My Aunt, my Dad’s much only sibling, died last Sunday. She’d been fighting bone cancer and was at home recovering from a bad turn. She was 84, much older than my Dad who knew her more as a mother figure than a sister. I, of course, only knew her as ‘Auntie Doris.’ A jolly lady who lived with Uncle Ken in what my childhood memory had as a huge house with a magical garden in a leafy suburb of London called Chorlywood.

Uncle Ken died way back in 1984. He too succumbed to cancer, and very quickly too. But his death never really affected me as I hadn’t really known either of them particularly well, and as a child I must confess I was more interested in their magical garden rather than them.

The strange thing is that Dad and I were talking on the phone on Sunday when I called to say Hi. We’d been chatting for about half an hour or so when he announced he had some “rather sad news.” I guessed at what the news would be as it surely wouldn’t be that important to have taken such a back-seat in our conversation. “One of the dogs has died?” I said. “Well no. I’m afraid Auntie Doris has.” He replied.

For a couple of seconds I said nothing as my brain struggled to put the death of my aunt into context with this conversation about recycling that we were having. Did my Dad really just tell me in that matter-of-fact way that his sister, his only sibling, had just died?

Terrible as this may seem to say, I didn’t even know she had cancer. I hadn’t seen her for nearly 10 years, and it wouldn’t have been much less than about ten years before that time that I’d last seen her too. So right then I didn’t feel a loss, I was just shocked that Dad mentioned this almost in passing.

Her funeral was on Friday. That’s pretty quick by any standards I imagine, though I’m no expert in these matters. I was in Essex (near London) anyway this week attending to various meetings, seeing my Grandmother ‘Yogi’ and my Brother too. I don’t often go down south as it’s so far away in English terms, and I had planned to leave on Thursday and head back home but when I learned the funeral would be Friday and that both my Brother and Sister wouldn’t be able to make it, I felt like I should attend if only for my Dad’s sake.

Friday was overcast and foggy following a week of good weather, classic movie funeral weather I thought to myself. I got to the crematorium with quite some time to spare so I sat in my car and watched another funeral party arrive, the people all dressed in various black suits and officially mournful looking clothes.

When Mom and Dad arrived we went and joined the others waiting for the hearse to arrive with the coffin. We followed the coffin in and the funeral got underway. It turned out auntie Doris was a Christian, and loads of people were there to celebrate her life.

Her youngest grandson gave a moving tribute and toward the end as the Vicar was talking about “saying goodbye to Doris” my Dad started to cry. The strange thing was that my Mom did nothing. She didn’t comfort him at all. I looked across at her and couldn’t believe she wasn’t making any attempt to comfort her husband, so I put my arm around my Dad. That was the first time I think I have ever done that, certainly in a way of support like that. It really choked me to tell you the truth.

Afterward we gathered outside and friends and relatives greeted one another. It struck me that we were the outsiders. People would speak to us and some even said to my Dad “I didn’t even know she had a brother.” ‘Way to be sensitive’ I thought to myself.

The experience made me feel sad that I didn’t know her better. I felt quite disconnected, but the funeral also demonstrated that I come from an emotionally fragmented family. My mothers inability to comfort Dad as he cried made me feel sad. I’ve often said we share the same name but not much else and that was a graphic demonstration on that very fact.

The wake was held at auntie Doris’s house, the house with the magical garden. We chatted for a while with Christine and Andrew, my cousins whom I haven’t seen in more years than I can remember. The house wasn’t nearly as big as I recall, but of course the last time I was there I was just a child.

The immediate family were in the living room and dinning room, huddled together like team players on a time out. We stood in the hallway marooned with another couple who knew Ken when he was alive but weren’t really close to Doris. And although we were family we were distant, like Hawaii from America.

I wanted to walk around and talk to people, meet my cousins grown up kids whom I had never seen or known there names before that day. I wanted to chat with Doris’s friends and maybe learn a little more about her, and perhaps my father too. But I couldn’t, I felt like a crasher, and more importantly I wanted to just be by my fathers side on this day.

In the end my parents and I went into the garden, to say goodbye to it I suppose. I wanted to see it one last time, to take a few moments for myself to remember uncle Ken and auntie Doris as I knew them, and maybe even to say sorry for the fact that I didn’t know them better.