We (family) went to the UK last weekend to have a memorial and ash scattering for my estranged granduncle who I never met; most of us had never met him. He was separated from from my granddad when they were about 3 and almost never spoke again. Estranged granduncle had no family nor close friends, so it fell on us to tie up the loose ends.
The event was held outside London in the hinterlands of middle England. A place I had never seen before and hope to never see again; a never ending suburbia of pleasant emptiness where a person could disappear for decades. The hotel was grim (the people in the room next to me screamed at each other aggressively all night) and the food was even worse, after a few days we forgot that food could bring joy, perhaps we forgot what joy was at all.
Estranged granduncle lived in a cute little house that was last decorated in the 1970s. His mother (my great-grandmother) lived with him until she died in 1983, at that point he stopped looking after the house, and for the next 40 years it would slowly fill with trash until he spent his final years on an electric blanket in the corner of his mums old room surrounded by rats and rotting ready-meals.
His mothers clothes were untouched in her wardrobe, still in the dry-cleaners bags from when she last had them cleaned; her jewellery was still hanging up waiting to be used; the flower curtains she must have picked and stained with cigarette smoke were still there when I stepped into the room, long after cleaners had taken out 6 tons of rubbish. Her ashes had sat in a plastic bag in that room for 40 years too.
We drove down a sketchy lane in a Bolt taxi, past a cement factory and an angry dog. Then we walked, with the ashes in our arms like newborns, down a long tree lined road to a place estranged granduncle had liked. We found a spot by the lake, with flowers and swans; we took the ashes of estranged granduncle and great grandmother in our hands and took turns throwing them into water.
Maybe it was sunny when we started, but when we were done the sun seemed brighter. One of the many sad stories of our past and of middle England had come to an end. We will never return to that place.