After a quiet weekend, both Monday and Tuesday were solemn, even sad days. On Monday, Michal and Andrew had visited June Brough in Wartnaby to tell her and her sister Maureen about the arrest of the student at Nottingham. Both had been pleased and saddened; pleased at the progress in finding the killer, but saddened by the memories of June’s dead son. The rest of Michal’s working day had been routine. Then on Tuesday, at 10.00 am, Michal took his family to the Church of Our Lady of Czestochowa on Sandy Lane for the funeral of the dead Fire Chief – Janek Oskar Adamicz. The congregation was representative of the dead man’s many associations – with the Polish community, the Fire Service and, of course, members of his own family. Michal bowed his head and drank in the strong smell of damp clothing. A choir sang softly in the background, as the coffin, preceded by the Priest and the cross-bearer, was borne into the church by uniformed firemen. The sight of Janek’s widow bravely leading in the family interrupted his reverie. Young Tomasz acknowledged his friend, Jozef. The two of them passed them by as the family made its way through the congregation to the front. Michal and Kasia sat down. Krystyna felt emotional and cuddled sideways to her mother. Michal thought the tenor of the funeral was very comforting in itself. A photograph of Janek was placed at the foot of the coffin with a vase of flowers. It was something to concentrate on. Even the music was familiar, drawn from the Intro of the Mass. The Priest turned to the congregation with the words of the greeting,
“In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.
To which the congregation answered in unison,
The Priest went on,
“The Lord be with you”.
The congregation answered,
“And also with you”.
Michal bathed himself in the ebb and flow of the funeral Mass, as the Priest intoned the comforting words,
“We are here to say goodbye to our dear friend Janek, and to ask God to receive him into Heaven. Let us join in the Mea Culpa,
I confess to almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned through my own fault, in my thoughts and in my words”,
Michal found his mind wandering. He suddenly held an image in his mind of the murderer sobbing in his cell. He shook his head. Kasia noticed his discomfort and quietly squeezed his hand. He was grateful for that.
” I ask blessed Mary, ever virgin, all the angels and saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord, our God”.
The Priest continued, as dappled colours from the stained glass window above the altar flooded in to highlight the saddened congregation in blues, reds and yellows,
“We pray for our brother Janek, who has died in Christ. He that was born to Christ is delivered to Eternal Life”.
Michal felt a heavy burden with those words. Could he have done more to help? Could he have saved Janek? His shoulders shook. Kasia put her arm around his waist.
Jozef’s mother moved to the pulpit and began with the first reading. As she finished, the organ swelled into life – a moment when Michal wished to cry, but somehow the notes rang clear, his head cleared, and the choir began to sing the Psalm. The first phrasing “Lord, hear our prayer” was taken up by the congregation joining in appropriately, coping well with the antiphonal aspects of the music - singing in places with something approaching gusto! Michal was impressed – he thought it was a wonderful farewell to a well-respected friend. Janek’s brother, Jozef’s Uncle Czeslaw, read the second lesson from the Epistle of St. Matthew, Chapter 14. Michal began to think how appropriate the words of the ‘burning fire’ and the ‘furnace’ were; and then the Priest encouraged members of the congregation to offer the sign of peace to their neighbour. Michal and Kasia turned round to those seated behind them,
“Pokój z Tobą” – Peace be with you.
The preparation for the Gospel reading was taken up by the choir singing Alleluia three times. The congregation repeated this and then choir and congregation sang three more in unison. The Priest turned to the Gospel and began to read, ending with the words,
“Release him from sin and grant him the freedom of your perfect peace”.
Young Jozef, with a firm, proud voice, invited Michal to say a few words of tribute. Michal got up and stood by the coffin to address the congregation,
“Janek had been an exemplary Fire Chief, and that he gave his life to save that of a young fireman was entirely typical of the man. Janek was a good family man, a devoted husband and father”.
As Michal spoke of Janek’s ambitions, his widow was seen to bury her face in her hands. Her brother-in-law put a protective arm around her, as they listened to Michal carrying on to a solemn finish,
“ We were at secondary school together and I remember his excitement at the brigade visit and his determination that one day he would be a fireman. He was professional and conscientious to the end”.
“Sunday services were never like this”, he thought, as he took his seat. The Priest began the bidding prayer, “Lord graciously hear us” and the Eucharist began. The grieving family were the first to move forward for communion. Janek’s brother, Jozef’s Uncle Czeslaw, was prominent in the front row. As he got up and moved forward, Michal thought how remarkable the family likeness was, that shone out of his face. Then it was Michal’s turn and he ushered his family forward to take the host. As they returned to their seat, Michal and Kasia bent low in deep contemplation for a minute or two. It didn’t take long for the congregation to receive the host. The Priest then moved towards the coffin with an altar boy carrying the holy water and another the incense. The Priest offered prayers, punctuated with the sprinkling of holy water and a shake of the incense cradle. When the time came for the removal of the coffin, the Priest invited an altar boy to carry the cross and they took their place in readiness for the departure of the coffin. The Funeral Director invited the firemen to move forward and then to lift the coffin onto their shoulders. Preceded by the cross and the Priest, the Director steered them expertly towards the rear of the congregation and then to stow the coffin in the hearse. The floral tributes were then placed around it. Michal wondered how such lovely flowers could be produced in early December. Two coaches stood by to carry those in the congregation who wished to attend the committal at Thorpe Road Cemetery. A few private cars also followed. Michal and his family were in the first coach. Michal and Kasia could see the Priest and the Director waiting until the mourners were in the car and then got in themselves. The driver put a container in the boot before the cortege moved off, down Ankle Hill, over the bridge and then right into Mill Street to the Thorpe End where they negotiated a badly parked chimney sweep’s white van, before crossing into Thorpe Road. The cortege passed the entrance to St. Mary’s Hospital where Janek’s body had been taken after the fire. Five more minutes and the Thorpe Road Cemetery was reached. No one on the coaches moved until the coffin was aloft and the mourners following it and the Priest.
At the graveside, Michal found himself standing next to Janek’s brother, Czeslaw. Kasia was behind young Jozef with Tomasz and Krystyna standing at her side. The Priest took the holy water from the container and sprinkled it over the coffin. He blessed the grave and led the mourners in short prayer,
“We now have the sad duty to commit his body to the earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, until he shall arise again on the Day of Judgement. May our brother be with You in the glory of your Kingdom on the last day. Amen”.
The Priest was handed a box of soil. He took a small handful and threw it onto the coffin with a silent prayer of committal. The rest of the mourners threw soil, if they wished – and most did. Michal and his family threw soil and stepped aside. Michal and Kasia were soon joined by Janek’s widow who came up to them and thanked them for their support. Michal and Kasia shook hands with her. Jozef and young Tomasz were like two old gentlemen, greeting each other with a handshake. Indeed, they had both grown in stature and understanding through this process of grief and sadness. Jozef went to shake Michal’s hand, but hugged him instead. Michal patted the boy’s shoulder. The boy’s mother smiled, and said warmly,
“dziekuje!” “Thank you!”
The company bowed their heads in silent prayer, and the Catholics among them concluded by making the sign of the cross. The firemen moved off first, followed by the chief mourners, and then the rest. As Michal and Kasia walked towards the gates with their children, a fire engine with lights flashing pulled up on the roadside. The fire crew were about to board a coach, but now they were diverted to the fire engine for an emergency. Once aboard, the engine moved off, making a u-turn in the cemetery entrance, and racing off towards the town. As Michal and his family boarded the coach, they could still hear the bells ringing.
The coaches brought everyone back for the wake in the Polish Club, next door to the Church. Jozef and his mother were at the door to greet everyone,
“Inspector Kaczynski, Mrs Kaczynski”, his mother said, “How lovely of you to attend. And Tomasz – thank you for being such a good friend of Jozef”.
Jozef felt awkward for a moment, but the next he and Tomasz were away into the hall together. The three Kaczynskis found a table to sit at, and Krystyna was first to go and inspect the food. She turned her nose up at krupnik – couldn’t stand the smoked meat. The hors d’oeuvres were more to her liking, jajeccznica, scrambled eggs with dill; oeliwka w boczku, deep fried plum in bacon. The main dishes were golabki, cabbage parcels stuffed with mushrooms and meat, or kielbasa, tasty sausages with ogorek kiszony, pickled gherkins. Krystyna’s mouth watered at the sweets, faworki, pastry twists, and makowiec, sweet poppy cake. There was a plate piled high with paczki, doughnuts. Krystyna returned to her parents and her brother to make her report. As she sat down, a group of musicians started their repertoire. Piano, guitar and a pair of violinists soon had the company singing along. In the background, Michal noticed Jozef’s mother supervising the filling of two hampers with an assortment of food from the tables. Michal heard her giving instructions that they be delivered to the Fire Station. Michal had a quick word with Kasia and then strode over to offer help,
“My car is nearby, if you should need some assistance”, he said.
“Really, that’s most kind. If you could take one of the hampers, or even both, it would be very useful”.
“Of course, I can take both. Do I ask for a name at the Fire Station?”
“No, just say from Janek and family – they’ll know who you mean”.
Uncle Czeslaw, as Michal called him, helped him carry out the hampers, one by one, because they were quite heavy,
“Are you on your own, you’ll have to ask one of the firemen to help?”
“I’ll sort it, thanks”.
Michal put the Car in gear and pulled away, taking a left into Warwick Road and down Dalby Road. He turned towards Melton and used Wilton Road to the roundabout then the Nottingham Road exit. The Fire Station was just beyond the Cattle Market and Michal pulled into the forecourt but well away from the main doors. He tapped on the door at the side and a youngish fireman came out to help him with the hampers. Safely stowed, Michal thanked him and then retraced his route to the Wake.