On the evening that Dunc died, he left for football while Sam, Thomas and I were eating tea. He kissed each of us in turn and told us that he loved us. Dunc did this every week before football, and every day before work. It was something that I had strongly encouraged, having worked closely with a family who hadn’t had a chance to say a proper last goodbye to their child. Dunc was always a little bemused by my somewhat fatalistic approach, but understood its basis. Our heartfelt goodbyes had grown to be one of our family traditions. Sitting in complete shock and disbelief in the relatives’ room at Warwick Hospital later, I felt a huge sense of relief that we had at least said a proper goodbye.
During the course of the evening, I was able to take my time to say goodbye to Dunc again. Initially, I held his hand and told him how much we all loved him. I assured him that I would do my absolute best to take care of the boys and to do the things that we always planned to do with them. I believe that his spirit had left his body by this point. Instead, I felt he was standing just behind me, wishing that he wasn’t the cause of such heartache and distress. As time passed, Dunc’s parents and sister arrived and said their goodbyes too. I wanted to be the last to leave. In fact, I didn’t want to leave him at all, but I knew that it had to happen at some point. My brother drove me home through the darkness, as I tried to make sense of the events that had unfolded since Dunc had told us that he loved us, just five hours before.
In the following days, I decided to go and visit Dunc in the chapel of rest. It is not something I have ever even contemplated doing before, but my lasting image of him at that point was one of him surrounded by medical paraphernalia and the evidence of the aggressive treatment that he had endured during the fight to save his life. It troubled me. My amazing friend, who had supported me at the hospital on the evening of Dunc’s death, visited him first. She explained to me that he looked very peaceful, and I decided to go too. I am so relieved that I did. The image of Dunc in that hospital bed is one that I see sometimes when I am tired and unable to sleep, but the image of him resting peacefully, in his favourite casual clothes that I had chosen for him, is a much more positive final memory.
I began to turn my attention to planning Dunc’s funeral. There was a delay, caused by an initially inconclusive post mortem result and a bank holiday weekend, and it gave me time to make sure that the service was just right. After all, my wonderful husband deserved a great send off and it was really the last thing I could do for him directly. The difficulty was that, unlike my mother, who has spent the last thirty years giving me instructions about which song/poem/person she wants at her funeral, Dunc had never mentioned his. He was too busy enjoying life to contemplate its end.
I was very relieved to find instructions for cremation recorded in Dunc’s Will. Although he was an agnostic, I felt that he would be happy for the rest of us to remember him in the village church in which he and I were married less than seven years earlier. If Dunc wasn’t impressed with the religious aspect, he would at least have appreciated the fact that the three hundred mourners would never have fitted into the local crematorium, where family, close friends and I went with him afterwards. (The church service had to be relayed outside to ensure that everyone who had come could hear it – a great indication of Dunc’s popularity).
I had decided that the Imperial March, by John Williams, would be ideal for Dunc’s entrance into the church, as he and the boys enjoyed many lightsaber duels to it. The funeral director, however, politely told me he thought it was ‘a bit heavy’. This presented me with a dilemma. I had great respect for him, and he clearly knew a thing or two about organising funerals, but this was the piece that meant something to Dunc and the boys. As I discussed the problem with two close friends one evening, Thomas was suddenly heard singing it loudly in his bed over the baby monitor. The decision was made!
The music began as we were walking up the path into church behind the coffin, carried by six of his friends, and it made me smile. The fact that we could have organised a pallbearing relay to take Dunc on laps around the churchyard, because he had so many friends who wanted to do it, struck me at this point and it made me smile too. After that, I got through the service without tears. In fact, I sang loudly and listened intently to the stories from his family and good friend. (Well, as intently as you can when your three year old is lying on the floor in front of you, making patterns on the kneelers, whilst asking, “Are they going to get Daddy out of his special box in a minute?”). The vicar read my reflections about Dunc on my behalf and we sang Swing Low Sweet Chariot as a nod to his love of sport. The coffin left the church to Jack Johnson’s ‘Better Together’. It had almost been the song for our first dance at our wedding, except that we found we couldn’t dance to it. This time there was no need for dancing.
Following Dunc’s funeral, one of his closest friends posted on Facebook, ‘You and the boys have made Dunc a very proud man today’. The father of one of my school friends, who had come to represent her, said, “If there can be such a thing, this was the best funeral I have ever been to.” The fact that we were holding and attending a funeral for Dunc at all, was all wrong. The least I could do for him was to get our final goodbye right.