Forgive Us Our Trespasses

By Imogen Lenore Williams

There was nothing much to say before my Great Aunt’s funeral. So, Mum and I went to the toilet for an anxious wee, worried about the readings we’d been asked to do. As I sat on the loo, I studied the floor tiling. The small brown squares with stained grouting looked identical to the tiling in the bathrooms at my Catholic secondary school. Mum and I flushed in unison, and once we’d told each other that any need to pee during the service was just nerves, we checked our hair in the smudged mirror.

‘My hair never does what it’s told,’ Mum huffed as she attempted to coax her blonde waves into submission.

I offered my hand, so she passed her blue travel comb to me.

‘Now that your hair’s going salt and pepper, I’ll never see your natural colour,’ I said as I fixed the back of her hair.

‘Haven’t you seen it?’

‘No, you’ve always been dyeing it. At least since I’ve been alive — here.’ I handed the comb back to her.

‘Thank you for fixing that mess, gorgeous. Good thing too, seeing as everyone will be staring at the back of my head!’

‘Yes, that’s what everyone will be worrying about, your knotty hair.’ I laughed, fixing my fringe with my fingers.

‘Well?! We’re in the front row. I have to look put together!’ Mum slung her bag over her shoulder, and we headed back towards the church foyer. ‘You know who doesn’t look put together? Alistair. He looks dreadful!’

Al, my older brother, had worn an ill-fitting beige bomber jacket paired with an ancient, blue checkered shirt. An outfit that made him look like an old man who could no longer take care of himself.

Mum continued, ‘I keep telling him to buy a suit, but will he listen? No, because I don’t know anything, apparently. He doesn’t understand how his lack of effort reflects on me.’

Arriving in the foyer, we found Al and Dad waiting in silence; their bald heads required no fixing in the bathroom mirror. Mum gave Al’s outfit a disdainful look.

‘You could have at least found a black jacket, to fit the occasion,’ she hissed.

‘Everyone’s seated. We should go in,’ said Dad.

Stepping out of the claustrophobic foyer and into the nave, my head lifted upward to view its cavernous expanse, which was only halted from continuing to the Heavens by a layer of stained wood.

Did we really need to hold the funeral in a church? I wondered. After all, we’re a family of lapsed Catholics.

There was not much congregation to speak of. There were a few of Great Aunt Lucy’s friends and her “boyfriend” Greg. His son, daughter and their respective spouses were with him. Poor Greg.

We took our seats in the front pew.

My uncle stood up to speak. Everyone in my family had agreed that a very simple eulogy would be best. Grandma had a cupboard full of little quips and phrases she used to whip out at apt times, and the one that suited this occasion best was: ‘If you don’t have anything nice or interesting to say, then don’t say anything at all’. If only Aunt Lucy had followed Grandma’s advice. She’d yack and yack about nothing for hours in her raucous squawk, sounding indistinguishable from a cockatoo. Fortunately, my clever uncle proceeded to deliver a few generalised positive reflections. It was so smoothly done that I’m sure no one noticed the lack of personal detail.

Realising I was kicking my feet, I consciously glued them to the green carpet. As I forced my back straight, I stared up into Jesus’ face. A dominating wooden carving of Jesus being crucified hung on the cream brick wall above the casket. There were cobwebs in His armpits.

Does God know that I’m not sad about Aunt Lucy’s death? I worried before mentally shaking my head. That’s what “Catholic Guilt” does to you, drilled in by years of Catholic schooling. I didn’t even believe in God. Well, at least not how Catholicism describes Him, and yet the idea of Him seeing my lack of grief freaked me out. I wondered if the other members of the congregation could tell I wasn’t sad.

Are they expecting tears? I hardly saw her, and when I did see her, she was a bit of a bore. Not crying doesn’t make me a horrible person, does it? She was only my Great Aunt.

I tried playing Peter Allen’s rendition of I Still Call Australia Home in my head since listening to that usually made me cry. But tears would not come.

My uncle finished the eulogy, and it was Mum’s turn to speak. Unlike me, she had been worried about crying during her reading. She recited the pragmatically titled Prayer for the Dead, which was the first prayer that came up when she and Dad had Googled “prayers to read at Catholic funerals.”

‘In your hands, O Lord,’ she began, reciting slowly and clearly. ‘We humbly entrust our brothers and sisters.’

Great Aunt Lucy had a brother, my Grandpa. Twelve years he’d been waiting to meet her again in Heaven — if Heaven existed — but as Mum continued the reading, my face flushed red, and tears threatened. Even though I’d only been five when he died, I still remembered him. I held them back; I couldn’t cry for him at someone else’s funeral. I looked again to the Crucifix, but Jesus’ eyes were closed.

Is He meant to be dead already in that statue? His head has fallen; He must be dead. He held His head high until the point of death, didn’t He? A tad morbid, a giant dead dude at the front of the congregation. Fitting for funerals, I suppose. Not so much for the other sacraments.

‘No sorrow, no weeping, no pain, but fullness of peace and joy.’ I heard Mum’s voice quiver, and I landed back in the present in time for the Sign of the Cross and the ‘Amen’. She bowed towards the altar and carefully returned herself to her spot on the pew.

‘Well done,’ I whispered into her hair.

In the church’s silence, her tiny ‘Thank you,’ seemed rudely loud.

Barbra Streisand singing The Lord’s Prayer played over the speakers. The Parish Secretary said we needed songs to play during the funeral proceedings, but Aunt Lucy didn’t listen to music, so Mum chose what she herself liked.

I peeped behind me at the other mourners. There was a lady dabbing her shiny cheeks with a handkerchief, a friend from a knitting group or something. My eyes fell on Greg.

He’s the one that really loved her.

He looked bemused and bereaved, but he wasn’t crying.

When Mum was visiting Aunt Lucy at the hospital one day, Greg had arrived with his daughter. Greg gripped Lucy’s gaunt hands and spoke to her in hushed tones before he choked up and began crying, then kept crying, with nobody knowing where to look. After a while, his daughter pulled Mum into the corridor and apologised profusely to her for the fact he’d displayed such “inappropriate” emotion.

‘Well. No, that’s alright,’ Mum had whispered back, puzzled. ‘It makes sense that he should be so upset. They’ve spent many years together.’

The daughter had pursed her lips before taking sweet Greg swiftly away.

Maybe that bout of tears was enough for a hardened man in his nineties, none left to give for the funeral. Or maybe he’s holding them in until the vultures, his children, aren’t there to disapprove. Maybe he’ll cry as he lies alone in bed tonight at that aged care home his children have thrown him into.

 I realised I was staring and deliberately turned my head back to the wall-mounted speaker. Barbra was giving it her all.

The very moment Aunt Lucy was hospitalised, into the home Greg had gone. None of his “real family” wanted to care for him once she was unable to. None of them had liked Lucy, which wasn’t unreasonable. What was unreasonable was that they disapproved of her relationship with Greg but were more than happy to let her be his minder. We’d only see Greg at the occasional family gathering, yet we never saw Aunt Lucy more often than that, and thus we felt that Greg was a part of our family. I sensed they disliked that too.

When the song ended, it was time for my reading. Aunt Lucy hadn’t read books either, so the only reading we could come up with which would hold any meaning was a poem we’d read at her brother’s funeral. Grandpa had been very well-read. It was a fragment from a poem by Percy Shelley.

‘Rose leaves, when the rose is dead, are heaped for the beloved’s bed,’ I recited too quickly. ‘And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone, love itself shall slumber on.’

My eyes met Greg’s, and his moved to the rose-laden casket.

‘Music, when soft voices die, vibrates in the memory. Odours, when sweet violets sicken, live within the sense they quicken.’

As I walked back to my pew, I was glad that the church had thick carpeting, as it prevented my hard-heeled shoes from disturbing the moment of silence with clicking sounds.

The reflective silence was followed by a generic wrap-up from the priest about life and death. Then Aunt Lucy was wheeled away to be set on fire, metal wheels squeaking slightly as she went, in time to the recorded organ music.

Al stood up first. Dad followed, re-buttoning his blazer and raising his eyebrows at Mum and me to make a move. The rest of the congregation slowly followed. I saw Greg’s son helping him out of the pew.

He has a walker. He never used to have a walker, just a stick. I wanted to express my condolences to him, but his family surrounded him.

They’re in their fifties and still upset that their dad could love anyone besides their dead mum. Dead for 30 years. You’d think people would grow beyond such juvenile thoughts on exiting childhood, but apparently not.

Despite my dislike for them, I felt I shouldn’t intrude. It would be rude, almost. I definitely wouldn’t be welcome, and I absolutely wouldn’t know what to say. Instead of approaching Greg and his controllers, I headed towards the foyer, where Al had already made a start on the finger sandwiches.

I noticed Greg was being hastily escorted towards the side door. No sandwiches for him, and no chance to say goodbye.

I should try and say goodbye. I really should go after him.

‘These sandwiches are delicious!’ Al appeared next to me. 

I looked towards him. ‘Yeah?’

‘They have chicken ones and smoked salmon. Going to have some?’

I looked back to the side door, but Greg was gone. I stared at the empty doorway for a while before choosing the chicken sandwich.



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