Wednesday, March 08, 2006

putting the fun in funeral.

I'm the kind of guy who laughs at a funeral
Can't understand what I mean? You soon will

Yesterday it drizzled, upsettingly. Funerals should be held on crisp, clear days - autumn for preference - they always are on police dramas. My family didn't help with the gravitas, as they are constitutionally unable to be serious about anything, and especially so on occasions where solemnity is required. The limo was late, and we stood in the front room of my parents' house nervously awaiting its arrival - the first time the four of us children had been in the same room, without our own children and other halves, since my eldest sister went away to university 18 years ago. We were getting jittery, until Dad (whose brother John we were burying) got irritated. "Look, there's two people they can't start the service without - me, and John." That pretty much set the tone.

The church service was as good as you'd expect, given that the Catholic Church is inherently ridiculous. How I scoffed at last week's A Touch Of Frost, with a Catholic priest who was not either a) mental, b) a repressed homosexual, c) over 80; or the most popular, d) all of the above. Our current Parish priest is David Brent in clerical form. Witness his 'touching' sermon, which made much of the fact my uncle had worked at an overall company, imaginatively called Faithfull Overalls. "It's fitting," he intoned, "that John worked at Faithfull Overalls, because in baptism he wore the overall of the Faithful - the baptismal gown." He smirked at his own pun-tacular ingenuity, like Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward (if marginally less gay) rolled together. "And now, he wears the final 'faithful overall' - the pall." It went on in this vein for another minute and a half, during which time I caught the rolling eyes of all three siblings.

There are so many things I don't like about funerals. I don't like having the body there for a start, which might seem illogical, but really - you're all trying to achieve closure or just remembering the chap as a decent old stick, but it does prey on your mind that his body is mouldering mere yards from you. I'm all about the quiet internment and the public memorial service, frankly - look at Ronnie Barker's memorial service. Plenty of gags, a few rueful, we-won't-see-his-like-agains, and home for cake and tea.

And the modern funeral industry is so tacky. At the crematorium, Mum had chosen some tasteful religious music. This was marred by being played on speakers so loud and bass-filled they can only have been designed to cope with dance music, which I'm sure no-one has played at a memorial service. Surely they don't? I mean, Elvis or whatever is bad enough, but who wants their final fiery progress to be effected to No Good (Start The Dance)? Or some banging drum and bass?

Then there's the mechanical curtain, which squeaks across its rail to hide the coffin and inform you that the alloted 12 minutes are up. And don't even get me started on some of the flower arrangements I saw in the Memorial Garden. My mother has put it on record that if we get her a wreath saying "MOM", she's coming back to haunt us.

I think the problem is really that I, like many other people, don't do emotion on demand very well, and feel like a fraud if I try to pretend something I don't feel. I felt sad for John when I told my sister he died, and also felt ashamed at her (to me) much more genuinely upset reaction. When my mum told me he was dead, I immediately went into journo all-questions-must-be-answered mode, and didn't come out of it for about fifteen minutes.

A few moments did touch me, though: of John's few friends (he never married or had children) who gathered at the crematorium, one of the old duffers tipped his hat at the memorial wreath as he walked away, unseen by anybody but me. It was the appropriate farewell to a well-liked friend - not mawkish or demonstrative, and far better for it.

I held my mother's hand as we drove out of the cemetery, past my brother's grave, and her mother and father's, and I reflected that it could only have been death to tear us all away from life - jobs, and in my elder sister and brother's cases, spouses and young children. And it will probably only be another death that will do so again. Being British, there was only one thing to do - home for tea and cake, and well-worn family stories.


Blogger hangthedj said...

Brilliant post.

When my grandad died a couple of years ago, leaving my Nan a widow at 56, she became obsessed by his grave and hasn't really got over the obsession.

Every time I speak to her I have to sit through at least half an hour of her talking about what plant pots and multi-coloured gravel she has put down. The place is like Groundforce garden.

I think this too is very know the whole, right lets roll our sleeves up and get a project. I much prefer it to all the silly wailing that goes on in these "Continental" funerals though...

3/09/2006 10:43 am  
Blogger Paul B said...

I have a certain perverse fondness for funerals, if only for the fact that it's a rare opportunity for my far-flung family to get together. With vol-au-vents and cheesecake. You may mock, but Peter Kay is indeed accurate in his routine about Northern family events.

There's a florist called Joe who works nearby to me, and he told me that he did a floral arrangement for a funeral the other week. Apparently the older brother of the guy who'd died was affectionately nicknamed in the pub as 'big shite' and thus he became known as 'little shite'. (Don't ask; I didn't.) Therefore Joe was asked to do a wreath that read 'SHITE' for his funeral.

I kid you not.

3/09/2006 10:47 am  
Anonymous Laura said...

Actually, Sean has told me several times that he wants his favourite hard house tune "Bad Ass" at his funeral so I'll bear the worcester crem in mind.

Lovely post though Hel, well written on a difficult topic!

3/09/2006 10:53 am  

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