Sitting nestled between the stench of old Uncle Jack’s body odour and the eye-watering fumes of great Aunt Rose’s whisky breath, I cross my legs and try to make myself as small as possible. Cold from the wooden pew beneath me numbs my backside and creeps into my hip joints and thigh bones. To my left, a bright ray of sunlight streams through a small section of the grand stained-glass window where a piece of coloured glass is missing. If I tilt my head forward even slightly, the sun blinds me, and so I’m forced to lean back and suffer the burning twinge in my lower back.
Yet despite my discomfort, and the fact I’m at a funeral, I am most content.
Some of the congregation, people I know and love, are flooded by a vivid stained-glass rainbow that brightens the dull dress code and lifts the sorrowful mood. As the light bends and reflects, it reveals new dimensions that flicker and glitch.
Words used to describe the deceased sends swarms of neurons through my brain, creating visions of the past and rips in time. I silently mouth the vowels and consonants of these words, and like appetisers at a Michelin Star restaurant, each has its own intoxicating flavour, texture, and aroma. It’s an assault on my senses that leaves me delirious.
A young girl, about six years old, walks towards the lectern and stands under the large crucifix that hangs on the wall behind her. Before taking a deep breath, she glances my way and smiles. Tracing her finger across printed words on a small white card, she reads aloud with startling confidence. ‘My mum was the best mum in the world. I liked it when she made me pancakes for breakfast…and when she pushed me on the swing at the park. My mum’s kisses were the best. I love my mum very much. I will miss her.’
Sobs and sniffles fill the church, and I have to stop myself from clapping. What a brave girl she is. As she’s escorted back to her seat, she looks my way again and sticks her thumb up. I do a double thumbs-up right back. I’m so proud.
An organ plays, and I’m forced upwards to stand and sing, but as I rise my feet lift off the floor.
I float up until I’m hovering over my loved ones who fill the room with their harmonies. But like a helium balloon that’s been let go, their song pushes me through the vaulted ceiling, and I drift above the church, up and away from the town where I was born.
As I cut ties with this world, there is no sadness, only gratitude for the gift I received.
I ascend with increasing speed towards the heavens until at last, the world shrinks to the size of an atom, and I am filled with a warmth and knowing that holds all the answers to the universe.
© Michelle Upton