When I offered to write (and read) it, I had no idea of the time it would take. The emotions it would spark. The sleepless early hours, anxious that everybody who should be included. The crafting of emails to other grieving relatives, gathering in as much information as possible, from every part of her life.
And the gnawing sensation in the stomach, a reminder that you'll be reading this out, in front of your step mum's coffin, in front of everyone who loved her.
It is the most difficult thing that I have ever had to write.
It started like a wraith, a transparent, untouchable, uncontrollable concept that I couldn't pin down.
After hours of writing and scribbling out and scrunching up, it eventually became more tenable, workable, visible. I eventually settled on a tone that I thought was appropriate to her, and my 'audience.' I felt that, when it came to the crunch, I just wouldn't be able to read out a mournful saga of how much we all missed her, what a cruel disease MND is, how unlucky she was to have had it - so I made it light hearted. I chucked a few jokes in. I talked about her sports car which constantly broke down - so much so that she became friendly with the local guys from the AA; about her disastrous first date with my dad, who only saved the day by sending her flowers afterwards; about how most recently she liked to join in the conversations of my disastrous love life, tapping out advice on her iPad 'text to speech' app, laughing.
I gathered in stories from her teaching friends about dancing the can-can at the Year 12 review, and going on the Big Dipper at Blackpool with her Year 7s. About how, despite not being able to move anything apart from her hands, she ALWAYS beat us at cards.
It was only at the last paragraph, when I knew it was safe for me to break down, to blubber uncontrollably, that I could talk more emotionally:
Motor Neurone Disease is perhaps one of the cruellest ways to end a life, but A bore the disease with courage and spirit. She must have had dark days, but whenever we saw her, she was just ‘A’ - always bright-eyed, smiling, immaculately dressed. And when we remember her, we will think not of MND, but about that elegant woman with the fur collar and the long legs. The talented teacher. The card sharp. The do-er of crosswords and sudokus. The linguist. The lover of sea and sunshine.
We will all miss her.
Her funeral was yesterday, I read it, I cried, it's done.
And I got this from my Dad today, which made me cry again.
I was so proud of you yesterday.
I know how you were feeling, but you held it together brilliantly.
I had to keep my eyes closed – I daren’t look at you.
But everyone loved the Eulogy itself and the brave way you delivered it.
The catch in your voice at the end was noticed by the audience, and that for many was the crowning touch.
I was surprised but so pleased when D called for the congregation to applaud.
You deserved it.
Lots and lots of love
PS (Post Crypt): Crematoriums on Trip Advisor
On a different note: I've been to a few crematoriums in recent years and, by jove, they vary tremendously. Yesterday's - Lodge Hill in Birmingham - comes highly recommended. If they reviewed crematoriums on Trip Advisor, I'd give it 5 stars. The chapel really was like a little church - clean and bright and intimate. It's an enormous place with a lot of dead people rolling up, but we didn't feel pressured to get out or move on before we were ready. The graves and memorials were well tended.
In short, even though it was a place for dead people to come - it was very much alive.
The worst crematorium I've ever been to was in Luton. It was like sitting in a dusty school gym; cobwebs all over the ceiling, sparse, unloved. We might as well have been in an empty warehouse, sitting on crates. I thought: this is appalling. We are saying goodbye to someone who died in tragic circumstances, loved by so many - and the curtain that surrounds her coffin is stained by God knows what.
The deal is this, I guess. If you choose to go down the cremation route, you are funnelled to whichever crematorium your funeral directors work with. The local one. It makes perfect sense - except that, with other big events (weddings, for example), you can choose where you get married. The world is your oyster. And think about schools - you have carte blanche (almost) to choose which school your child goes to.
So why are crematoriums not reviewed somewhere? Why can't we choose where we're burnt? After all, most of us will end up in a crematorium sooner or later. I can see it now - "www.cryptadvisor.com - plan your perfect goodbye".