke of reminded me of one such evening in particular. Collecting the last of an assortment of coats one evening, I distinctly remember gazing into the alluringly beautiful face of a woman and thinking to myself that I must be in love before scampering off upstairs, tripping over my heavy burden of fur and cloth.

I think any deluded hope I had of her taking these growing feelings seriously (I was about six at the time so knew exactly what I was talking about) were cruelly dashed when my oldest sister cajoled her younger siblings into standing on the stairs to sing the song from the Sound of Music in which the Von Trapp children bid their father’s assorted guests good night ¬ in song. Of course, not only must this spectacle have made my parents and their guests squirm and cringe with embarrassment, but my sister had arranged for my brother, who was five, blonde and very small, to play the part of the little girl who fell asleep on the stairs after delivering her somewhat shaky but cute lines. I was convinced from the moment he received the ooohs and aahhs from the adults, that the object of my desire wouldn’t even have noticed my heartfelt delivery of my line “Adieu, adieu, adieu” when confronted with my brother’s performance, let alone feel the same about me as I did of her.

I told my mother this story and she repeated again how pretty this person was before hooting with laughter at the thought of all her children singing to her guests. She didn’t remember the occasion, unfortunately. What she did remember, however, were the hymns printed on the order of service they had brought home from the funeral. There were three of them and all it took was for me to read out the first line or so from each one and she’d be off, singing the words perfectly to the appropriate tune.

It’s rather a strange thing when I think about those sort of moments now for I see my mother at such times as she may well have been as a small child, perhaps at school and being asked to speak or sing in front of the class. She’s never been a particularly outgoing personality; confident in the company she chooses, but never the one desperate for attention, of wanting to be noticed all the time.

So I saw as she sang, the little girl who had learnt all the words to the song and knew the tune perfectly, but who was slightly uneasy singing it all to her classmates. Perhaps that is what Alzheimer’s Disease does to a person; takes them back to a time when real feeling was easier to read in a face – only in childhood, of course, it is because the child knows no different, while with dementia it is because the person will have forgotten how to hide true emotion.

While this glimpse into how my mother may have been as a little girl was sobering, the inability to hide emotion like this provides us all with moments of great happiness, too – and it is these moments that we must cherish.

For instance, my mother has just walked in to the kitchen where I am writing this, having returned from a day on the beach with one of my sisters, my brother and assorted grandchildren – and, of course, the dog. “He just didn’t want to come up from the beach,” she told me as the exhausted animal drank his water and collapsed in a heap, clearly happy to have the chance of a rest. My mother then looked at me and, clearly sobbing now, said: “And nor did I.”

When she is happy, she knows she is happy and, although she may not be able to express why she is happy, somehow we can tell that she is – even if it takes tears to let us know.