Lambeth Crematorium on a dull,wet February day. Its worse than it sounds, High rise blocks dominate the grim scene.Seven turn up for the 98 year olds last rites. Its a d-i-y affair. The old dear was the the mother of one of Vivien’s great friends. I’m there to give support and help fill the seats. I had heard a bit about Leila , she suffered Alzheimers for eight years which had turned her relationship with her daughter from bad to worse. So I’m not expecting much.
But a bit of sweet music, a poem and then the life story. It works well,two from the care home turn up and at the end we all hold hands. Its simple,moving and very real. We may not believe in a here-after but we showed friendship and we managed to spend half an hour in a chapel without singing Jerusalem. Far better than some cod religious affair conducted by a vicar from nowhere.
Well ,as we journalists say,everyone is worth 1000 words. Leila(she changed it as, Lily wasn’t grand enough!) was no exception. Her father and mother came down to London in the early 20th century from South Shields(NE England). On the birth of her sixth, her mother dies. Father takes three back to the North East and the two girls Leila and her younger sister Victoria are brought up by a spinster aunt. It was not a very loving environment. They were fed.
Leila worships her younger sister. She is the beautiful one,the fashionable one,the one destined for fame and fortune. They both work in the fashion business. Clothes and style are their big thing. The younger sister dies when Leila is twenty. Another wound she will carry all her days.. She marries an older man , “anything to get away she confesses later”,a naval officer. The War comes. She has a daughter,named typically Victoria(Vivien’s friend).
After the War she runs off with her boss.Leaving her daughter to be brought up by her father It creates a scar from which the relationship never really recovers. She leaves her lover and marries someone else. The daughter comes back to make it an almost complete home. As Tolstoy said ,happy families are all the same,unhappy ones are all different.
Leila might not get on very well with her daughter but elsewhere she is the life and soul. She works in pubs and corporate entertaining. She is a party girl. She knows the songs, she dresses well. Its not a 9 to 5 life.
Her husband dies and she moves into sheltered housing. She goes to the local gym. She is the centre of a wide group and although her relationship with her daughter isn’t perfect they are in regular contact. Then eight years ago Alzheimers strikes. Luckily a social worker find the ideal home(Thamesbrook) and the blow is softened.
After a fall last year she had had enough, she stopped eating and the tide came in. Before we left the crematorium all nine of us joined hands and encircled the coffin. It was simple,it made us feel as one,it made us feel better,it worked. No tears were shed. 98 is probably too long. The flowers were taken back to the home. The weather cheered up,the rest of the day was much brighter.
As we were leaving the crematorium a full on West Indian funeral was getting under way. The cars, the costumes,the sizes,the hats, bloody marvellous.