Today I had the day off work to go to my Uncle Pete’s funeral. Pete was born on the 18th October 1956 and died on the 23rd April 2012. Pete was my dad’s youngest brother, and younger brother to Carol and Rob as well. I didn’t see Pete when he suddenly went down hill, on the 20th of April. That weekend, I was reading at the Women’s Poetry Festival in Grasmere, but I couldn’t get the image of my auntie Joanne, their daughter Vicky and Pete’s brothers, sister and their partners sitting at his bedside until he died.
This is the poem I read at the funeral today. I won’t publish this anywhere else, but I thought I would put it up here as a tribute to Pete.
They Could Not Follow You
They could not follow you. They learnt this quickly.
But they could stand in the dark with you and hold
your hand, or light the way for you, with torches,
lanterns, candles, whatever came to hand.
They could tell the stories for you, the coal wagon,
the wheel, how you survived, remember how
you used to run your hands along their shelves
pretending to look for dust, the joke you played
involving a coffee cup and a toilet, the wisecracks,
the windups, the time Joanne fell in a bog
and you laughed and laughed, then hooked
her elbow with your hand and pulled her out
before she fell, the black cat Vicky bought
from Cumbria that made you smile, how you used
to love to go and watch the boats at Poole,
a husband, father, brother, uncle, an ordinary man.
There is a river to cross, a ferry man to pay,
but the last thing you said was that you knew
where you were going, and the bed became
a raft they made to send you on your way.