She was a cheerful and uncomplicated soul, mother of two daughters, with grandchildren, nephews and nieces. She had come to England from her native Montserrat in her twenties, to work first as a seamstress and then as a hotel chambermaid. You might imagine that her funeral would be a low-key affair. But no, West Indian funerals are major events.
One of my jobs was to prepare the service sheet for the funeral. To the copy shop’s surprise, I ordered 350 copies (for most funerals in London fifty is more than enough). That was a mistake. Supplies were exhausted twenty minutes before the start of the service. I ought to have ordered 500. It was standing room only in the church, and some people were not able to get in at all but had to stand outside in the rain. Everyone who knew Martha or knew any of her extended family was there.
We sang The Lord’s my Shepherd, How Great Thou Art, The Day Thou Gavest, and And Can it Be. A great-niece and a great-nephew read lessons from the Bible. The church choir sang an anthem. A nephew provided the formal Eulogy that is expected on such occasions. My partner Gabriel, Martha’s brother, sang a moving tenor solo. The officiating minister, who knew Martha well, gave an appropriate address, the superintendent minister prayed. I read aloud two poems that I had found on the web: “Do not stand at my grave and weep” and “She is gone”.
Then we proceeded to the cemetery for the interment. The bearers, eight younger male members of the family, lowered the coffin into the grave. The gravediggers did their work, heaping earth over it. We sang more hymns. The minister (who is originally from Guyana) reminded us of our own mortality: