He was devastated when his friend Jim died. He had died by his own hand and there was nothing Mark could have done to stop it. He wanted to know why, wanted answers to questions that his friend could no longer give him. He pondered on this until it nearly drove him mad.
He had known Jim's wife Maura for years before their marriage broke up then had met her again at the funeral. A funeral that he did not feel comfortable at as Jim and his family were atheists and the service was so very different from anything he had ever experienced. His friend's young children were there dressed impeccably. Their manner similar, their father was dead, gone forever and as they did not believe in any God or an afterlife then there was no more he could do for them or them for him. A few words of comfort were spoken by a man who had never met Jim, words which comforted no one; so when he had finished talking Mark took the stand and spoke about his friend whom he had loved, talked about the wonderful times they had together. Talked about all the things his friend had done to help others in his life but knowing he could not use the word God as Maura watched him intently.
Mark was not very religious, never attended mass anymore but had been brought up in the Catholic Church and had always liked the ceremony around death. The wake he found beautiful as it gave the people a chance to say goodbye to their loved one. He had remembered his mother's. They had laid her out in her best dress, put rosary beads in her hands and she lay there in peace. The neighbours, friends and relations had come at all times of the day and night to tell stories of her life. He laughed at some of them as they saw his mother in a very different light than he had and told the stories as if he was just another adult not her child.
They had then carried her coffin from the house on the morning of her funeral, carried it all the way off the town land that she had lived in her entire life. From there it was taken to the local church where a man who knew her well talked about her. A priest that had seen her in the very same church most days of her life as she prayed for the pain of her friends that were alive and the souls of her friends that had passed on.
'Hope you are not expecting them all back to come to your funeral,' he had remarked one day when she got her self ready to go to yet another funeral.
She didn't answer just smiled that smile of contentment of one that was at peace with both herself and her God.
At her funeral he watched as every family in the community was represented by a least one member as they lined up and sympathised with him and his siblings. All such beautiful words of comfort for a woman they had admired and respected all their lives and even though he had not always seen eye to eye with her as she had a harsh streak that had impacted on his life, he was indeed comforted.
They then took her to the graveyard to be buried with his father. His father had been a good man but harsh too. He knew his parent's marriage had disintegrated at a time when society didn't see women as much more than the child bearer and rearer which left a lot of women frustrated.
After they left the graveyard they headed to the local hall where women had made tea and sandwiches for the family, friends and neighbours. As he had smoked outside later he felt happy with how she was sent off to the next world.
Jim's funeral was so different. It was in a hall. He didn't get a chance to speak to anyone there as everything seemed so disjointed or was it because he liked the ritual of his religion which he didn't practice. A religion that followed the belief that the soul stayed with the body for three days after the death and so the family and friends must stay with the body, a religion that believed that the soul then stayed in the community for a month so therefore they needed to remind everyone that the soul was about to depart the community and therefore they had another ceremony - a mass.
A few weeks after Jim's funeral Mark woke one morning feeling bereft and he had a burning desire to talk to someone about his friend's life.
He jumped out of bed and straight to the laptop to book a flight to visit Scotland.
He arrived in Glasgow on a wet wintery morning and was met by Jim's wife in her Mercedes sports car. A convertible which probably never got the chance to be converted he thought as they drove through the streets to her home in the suburbs. He wanted to talk openly about Jim; he needed closure on his friend's life, closure that he hadn't got at his funeral. He had told Maura the story of his mother's funeral as they sped to her house. She wasn't interested as she hated all religions but she was a nice pleasant woman and listened to him.
'You know my parents didn't have a happy marriage.' He had continued. 'I visited my father's grave for twenty years before my mother was buried with him. I always felt his presence there so I went often to be with him.' Maura didn't answer but he continued for his own sake not hers. 'Then when my mother died I went to their grave and there was nothing there, neither his nor her energy. It was as if he had waited on her all that time and she had then left with him!'
Maura took her eyes of the road for a moment and looked at him as if to say. Don't talk such nonsense.
She was not expecting Jim to be waiting for her anywhere.
They drove in through the electric gates to the mansion she lived in. Jim and Maura had made a lot of money in property and the fruits of life they believed ended in this one.
She showed him around the beautiful house right up to the attic to where the children had the biggest toy room he had ever seen with every toy any child could ask for.
Later, after they had talked for hours about Jim, he went with her to pick the children up from school, then they all had tea together. As he finished the eldest child, a six year old boy asked,
'Would you like to see our toy room?' in the most commanding tone he had ever heard in a child.
He looked at him and then his sister who had joined her brother beside his chair.
'I would love to,' he had replied.
The mother said nothing as he was led out into the huge hallway and up the magnificent stairs to the first floor. Half way up the third flight of stairs to the attic they both turned at the same time and faced him. They were a few steps ahead so therefore met him at eye level.
He stopped and for a moment there was silence. Then the little boy asked,
'Where is our father?'
He was shocked, not only with the question but with the unquestioning belief they both had that he had the answer.
'He is in heaven,' he replied without thinking of the consequences as to what would happen if they told their mother.
'Is he with God?' the little girl then asked.
'Yes,' he replied, 'God is looking after him and you can talk to him anytime you like.'
The boy turned and looked at his sister, she held his gaze for a moment and he nodded then said,
'Please don't tell our mother what we asked . And we shall never tell her what you have just told us . Now let us show you our playroom.'
The playroom was shown, he told us, and I looked at everything as though I had never seen it before and then we returned to the sitting room. I left shortly after knowing that I had gotten what I had come for and, I think, so had Jim's children.
He stopped for a moment, looked at us then said .. I have often wondered who was it that directed me there!