Attending your own husband’s funeral is an experience you never tend to imagine and not at the age of 36. But strangely, my husband's funeral was one of the proudest moments of my life.
After the death of Craig, as my body and brain were spiralling from the shock, you might imagine I spent the days following lying in the fetal position with no ability to do a thing. But that wasn’t the case at all. As soon as my thoughts turned to the funeral I was a woman on a mission.
Looking back now I think the funeral gave me something to focus on when my life felt totally out of control.
I knew really early on how I wanted the day to be. While what was happening to Heidi and I was deeply sad and awful beyond belief, I was determined to ensure that Craig’s funeral was a celebration. A celebration of the larger than life character he was who never failed to tell anyone that he loved them, a celebration of our relationship and the deep love we shared, and a celebration of the incredible father he was to our gorgeous girl. It was all I wanted, and all Craig deserved.
So with that in mind I got planning.
Planning for a funeral is a busy time. Choosing photos, songs, a celebrant, flowers, people to speak, and notifying everyone as to when the funeral would take place - which was confusing and at times stressful as Craig’s body was with the Coroner’s Court and I had no idea when he would be back. But once we had the okay we were able to set everything in place.
In the lead up to the day it’s interesting what you focus on. For some reason I became obsessed with what I would wear. Earlier in the week I naturally assumed I would wear black because isn’t that what widows do? But it didn’t feel right. I was in no state to shop, so I went to my cupboard and found a gorgeous blue dress hanging there. I had purchased it recently for a lunch date that Craig and I were going to attend, but we didn’t make it the first time because I had the flu, and the second time...well we didn’t make it for more obvious reasons. But I remember trying the dress on and showing Craig and he told me I looked beautiful, so it seemed fitting that my dress would finally get a run, though not in the circumstances I ever expected.
I woke the morning of Craig’s funeral in a very stunned and tired state. The very idea of attending your husband’s funeral is so surreal and that morning it set off a big sense of dread in me. For someone who can feel relatively in control over my emotions, I was anxious about how I was going to cope in the moment - would this be the moment I broke? The idea of that was terrifying and overwhelming.
I was very quiet all morning. My sister tried to feed me and a couple of dear friends had decided to help me with some hair and makeup. When it came to hair and makeup I think I was clutching at straws, hoping that if I looked good, maybe I’d feel good too.
However, while having my hair done a huge wave of panic came over me and I suddenly felt like I couldn’t breathe. I was uncontrollably shaking and started to say to those around me “I’m not going”. The whole concept of a funeral for Craig suddenly seemed so ridiculous that my brain and body were starting to shut down because I couldn’t comprehend it. Amanda, who was doing my hair and had recently lost her own sister, calmed me. Reassuring me that while it was going to be hard, I could do it. I was so grateful for her presence in that moment.
From there I got dressed, dressed our beautiful Heidi and my parents picked me up for what was a pretty silent car trip.
We arrived earlier as I had made the choice that I wanted to be seated before anyone came in, the thought of facing so many people just felt beyond me.
Ushered into a side room we sat and waited. But then Heidi told me she needed the toilet and of course she didn’t want to be taken by anyone else except me. At this point everyone was gathering and I felt like I was walking the gauntlet as I had to make my way through the crowd. I’ve never wanted to hide more in my life as I kept my head down and didn’t stop for anyone, I just couldn’t. I felt so exposed and vulnerable and if I lost it in tears then, I wasn’t sure there would be any coming back from it. I was rattled, panicked and scared.
Finally it was time to be seated in the chapel. It was my first chance to see the coffin with Craig’s body in it . Call it divine intervention but suddenly a huge wave of calm came over me. It was here, it was happening, and my beautiful husband needed to be celebrated. I was going to be okay.
My beautiful cousin Alice offered to sing at Craig’s funeral, which was so touching because she actually sang at our wedding ceremony. The song was ‘Blackbird’ by the Beatles, the very song I walked down the aisle to. But as she started to sing she began to cry and I couldn’t have her standing up there alone, so I went to her and hugged her and assured her it was all okay and she finished beautifully.
Our incredible wedding celebrant also became Craig’s funeral celebrant and Dallas got the show on the road. At the beginning of a funeral I swear you could feel the intensity of it all, but Dallas was gentle and warm and light and just what we needed. Soon there was a lot of laughter and of course tears.
Craig’s family shared stories about an amazing son and brother. Craig’s childhood friends talked about a larrikin kid who was always up to some kind of mischief. Craig’s London mates talked about a guy who was always up for a beer and a good time and always kept them laughing. But the same themes came up over and over again - Craig was simply a man who was full of love. Love for life and all those who were lucky enough to be in his life.
Then it was my turn.
From the moment we got planning I knew I had to speak. There was no other person who could convey my love, my emotion and how special Craig was to Heidi and I, than me. It had to be my words, my voice and I knew I had to do it alone. So when my Mum and sister offered to stand by my side, I said ‘no chance’.
I could feel the deafening silence and a huge wave of emotion hit the room. So with a deep breath, away I went. I will forever be proud of that moment as I shared the love, the laughter and all that I loved about him.
Craig and I had a fun relationship and we poked fun at each other a lot. One of the more recent things that he had done was update his Facebook cover photo to the most ridiculous photo of him dressed head-to-toe in camouflage. I hated that photo, he knew it and deliberately wouldn’t change it to stir me up. So my speech was my last chance to poke a bit of fun at him too when I said,
“It’s incredibly difficult to know what to say at a time like this. And I am upset about many things for many various reasons. Life seems very unfair right now, it really does. But what’s most unfair is that I still haven’t been able to hack his Facebook account to delete his ridiculous camouflage cover photo that’s been embarrassing me for some time now – and I know he will be absolutely loving that.”
It was one of the most brutal but incredible experiences speaking that day, but all I felt was pure pride. For Craig, for Heidi and myself.
Finally the service came to an end. Earlier in the week I decided I didn’t want to walk behind Craig’s coffin with Heidi. Instead, Heidi and I would make our own way out of the chapel before the coffin. To me it was a symbolic that going forward it would be Heidi and I together, on a brand new path.
Following the funeral we gathered at a brewery . There was laughter, hugs, stories shared and the drinks flowed well into the evening. It was such an amazing party with the people we loved most - except we were just missing one pretty crucial person.Craig's funeral was surreal, yet one of the proudest days of my life as we farewelled him with all the love we had and I know he'd also be very proud of that.
Thank you so much to Matt of Hails & Shine Photography for these captures as well as Annette & Dani who filmed the service for me. I couldn’t think of anyone I’d rather shoot a day when I was at my most vulnerable. At the time I wasn’t sure if this was the kind of moment you have captured, but I am so happy I did. They both did it with care, compassion and love and I will treasure these photos and the film always. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Interested in Jo, and her life? Read her post This is me to get to know Jo.