Saturday, 20 April 2013

A Post Funereal

          A friend of mine was recently at a funeral. Fortunately, he
'Overheard In A Graveyard'
wasn't one of the bereaved. He was kindly giving a lift to some neighbours of his who had been friends of the deceased. The opinion of most present, my friend said, reported, was that the whole funeral had been something of an insult to all concerned, alive and dead.

          There was an expensive coffin, a hearse and several funeral cars. There were floral tributes, and a chapel had been hired. There was a service which, my friend said, was embarrassing. The priest obviously had no idea who the person in the coffin had been, and spoke in the most general platitudes. The only thing of interest was the race between the priest and the organist, to see who get through the thing fastest. The speed with which they took corners was quite exhilarating.
          It would have been much more satisfying all round, said my  friend - a Christian, as it happens - if they hadn't bothered with a funeral at all but, instead, everyone had gone down the local pub, (a great favourite of the deceased), had eaten a meal together, had a few drinks, and just talked.
          This account pretty much describes every funeral I've ever attended. I'm always left wondering, 'Why did we bother with that?' Whatever it is we hope to get from a funeral, none of them, in my experience, actually provide it - and yet they are very expensive. The money could be better spent.
          Why pay for the coffin, the hearse, the cars, the flowers, the chapel, the service, take days off work, find baby-sitters and so on, when it leaves most of the attendees feeling cheated?
          Well, people feel it's expected of them. They fear they'll be accused of being monetary, and that neighbours and in-laws will think they didn't care for the dead person unless they hold a funeral. 
          Personally, at family funerals, I've felt almost the opposite - that this meaningless nod to convention didn't begin to express what I felt about the person who'd died - that it was an irrelevance, a distraction, even an interruption to my grieving.
          I have this idea - which I will get around to doing something about one day, honest - that I will arrange and pay for my own funeral while I'm still here. I will say to the undertaker, "All I want you to do is collect the beef from wherever it is, cart it to the nearest crem, and dispose of it legally. No coffin, no hearse, no service, no chapel, no urn, no flowers, no nothing that isn't legally required, or absolutely necessary to move the corpse from one place to another." If anyone surviving me wants to mark my leaving, they can get together down the pub, or at one of their homes, have a meal and a few drinks, and talk. The bill will be much smaller than that for the average funeral, and the experience much more satisfying.
          I apologise to any of my close relatives who may be reading, and may think otherwise, but I honestly wish that's what we'd done when my parents died. Neither of them had ever hankered after 'a good send off.' Indeed, my mother often told us, "Send me flowers when I'm alive and can enjoy them. When I die, put me in a black plastic bin-bag and chuck me in the cut."
          I wish we'd obeyed her - or, as near as the law would have allowed. And then have gathered together somewhere, with a few drinks, and told stories of them, and retold the stories they told us. That would have celebrated my parents and marked their passing in a way that would have gone far beyond the empty ritual that we did endure. I didn't say so, because I didn't think it was the time to have that discussion - my father had just lost his wife, and my sibs had lost their father.

          Of course, my family were, and are, all godless atheists, and might be expected to say things like that - but my friend is a Christian, and he feels just the same about funerals.
          I know this is a sensitive area, and I am not suggesting, at all, that everyone should think as I do. I'm only saying that 'the funeral' is such a strong convention that people are a little shy of defying it, and perhaps people should feel less bound by the idea that they have to go along with it, even when they find the whole performance hollow, even annoying.
          I'd be interested to know what others think. Do you find the conventional funeral comforting or helpful? 


Anonymous said...

This is very interesting Sue. As far as one is personally concerned, I feel like you, that I'll be gone when I'm gone and what good would it do me? So off down the pub with everyone please.

However, we live in FOUR dimensions, if time is included, and we are after all social beings who need a reference point. There is no day when I don't hear or think about the sayings of my Polish father (who you also knew well) and I think it's important to continue to visit the deceased in this way. For that reason, we will often light a candle at the place where his ashes were scattered on the Isle of Man. Actually, the poles (and irish too) often celebrate funerals in the drinking manner you suggest although without the disposal in the local waterway I think.

Large weddings are also overrated in my opinion too, especially as so many partnerships rapidly fail nowadays after a short period. Much better a buffet and bash in the local hostelry and enjoy the time as long as it lasts.

BTW If you are eventually involved in the decision making for me, don't chuck me 'in the cut' but I wouldn't mind being chucked into 'the calf sound' off the Isle of Man. :o)

Manxli (Sue's cousin)

madwippitt said...

A black plastic binbag would have been horrid: had to do some research on the subject of pet burials and it was pointed out to me by a pet undertaker that apart from binbags being non-degradable, the gases from decomposition within them can cause problems too ...
Cremation isn't terribly eco-friendly either: but how about a cardboard or willow coffin buried in a green burial plot? And that way you can have as much or little of a service as you want and no-one will feel the need to dress up either ...

Susan Price said...

I agree, Madwippet. I wasn't actually proposing that people be disposed off in black plastic bags - only quoting my mother. (And she was being flippant, to stress how little she cared about funerals.) The low-key eco-funeral you suggest sounds fine to me.

madwippitt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
madwippitt said...

The not-having-to-dress-up bit rather appeals to me too: just pull on a pair of wellies ...

=Tamar said...

I've been involved with several situations. I favor cremation because after that the ashes can be disposed of legally in any way you choose, including, if you must, the bin bag. Depending on the local laws, it may be possible to avoid the cost of embalming. There are inexpensive cardboard coffins made for cremations, though you may have to be very firm with the undertaker to get one. There are also simple wooden ones made for Jewish funerals. Funerals are separate and I prefer either none or the simplest possible. The "celebration of life" kind is good; it can be held at a convenient time, not necessarily tied to the time of death, and can be exactly what you want, even down to the casual session at the pub. There is no need to involve clergy, since (with cremation) there is no need to buy a plot. Psychologically, though, some people need to have a ceremonial scattering of ashes, but like weddings, it can be made personal.