Taking leave of Silas

We reached the cemetery in plenty of time. We didn’t know what to expect and walked along the main alley until we found the office. They confirmed that the funeral was at 10 am and invited us to wait “as they sometimes come early”. At last a hearse drew up and a gentleman in undertaker’s costume came in and went through to the office. I heard him say “Oh, they’re for us, are they?”

The assistant came out and said “I’m sorry, but there’s no room in the car. Would you mind walking to the grave?” She took out a map and marked it with a yellow highlighter to show us the way. As we went out, I saw that behind the hearse there was a limousine with blacked-out windows. If there was no room for us, that implied that there were other mourners in the car. We started to walk.

As we neared the spot where we thought to find the grave, we met the Gentleman in Wellingtons. He was dressed in a black coat and had a book under his arm. He confirmed that this was Silas’ grave and invited us to approach. We stood and made small talk while we waited for the hearse to appear. It drew up near the open grave and the limousine stopped a few yards away. Two members of the undertaker’s team got out and joined their colleagues. I thought the occupants might also get out but none did.

“We have to wait until the grave-diggers arrive,” explained the Gentleman in Wellingtons. I assumed that the occupants of the limousine knew this and were biding their time. The grave-diggers duly appeared and the undertakers took the coffin from the hearse and placed it on the ground. They threaded the straps and lowered the coffin into the grave. The leader came and shook our hands and then they all left. The limousine also drove away with the hearse. There were no occupants. So why had we been told there was no room for us in an empty car?

We were alone with the Gentleman in Wellingtons. Apparently, we were the only mourners. The Gentleman in Wellingtons invited us to come close to the grave. “Wherever you’re comfortable.” He then opened his book and began to recite the funeral service. I smiled to myself that a Christian funeral service was being read to two atheists. I didn’t say anything, of course, for the words were for Silas, not for us. For all I know, he would have wished them to be said over his grave. We stood in silence while the traditional sentences were pronounced in a low voice, without hurry but also without undue delay.

The ceremony lasted about 10 minutes. We then walked back along the alley with the Gentleman in Wellingtons to where his car was parked. “My grandson has been very patient,” he remarked and we spotted a young boy waiting in the car.

The Gentleman in Wellingtons explained that the Council had searched for family of Silas but had drawn a blank. They had to pay for the funeral themselves. Saying goodbye to the Gentleman in Wellingtons, we left the cemetery and caught a bus to East Finchley tube station where we took a train south.

There was something surreal about all this. We had expected to be mere bystanders at the funeral but had become central figures, the Mourners, the only ones that Silas had had. I am glad we went. It doesn’t matter to Silas, of course, but it matters at some level, if only in our minds. For whatever reason, we felt that Silas deserved to be taken leave of in a proper manner and that if we were the only ones able to do it then we were happy to do so.


About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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4 Responses to Taking leave of Silas

  1. athinkingman says:

    When reading this I couldn’t help but think what a wonderful example of humanism in practice your actions were. I may be wrong, and I obviously cannot know your motives, but it struck me that in going out of your way, to show respect to a man you knew little of, and to witness the final passing of his body, you were affiming core human values and asserting your common human link with him.

    If I am right to any degree, I applaud you for that.

  2. This was a beautiful piece, Silver Tiger.

    I am never too sure about funerals – about how they should be. Some people of course plan their funerals and want them to be a certain way so that is fine but for others, I am never sure. But what you did was wonderful and it is so good that you took the time to be there because otherwise there would have been no-one. And whilst I have no real sentimentality about death, it does strike me as being very sad that if we have a ritual to mark the end of life, that there is no-one we know there to witness it and think of us.

  3. SilverTiger says:

    We went to the funeral because we had regard for Silas. We didn’t know him well but he was our neighbour and a familiar feature of the environment. Despite his funny ways, we liked him and he added spice to our daily lives.

    We had no idea we would be the only ones attending his funeral. As I said in my blog on the eve of the funeral, we hoped we would meet people who knew him in order perhaps to learn more about him. In the event, we were alone but we didn’t mind. We were glad that we had come. In a strange way, it strengthens the bond between us and a man who lived close to us but whose life remains largely mysterious to us.

    I am sorry he is dead and still sometimes catch myself thinking he is still living in the flat above us. But given that he had to die, I am happy to have been there for the final leave-taking.

  4. Pingback: The last goodbye « SilverTiger

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