A Funeral Day

Today was an odd day for me, certainly. Not because I just think I’ve seen a ghost, or experienced the presence of some kind of spiritual body, but because funerals are still rather ‘new’ to me.

Today, I attended my second funeral, and gave my second eulogy. This funeral was unlike the first, which was in February. No. That was a far more lavish affair, if I can call it that, taking place at the prestigious ‘Forest Lawn’ funeral home, in the Los Angeles hills, where apparently Michael Jackson now rests, at least temporarily.

It was a funeral for Manuel Castro Jesue, my father’s lifelong friend, and father of my father’s Godson. Some of you may remember a blog that I posted, a while back, about this poor gentleman who was dying at home of throat cancer. We knew it was coming, and he sadly passed away last week. Since Castro became ill, and made the decision to die at home, a year ago, my family and I have become increasingly close to his son, and today was an unbelievably hard day for him, but he coped very well, and read his own, beautiful eulogy.

I had never taken part, or even seen a funeral procession before. We met at Castro’s house, early on in the afternoon, where the funeral hearse, and a limousine were waiting. We greeted the other attendees, before climbing into the limousine, which sat behind the hearse, carrying Castro’s coffin, which was covered with many different collections of flowers.

Slowly, the procession began. The hearse rolled forward, and we soon followed, in the limousine. At the end of the road, the passenger of the hearse, a man in a black top hat and overcoat got out of the hearse, closing the door, and bowing to the coffin as the hearse rolled past him, before getting back in. The procession slowly proceeded to our destination; a crematorium not too far away. We couldn’t have been breaking 20 MPH, but we were in no rush, despite being late for our ‘slot’ at the crematorium. People drove alongside us, eager to get ahead. When we were stationary, at traffic lights, people would gaze, and stare at the hearse, and the coffin contained within it. My half-brother, Andrew, who came especially from Sweden for the funeral, tried to joke about the buttons on the limousine doors that operated the windows. I nodded once, keeping my eyes fixed on the hearse, and the coffin.

The driver assured us that we’d be on time, and I believe we were. As we exited the limousine, we greeted the other attendees, again. I met a woman whose son, a deacon, knew Castro well, and was participating in the funeral, as well as giving his own eulogy.

We were ushered inside to Eva Cassidy’s ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’, which I had burned to a CD the night before. Before entering, we each took a rose out of a box of roses that Castro’s relatives had sent, or ordered, from Portugal. I chose a white one. We then took our seats. I sat with my family, and with Richard, Castro’s son, at the first row of pews. The music faded, and the service began. The priest opened with a prayer, and the deacon, Tito, read some Bible passages and gave his eulogy. It was very fitting, and he even likened Castro to Jesus. He talked of how Castro dedicated his life to the hotel and catering business, which in a way, was a dedication to helping people, like Jesus. He talked about how he was an amateur carpenter, like Jesus was. Deacon Tito finished what he had to say, and Richard was then called up to read what he had written to his father. Richard had asked me to step in, if he couldn’t finish reading his eulogy himself. He held himself together, although his last few sentences were very tearful, both for him, and those watching. It was a beautiful eulogy. He told me later on that he wished to say more about his father’s life, but I said that the way he said what he did showed better than any words how much he loved his father.

My own father then tapped me on the knee, and told me to go up and read my eulogy. My father was very close to Castro, working with Castro, a cocktail barman, for many years, when he was still a hotel manager. I had asked him if he wanted to say something instead of me. I didn’t feel that qualified to say anything, really. My dad shrugged this off, saying that he was no good at talking in front of people. I knew how much it meant to my dad, so I had prepared a short speech. Right then, however, I told my dad that I would read my eulogy later, at the wake, as when I had mentioned that I had something to read, earlier on, Richard had told me there might not be time. Prayers were made, and Bible verses were read. Just as the priest conducting the funeral was going to draw an end to it, Richard stopped him, and leant over and asked me if I wanted to read what I had prepared.

I climbed up, and introduced myself to the onlookers. This was my second time, standing on the pulpit, and I don’t think I shall ever get used to it, if I am ever called there again, under such circumstances. The best fitting description of it would be to imagine being punched, hard, in the stomach, by the combined grief of everyone in the room. I am glad I had written the eulogy down, as I fear I wouldn’t have been able to recall it from memory. I did my very best to read the printed words in front of me accurately, although I tripped on my words a couple of times. When I was done, I returned to my seat from the dizzying heights of the pulpit. More prayers were said, and we were called to say our last goodbyes to the coffin, before it was delivered into the oven behind it. I placed my white rose on the coffin, and passed a kiss to the large golden crucifix nailed to the top of it.

We exited, and said our condolences to Richard. My dad said he was very proud of me.

After collecting flowers, including the box of roses sent from Portugal, we returned to the limousine, where we were taken to Castro’s house; all the while, I cradled the box of roses in the empty seat next to me.

When we returned to Castro’s house, we went inside and Richard placed a wreath he had taken, decorated with Portuguese colours, behind a picture of his father, in a table in the corner. He asked me to put the box of roses in the bedroom, next to the bed where Castro had lay for a year. It was very strange, returning to this bedroom where I had seen him slowly debilitate, and mutate, over time, into a skeletal figure. A shadow. The windows were wide open, and the usual musty smell was gone. The bedclothes were made, but the pillows were creased, with an indent. Were these made by Castro? I didn’t know, and didn’t ask, but I couldn’t shake the strange feeling of seeing the room without him in it. It didn’t seem like the same room, almost.

I returned to the lounge. Richard was showing some tables that Castro had crafted, by hand, and varnished himself. He showed us a collection of boxes, one which Castro had varnished shut, and had then cut his hand open, trying to open it with a knife. My mum had to drive him to the hospital. It was nice to admire his craftsmanship. The tables were extremely well made. It’s amazing how someone can create something – anything, from nothing.

After this, we left the house, returning to our respective cars, and driving to a nearby bar/restaurant, owned by a good friend of my dad’s, who had closed the premises for a wake. The general mood seemed happier, as we started to celebrate Castro’s life, and recall fond memories of him. We sat outside, on their patio, and had a collection of barbecued foods. They made me a vegan bean burger especially. They made me two, but Andrew ate my second. I wasn’t that hungry, anyway.

After we had eaten, and drank, we left, but not before my dad insisted on taking care of the bill. Richard tried, but my dad’s pride prevailed, like it has many, many times in the past. That’s one of the many good things I think I’ve inherited from him. We then took some pictures outside the restaurant, and we returned to my house, along with Richard. There, we talked, made plans for the following day, today, drank Armenian brandy, as well as tea and coffee, and ate fruit. After the sun had set, Andrew, Richard and myself decided to go for a walk along the Thames. I didn’t talk a great deal. I mostly listened, until the very end of the walk, when the subject of Michael Jackson, another recently deceased ‘M.J.’, who I talked about quite passionately. When we got back, everyone else had gone to sleep. My sister was in a mood with me, as I had promised her we could go for a drive when we got back from the wake. I hope she’ll be ok, and forgive me, when she wakes up.

Andrew went to bed, and I gave Richard a lift home. We sat outside his house, in my car, for many hours, chatting about the day’s events, about Andrew, about my family, about his family. We talked about many things, and we both got emotional. When he clock struck three, he said he should probably go, but the conversation just kept flowing. All of a sudden, the door to his block of flats swung open a little. We debated whether it was the wind, a spirit, or a ghost, or Castro, calling Richard inside, to go to sleep. He went and checked the door, which he suspected might be on the latch. He returned, and confirmed that it wasn’t. We both sat in the car, a little unnerved, peering inside the building, looking for any signs of any thing that could have opened the door. Why, if it was wind, had the wind waited over an hour to open the door? If it was the wind, how could it then open a locked door? My father is a very religious man, and believes, without doubt, that spirits walk the earth for forty days, after their mortal bodies die, before ascending to heaven. He still recounts, vividly, his experiences and dreams after his own father, my grandfather, died. I’m not certain where my beliefs lie, with regards to supernatural phenomena, but I believe, at that point, that Castro was watching us.

Richard and I embraced, he stepped out of my car, shutting the door, lightly, and then waved me off as I backed out of his estate, and drove off.

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