A week has passed since the funeral of our farmer and I am looking back and reflecting. One of the hardest things about any funeral service, or service of remembrance, is listening to the eulogy. You often learn so much more about the person in that one speech than you might in a lifetime of acquaintance. Even with good friends or relatives, the people who have lived closest with them, on a daily basis, are really the only ones who know the person well. I always end up feeling slightly cheated, that I wish I had spent more time with them, that I wish I had asked them more questions, had more conversations. But suddenly it is too late. Time has been called and you've missed your chance.
We learnt some details of the farmer's life and character that we hadn't known before: the fact that his farm and farmhouse was the very same in which he was born and brought up; the fact that his own father died at 64 (just one year younger than himself) and how devastated he was and how, at a young age, he took on the work of the farm full time. We heard the stories of him as a lad, more interested in the sheep and the dairy herd than in his schoolwork; how he would hide in the meadows and do almost anything to avoid being locked in a classroom. We heard tales of mischief and tales of his dedication to his own family and close friends: how he would take his own son around the daily duties of the farm just like his father before him; how he loved nothing better than cooking and eating in his own farmhouse kitchen with those he loved most around him; how he relished his Sunday roasts and freshly shot game (if you were a vegetarian at the wake, you would have gone hungry); how he loved his horses and traps, his rare breed sheep and all the traditional, old-fashioned methods of farming. He could be a rascal and a bit of a bugger too, but always with his pipe in his mouth and a twinkle in his eye. It was no surprise, then, when it came to lowering his coffin into the frozen ground, it wouldn't fit. They tried every which angle, but to no avail. As his widow said, it was as if he was shouting 'I'm not bloody going in there!' and in the end she was reduced to shouting out 'Has anyone got a crowbar?' before suggesting stamping on it herself. Humour to the end. What a fitting tribute.
In sadness, joy can usually be found, if you look hard enough. As I have driven up and down our lane this snowy week, passing their farmhouse at the end of it down by the village pub, I have often thought of the family left behind. Yet though a huge part of it is missing in person, the spirit is still there. The son is taking on the farming duties around his job as an electrician - as he has been doing anyway throughout his father's illness. He surrounds himself with his mates who come and help him when they can - a bunch of lively young lads who stumbled out of the pub, slipping and sliding in the snow, on the way to the church laughing and saying 'You'd never believe we're going to a f****** funeral'. Death is not something the young usually fear even if it brushes close by them. Even if you have secret worries about it (as I have done from the age of 13 - an unhealthy preoccupation with the passage of time), you can reassure yourself that you've probably got a few years left yet and can shove those darker thoughts to the back of your mind. But the truth is, none of us know when our number will be up. For that reason alone, it is so important to try and find joy every day - in the simple tasks of life, in the world that surrounds us, in our family, and in our friendships. For me that is perhaps the truest definition of 'living life to the full'. Every day we wake up and see the sun rise is a bonus, every day we see the sun set is a blessing. The rhythms of life will go on long after we are gone. While we are here, we should simply try and enjoy them. The farmer enjoyed his life and there is much we could all learn from his simple priorities: family, food, farming, fun. It was a kind of no-fuss life as far as I can see, and a wonderful tonic in a world that, in these modern times, too often spins too fast.
Thursday, 9th December 2010