I’m actually quite good at these, because even though funerals can be treacherous times for our species, it’s a place where people are expected to blurt out nonsense and look strangely disconnected from the day. We can blend in seemlessly.
We’ve had a lot of funerals lately; and by ‘a lot’ I mean two. Which seems a lot. Actually, I feel like I’ve done three funerals, because Valentine’s day came slap bang between them, so it’s three times in seven days I’ve had to buy flowers, cards, and turn up in my best suit.
As I say, we creatures from planet Aspergers blend right in with the odd, dislocated day of a funeral. Where we fall down is our tendency towards unvarnished brutal logic.
I was sent out for sympathy cards. I was asked to buy two, and I came back with five. I couldn’t make up my mind about the best ones. Some had crosses, some had flowers, some had crosses made of flowers, some had flowers that looked a bit like crosses. My partner was slightly surprised to find a pile of sympathy cards on the dining room table.
Partner: Five? That’s rather a lot, isn’t it? Are you expecting anyone else to die?
I don’t know if my whole family suffers from aspergers. I haven’t really thought to ask, because, of course, I have aspergers, and it doesn’t occur to us as a rule. So much of our lives are like that; composed of these closed, recursive circles (Why can’t you do something about your aspergers? Talk to someone about it? What’s to talk about? I have aspergers. And so on, and so on).
Sometimes it occurs to me that there is a strong strain of it in my family. We avoid emotional contact, and we make light of dramatic situations. Perhaps that’s just the similar mental condition known as ‘being men of northern English extraction’.
My Dad is by far the worst. Well, I say ‘worst’. It means he’s a very funny man. Never sit next to him in a church when the organist is trying to play ‘Jerusalem’ with her thumbs. This is not a hypothetical situation, by the way. I’ve been there. So has my partner. She was gripping his arm by the graveside, watching the priest throw handfuls of earth into the grave, when she heard the too-loud comment ‘they’re going to take a bloody long time filling it up that way’.
It’s annoying when you have to live with it, day in, day out. But sometimes it works.
Yesterday we buried my great-aunt Ruby Fountain. A stunningly amazing human being. Clever, cultured, insatiably curious, a fan of architecture and history, sometime ‘Archers’ writer and occasional columnist of ‘The Field’, and she could have been so much more, if the conventions of her generation had nor turned her into a loyal and devoted gamekeeper’s wife and mother of three gifted children. But she would never have seen it like that. As far as she was concerned her potential had been fulfilled a dozen times over. We all feel her loss.
So the Fountain men are doing what they always do at the wake; standing by the back wall, and my Dad is doing what he always does at these functions, hovering by the buffet and eyeing up the pork pies as they are being put out on the table. Ruby’s eldest son, my uncle John comes up to us all. It’s been a hard day and he’s under a lot of strain, of course. He’s clearly emotional, and barely knows where he is. All he can say is…
John: Oh dear. What can I say? What can I say?
My Dad (eyeing up the buffet): Help yourself?
It takes me three minutes to wipe the tears out of my eyes. The tears that got put there through laughter, but were leaving through grief.
Yes, there were tears. We may be from planet Aspergers, but we’re not robots.