This article was written for Annabel & Grace, which is now part of Rest Less.
I have just attended the best funeral of my life! It was funny, loving and irreverent. It was the funeral of my ex-husband – father of my son and stepdaughter.
Four weeks ago, I heard that my ex-husband had died very suddenly. He had gone upstairs to bed, entered the bathroom to clean his teeth and got no further. A heart attack finished him off despite wonderful paramedics who worked on him for twenty minutes.
The first I knew of it was when I received an email from his widow. Wife #3. #1 was killed in an accident and I was #2. I was gobsmacked… the first of my ex-husbands to go…
After our divorce we always had a good relationship. He knew exactly how to press my buttons – never failing to tell me I looked like my mother! Absolutely guaranteed to irk me. I might say I wasn’t nasty enough to tell him he was like his mother! Yes. We were extremely civilised in our relationship!
We never spoke ill of each other. A pact made just as we were divorcing. Extremely important as far as your kids are concerned. In hindsight we put the breakdown of marriage to show business: he spent nearly ten years of our married life in Vegas and Atlantic City whilst I brought up his kids, my kids, and our kid! But, as they say “ that’s showbiz.”
Back to reality. He was dead.
Suddenly the father of my children was dead. How could he be? I couldn’t take it in. I would never see him again. I remember my grandmother telling me that, after her husband was killed in the First World War, she always had a hope that one day he would walk through the door again. Perhaps it is a safety mechanism. A little spark of hope.
My thoughts turned to my kids. He died in the evening. Our son in Australia wouldn’t be up yet. How should I tell him? I tried to get on to my stepdaughter but her phone was turned off. She must know if she’s turned her phone off. Oh poor darling, how was she coping? She adored her dad. I felt incredibly frustrated that I couldn’t speak to her. I just wanted to wrap her up in a warm blanket and give her a cuddle.
My son rang from Australia. He sounded so distant. ”You’ve heard Mum…”
“Yes I have darling. I’m so sorry. What can I do to help?” I found myself saying. Well, what can you do… nothing.
And so it was that on a Friday, four weeks after his death, 175 people crowded into a beautiful crematorium in Brighton. It was situated in astonishingly glorious spring gardens. The trees were bowed down with pink and white blossom and the sun shone as the well tended flowers smiled in the sunlight. How nice to have a crematorium in such lovely surroundings .
Throughout the lead up to the funeral I had been fretting. For some reason it had suddenly become incredibly important to me to give the ex a “good send off. ” But I was no longer an entity. As an ex-wife you have no role. But as the mother of bereaved children, you are bleeding for their sadness. You want everything to be perfect for them but of course you are not party to any arrangements. It’s your children and the widow who are arranging everything. Will they remember everyone? What about the people their father and I knew before he married again? Should I be letting them know?
A further complication was that my ex was a well known comedian. I knew the showbiz people, but his widow didn’t. How do you tactfully deal with that? I didn’t want to tread on her toes.
I was holding back and not interfering… agony for me! I asked a few wise friends what they thought. “Stay out of it” they said to a man. “But what about The Stage? Equity? The Water Rats?” I wailed. My ex was a very well known Water Rat. My non showbusiness friends looked at me blankly. The Grand Order of the Water Rats is Variety’s Masonic order and they do fabulous work for charity.
“People would want to know” I added lamely. All those hundreds of people who had worked with him all over the world – they would want to know.
I felt desperately uncomfortable. I had lots of knowledge but felt I shouldn’t push in. I know I can be a bit of a controller and I was well aware I was on dangerous ground. I didn’t want to be told off by my children for interfering. Or, indeed, to upset anyone. You are in a strange no man’s land (if you’ll excuse the pun) when you are the ex-wife!
Fortunately my ex’s present wife – the widow – is a really lovely sensitive woman. All she wanted to do was to arrange a funeral that the kids were happy with. She consulted them about everything. So very different to so many awful tales you hear. The kids really appreciated that.
It nearly killed me to keep quiet but I knew I had to and then, hey presto, a phone call. The present wife was drowning under her to do list. Could I possibly deal with the show biz element?
Of course I will, I replied rather too over enthusiastically. I was just so pleased and relieved. And extremely glad she had rung me! Now I needn’t fret about not enough people knowing. I contacted all the powers that be for her and everybody benefitted.
The service was wonderful. Every aspect had been covered. The wake, held in a fabulously picturesque pub even better. We laughed from start to finish – exactly what the man we had both married would have loved. The widow’s kids mixed with mine and were pleased to see each other again. The Water Rats came, bringing their Lady Ratlings, and added huge dignity pomp and circumstance to the proceedings. Our son came over from Australia and delivered the funniest eulogy I have ever heard. He had them crying with laughter in the aisles, just as his father had done to audiences before him…
The greatest success of all was that “our husband’s send off ” was one of love, laughter, kindness and decency. Everybody agreed it was the best funeral they had ever been to.
Well done, I said to his widow. You gave him a fantastic send off… and with that we both burst into tears and gave each other a hug.
RIP funny man!