Hughie’s coffin would not fit through the porch door. The window of the little bedroom – his bedroom – had to be removed.
When he had left the house the previous Saturday evening, he had promised mother he would be home in time to drive her to Mass on Sunday morning – but in the early hours of Sunday morning his car crashed through the railings of a bridge over the river and tumbled in – where he drowned!
They placed the head of the coffin on a bench and the foot on a chair so that if you stood with your hands resting on the back of the chair you looked directly into Hughie’s face.
After they had opened the upper half of the coffin lid, the undertakers left and we knelt and said the rosary – my father leading.
I had not prayed in years and my knees were sore from kneeling and I kept changing weight from knee to knee. My father and my mother, kneeling one behind the other by the side of the coffin, remained throughout on both knees, she with head bowed, he raising his large head from time to time and looking to the far away through the window. All around me I heard the murmur of voices, repeating the same prayers over and over, crowded into the little room, the sound – and the crowd of people – spreading into the kitchen.
‘ … Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now
And at the hour of our death. Amen.’
When the rosary was finished and we all got up, mother stood for a moment holding on to the side of the coffin, outwardly calm and collected: she stooped and touched the pale, cold forehead with a trembling hand. Suddenly then, her defences, long under assault, crumbled and she lost control and screeched and cried and waved her arms in an uncontrollable floodtide of grief and despair and confusion. This was the moment I had dreaded. Everybody looked on helplessly. She seemed to want to lift Hughie’s corpse from its coffin and clasp it to her as if he was again her baby.
My father – long inured to her ways – ignored it all and wandered aimlessly about the house and yard. Still holding back my own feelings I took a grip of one of mum’s arms and Felix of the other. Supporting her we walked her up and down the yard from the well to the creek and from the creek back to the well, speaking softly to her, pleading inanely that she still had two sons left.
Ah, what a na