[This is a very long post. I make no apologies. I had to spit it all out. I will go back and fill in the year with the Goldfish after his wife left him and I moved in, but for now I needed to write about the time immediately after his death]
We have survived our first Christmas without the Goldfish. It felt strange, but life has been totally strange since he died and we entered that weird bereavement bubble in which nothing seems real. Something truly momentous has happened – that crossing of a very thin line between being alive and not being alive: gone. And outside the bubble everyone else is going about their lives as if nothing out of the ordinary has taken place.
At least Christmas gave us the chance to pause and catch our breath after the non-stop busyness following the Goldfish’s death. I found the bureaucracy surrounding death quite staggering. The hospital gave us a booklet on what to do. I read bits out to DH, Wee-sis and her son and daughter while we sat round the Goldfish in the hospital the night he died and had been ‘tidied up’ – then I put it in my handbag and we talked of more cheerful things and drank coffee and laughed and finally, watery-eyed, we left him.
In the morning the DH went to tell the step-monster. No one answered his knock so he searched around the streets and local shops but didn’t see her anywhere. I was getting a bit frantic as I’d already told the CC at social services and contacted the Funeral Director (FD) and we really didn’t want the step-monster to hear the news from someone else. Finally DH went to where her son works and he phoned his sister to ask where her mother was. Turns out she doesn’t get up before 11am these days. Several phone calls and DH finally was admitted to deliver the news – which, of course, she must already have known.
She agreed Wee-sis and I could make the funeral arrangements. DH offered to go and register the death. It took about two hours and I am so glad he went because I think if I had gone I’d have been sitting in a police cell charged with assault. As it was I took several phone calls from him – what was my mother’s maiden name? The Goldfish’s national insurance number? That was my bad because I forgot to put it with the other documents they required, according to the helpful NHS booklet. However, I did send his birth certificate as requested. It states the Goldfish’s father was a ploughman. Jobs-worth wanted to know if he had been a ploughman all his life and if not, what other jobs he had done. DH didn’t know – he never met my grandfather.
The Goldfish was an AI man but that wouldn’t do according to the jobs-worth because someone might think he worked on humans. DH pointed out he had worked for Scottish Milk Marketing Board but no, she had to go and consult her superior. Eventually it was decided to put him down as an Agricultural Artificial Inseminator. I think it would have been at this point I’d have hit her. Agricultural does not only cover cows and I know the Goldfish never inseminated a sheep.
Financial papers had to be sorted for the solicitor and meetings arranged. The FD visited with his little brochure of pictures of the most popular caskets and the question about how Wee-sis and I felt about the Goldfish being buried in a plot the step-monster owns. We were not happy but said we wouldn’t make an issue of it – after all it’s only his body that goes in there. “That’s true,” he said, “but it means you would have no control over what might be put on a headstone when she goes in there.” With visions of ‘dearly beloved wife’ floating in our minds we decided to buy a plot for the Goldfish. It has room for our ashes to be added if we want.
Both Wee-sis and I felt he’d have wanted a traditional Church of Scotland funeral service The Minister is new to the parish and hadn’t met the Goldfish. He came to see us and he listened, really listened, as we talked about the Goldfish and what he’d meant to us. We asked that he avoid mentioning marriage and wives. The funeral was arranged for the 10th December. The Step-monster’s daughter was going on holiday that day and her brother asked if the funeral couldn’t be brought forward. This was the date which suited both the Minister and the FD so it couldn’t be changed to suit someone’s holiday plans.
All during those seven days since the Goldfish’s death and his funeral I felt I had scarcely a moment to simply stop and remember him. I dreaded the funeral and equally longed for it to be over. It was much better than I feared. Of course, the step-monster was there, along with her son and d-i-l and her daughter’s bidie-in. They came into the church and walked past us without so much as looking at us let alone saying anything (there’s a sort of receiving line of immediate family and it’s customary to offer condolences). The d-i-l was heard to say, “We’ll go down to the front.” The Minister, Wee-sis and I looked at each other in some alarm but the FD had the matter in hand and was already ‘down the front’ to ensure there was no embarrassment if the step-monster’s family inadvertently tried to sit in the front row.
It was a lovely, all-inclusive service. The man the minister talked about was exactly as we’d described him (the minister would make a really good journalist – he listens properly) and there were tears when he read part of one of my poems, and laughter when he told us the Goldfish had achieved the remarkable record of 186,000 successful inseminations.
After the burial everyone was invited for refreshments at a local pub, where the first drinks were on the Goldfish. For the first time ever I actually understood what is meant by a jaw-dropping moment when the Step-monster arrived with her entourage. We knew she’d be at the funeral and probably at the cemetery for the interment but had truly not expected her at the post-funeral event. Some people will do anything for a free bowl of soup and a sandwich.
She was all weepy in the church and all sort of bowed over and distraught at the lunch yet two days later I saw her practically skipping up the street as though she hadn’t a care in the world – or maybe she was reckoning up in her head how much she’ll get once the legal stuff is done.
On the 21st December, the shortest day of the year, my son came home from university, we bought our Christmas tree, decorated it and I took down all the sympathy cards, replacing them with Christmas cards. We made fudge, biscuits and cakes and played the part of happy Christmas. And we relaxed and enjoyed being together. And remembered last Christmas.
Writing this up, I feel the focus should be on the Goldfish as it has been for so long but somehow the focus has shifted. I don’t like that. I want him still to be the centre of my life and it is now, after Christmas is over, I can finally stop and think about how much I miss him.