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Well today was the funeral of Richard, my friends partner of many years. I have to say it was one of the most joyous occasions I've ever been involved in.
I arrived at the crematorium on what was a wet day. I waited with the family until it was time to go in, chatting, and seeing lots of friends and I hadn't seen in years, and in some cases decades. Everyone was dressed casually, in bright colours and looking relaxed.
The room was packed, we sat listening to the Rolling Stones as the cardboard coffin containing our dear friend was wheeled by four of his pals. Each of them wearing lumberjack shirts. To explain, Richard's lumberjack shirt was rarely off his back and he was frequently seen cycling about town in said shirt, a woolly hat and ripped jeans, saying hello to everyone he passed and smiling broadly.
Their daughter, a beautiful girl with a maturity far beyond her years, acted as MC for the event. Welcoming us all to the funeral, thanking us for coming to say goodbye to her Dad and for the phenemonal amount of support everyone had shown either by sending cards, phoning, visits, taking round food etc.
She talked about how many lives Richard had touched, and that was evident, the place was absolutely packed, many people had to stand and the aisles were full to bursting.
He loved to travel, to see new places and often disappeared for a week on a coach trip. His final trip, only a few days before he died, had been to the south of England. He had found a charity shop. Richard was a collector of everything and LOVED a bargain of any kind. Inside the little shop, filled with clutter and bric a brac, he found a pair of jeans for £1. He didn't need them, but what a bargain they were? 'Can I try them on?' he said. The two elderly ladies who ran the shop showed him to a shower curtain, behind which, he could change.
Richard had removed his jeans, and was starting to put on the £1 jeans when his leg gave way, instinctively he grabbed the shower curtain, pulling down the curtain, the rail and landing in a heap on the floor. Trousers round his ankles and Y front underpants on display for all the world to see. He leapt up, threw out his arms and showbiz style yelled 'TA DA', the poor ladies had collapsed in giggles and blushes while he grinned and then dressed himself.
It didn't matter where he went the world, there was always an adventure or a funny story to tell.
Various people stood up and offered their own tale of Richard and I ached with laughing at all the funny stories I heard. Each one covering a different aspect of his complex and rather unique character. There were tears, but mostly we laughed, we giggled and we counted ourselves lucky for having had him in our life. He was described as the meanest man in town and yet the most generous man in town, he'd give you the last £1 in his pocket if you needed it, but he'd haggle over a price just to get a bargain.
At the end, to the Rolling Stones 'The last time...', we lined up to write messages on the coffin, mine simply said 'See you at the bar!' As I know that wherever he is now, he'll have a pint of beer in his hand and a huge smile on his face. His daughter and partner put signs on the coffin, things like 'half price', 'whoops', 'buy one get one free' (he hated to pay full price for anthing!). Someone put coins for the bus fare, and many laid beermats on top with messages written on them.
Afterwards I went back and photographed the coffin and messages, I'll print them out later and make a montage of some kind to give to his partner and daughter as a keepsake.
The party returned to his local pub, where two kinds of beer, a light ale called Captain Fantastic and a dark ale called Ricardo were served along with a buffet. The beer was flowing freely, and every table was filled with people telling stories about how they met Richard, what adventures they had been on with him, jokes and laughter just filled the room.
The pub itself was covered in photos of Richard, from family, others from friends, some from the pubs he frequented but in every single one, you can see his smile beaming out at you and his eyes twinkling with mischief. I've brought two back with me, which the family asked me to post with this blog, I'm hoping I can figure out how to add them as I think they illustrate firstly what a good looking man he was, but also they show this funny, quirky and amazing man who never lost touch with his inner child, was child like but never childish and could always find the fun and joy in each day.
When I told my son that Richard had died, he asked if he had gone to heaven. I explained that everyone has different beliefs. I said I think he'll be in heaven. My son asked 'Is he with God and the angels?' I said 'yes'. My son then smiled and said 'Won't God laugh now?' And I bet he is laughing because I couldn't imagine anyone spending time with Richard and not laughing out loud.
I'm going to miss him, but having heard so many new stories about him, I'll be smiling and laughing through the tears. He'd have been immensely and justifiably proud of his partner and daughter today, they showed great strength, humour and love.
I hope that when I have to go to a funeral again, that it's as suited to the person and their beliefs as today's was to Richard. It was informal, relaxed, achingly funny and captured the enigma that he was.
Thanks to everyone on the forums for their kind words, support and friendship this week. It's meant a great deal to me, but also to his family who were astounded at the good wishes which came from all over the world and asked me to share my views on today with you all.