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  • Deaths and taxes – we know all about both, thats for sure. But what I love about the former is the fact that you can often have a good laugh at them. Well in my world that’s often the case. Funerals are certainly more fun than handing over money.

    Here’s a couple of tales from family funerals I’ve had the pleasure to attend.

    Aunt M had died and was being brought back to the Highlands from the south to have her ashes scattered. Her son, my Cousin K asked me for advice as he wanted to scatter her ashes in the little river that runs into the loch near another relative’s home and holiday camping & caravan site business. I offered my local knowledge, giving careful instructions for reaching a suitable spot. A quiet tree-lined stretch a mile away just off a small single track road, verdant moss covered ground with a wonderful atmosphere, and very quiet and secluded.

    And so on ‘The Day’ I turned up ready for the send off, but a little late. And discovered they’d decided to ignore my advice of location and instead were going to scatter Aunt M just beside the caravan site in the river a short distance from the sea, because it was easier. Alarm bells immediately started to ring…..but were eclipsed by the sound of the bagpipe player who was just emerging from the house and marching across the campsite towards the river. Behind him Cousin K carried Aunt M’s ashes in an urn, whilst his partner J bore a box of red roses.

    This was summer. Summer means foreign tourists. Lots of them. Camping. And the sight of a bagpipe player was irresistible, and like the Pied Piper by the time the he was at the riverside, a large congregation of curious tourists were close behind him. The ceremony began and my worst fear was realised – this far down the river it’s tidal…….and the tide was falling. Fast. Very fast in fact. Unlike the spot I had suggested which is above the reach of the tide.

    If they were quicker they’d have got away with it, but it was no use, by the time they were ready to scatter Aunt M’s ashes the river was emptying and a large pool near the bank was all that remained and into which some of Aunt M’s ashes were duly delivered, accompanied by a raft of red roses. Well if the water had remained it would have been a raft, but sadly the tide was still falling and soon all that was left were wet stones, ash and roses high and dry. The foreign onlookers tutted and murmured reverentially obviously assuming they were witness to some exotic burial ritual. There followed a valiant attempt by Cousin K and his partner to get to the now distant river across the impossibly slimy tidal rocks, facing each other, holding each other’s shoulders like sumo wrestlers and gallantly attempting to also carry the very small remaining portion of Aunt M’s ashes, and a couple of roses. But this was futile and they gave up a few feet from us as falling and receiving serious injury on the greasy rocks was a certainty.

    And so we gave up, heading instead for the local hotel for a few stiff drams and to reconsider the plan. As the realisation hit home that the tide would not be back upriver until very late that night cousin K decided that he would await it’s return and see his mum, and her red roses, off quietly and with dignity. And he did. Probably around midnight.

    And then there was Uncle George’s burial in Roy Bridge.

    Cille Choirill Church near Roy Bridge is a wonderfully sited little chapel, perched atop a very steep hill above the glen with commanding views towards the wild mountains to the east. Built in the 15th century it was more recently featured in Liam Neeson’s film ‘Rob Roy’, and is a place suffused with atmosphere. And on the day we buried Uncle George there, the ‘atmosphere’ was comprised mainly of bitterly cold sleet and snow showers, whacking straight into all our faces. Not only was this miserably uncomfortable for the mourners, but it was giving the undertaker a serious problem. The slope is SO steep that the undertaker had to keep his knee against the end of the coffin (which was perched on the two wooden supports holding it above the open grave hole) to stop it sliding off. The only problem was that the wet snowy grass was making it all but impossible for him to keep his feet and Uncle George was in grave danger (pun intended) of sliding off like a bobsled down the hill where he would encounter little resistance until he reached a flock of miserable looking sheep huddled on the valley floor, backs turned towards the blizzard. Fraught would be an understatement.

    My dad was with me, recovering from depressive illness and truth be told, still rather dazed by the ‘heavy’ treatment he’d been receiving, but was rather pleasantly addled as a result. But he was upset. Very upset. And so we buried Uncle George. The sleet hammered our jackets; the undertaker slithered and grimaced; we took the cords and lowered George to his final resting place. As it’s the Highlands we did the filling in ourselves and quickly shovelled the soil into the hole. Dad was overcome with emotion, and as is always the case, it was infectious, his sadness seeping deeply into those around him. As we all perched, pensive but precariously on the ridiculously steep slope my dad could bear the burden of his sorrow no longer and started to weep uncontrollably, loudly wailing:

    “Poor George, poor George, oh dear, he’s gone now. There’s not many of us left. Oh dear”

    then stopping for a moment, he raised his head and stared off towards the distant mountains now visible in a lull in the sleet and loudly exclaimed, with great feeling:

    “but at least he’ll have a good view, we’ve buried him standing up.”

    At which the assembled throng burst into tear-stained laughter as we lowered our gaze to the ski-jump slope we were all perched on and under which Uncle George was indeed sleeping with the 'angles'.

    Now, none of this is intended to poke fun at the participants, quite the opposite. These are wonderful life-affirming occasions to be treasured. And you know, the lovely thing about these unfolding events is that both Aunt M and Uncle George would have greatly appreciated the humour, and approved of the engaging and wholly uniting quality of these moments. Thats what life is all about. Even in death.

    You’re all welcome to join me at my send off, but hopefully not soon! Just be aware though that the emphasis will be on the ‘fun’ part of funeral……..
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