The security guy at the entrance to the hospital gives me a surly look as I show him my ID. The half smile I was trying to build up as I say my morning greetings fade away as he stares into my eyes. I look away wondering what had happened to the usual happy guy who greets us every morning. It is Norman’s funeral today. He died almost a month ago just three days after his 93rd birthday and on his wedding anniversary. I thought I wouldn’t be able to attend the funeral and so hadn’t made any arrangements to get the day off. “Only family members are allowed and that too only the closest five. You have no chance,” Mark informed me when I mentioned this at work the other day. This week I find out that more people are allowed to attend funerals and they’ve lifted the restrictions so that non family members can attend as well. If my morning theatre list finishes by twelve I can just about make it and be back for my afternoon clinic, I hoped.
They say that when you want something badly it will happen and it did. The two cases went smoothly and at twelve on the dot I was on my way out of the hospital. Within half an hour I was in the cemetery car park on the lookout for some familiar faces and it didn’t take long. Jenny and her partner arrived followed by other elderly neighbours from my previous address. Most of them have been living in the same address since the houses were built in the late 1950s like Doreen and Norman. At the allocated time the funeral cortège arrived and we followed Doreen into the chapel. The seats were rearranged to comply with the safe distancing rule and the service commenced. The doors were closed and my idea of quietly slipping out in between the order of the service vanished with it. The Reverend led the service, Norman’s god son, Andrew, paid a moving tribute and his wife, Emma, recited a lovely poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye. Despite a childhood spent in and out of hospital from septicaemia caught from some kind of dye which led him to develop a crippling arthritis, Norman was able to complete his education by attending evening classes. He graduated as a Chartered Mechanical Engineer and went on to become a Senior lecturer before he retired.
Doreen, also in her mid nineties, had not been able to visit Norman in the care home since the lockdown began. It has been a difficult time for her. The sprightly lady we once knew from quarter of a century ago cut a frail figure today struggling to get up for the prayers having to be helped by Andrew and Emma on either sides. Doreen met Norman in a tennis club where she enrolled as one of the very first female members over seven decades ago.
I couldn’t stay long and had to leave as soon as the service ended. A bright and sunny day with the temperature in the high teens, it was the perfect day to say goodbye to Norman, who was also a keen gardener. He is in a happy place now and instead of watching the sun seeping in through the windows onto his hospital and care-home bedroom, where he has been for the best part of the past two years, he was out there enjoying it to the full today. I get back to the hospital. I am ten minutes late for my afternoon clinic. The same security guy is at the doors. Once again he gives me the evil eye. I smile back at him as he continues to glare. It doesn’t bother me, I want to tell him. I got to see Norman off as he set sail in his ship that he has been building in the skies, a copy of his model HMS Victory, and that’s the only thing that matters and no amount of sour looks is going to dampen that feeling.