It’s Your Funeral: the D-Word

We seem to be undergoing something which I am resisting calling a sea-change – let’s call it a land-change – on how to mark death.  Death as a subject is almost as taboo as sex used to be when I was young: it’s considered in poor taste to bring it up in polite conversation.  You can talk about illness all you like, but don’t mention the d-word.  On the other hand there is an explosion of public grief at events like the anniversary of the Manchester bombing.

Let me say this at once: the Manchester bombing and other similar events are terrible.  It could easily have been our daughter had she been a few years younger, and the targeting of young people is particularly horrible.  That those directly affected should show grief in public is entirely understandable.  But as Matthew Parris pointed out yesterday:

(it’s about 21 minutes in)

the stiff upper lip has gone and is replaced by almost compulsory public grief.  I can’t summon up much grief for the passing of the SUL, and yet I think somehow things have got a little out of control.  Private grief is probably best expressed privately, by which I don’t mean on your own with a box of tissues (unless that is genuinely best for you) but shared with friends, family members or counsellors.  However that is entirely different from feeling compelled to express emotion at events which don’t affect us in the slightest (Tony Blair comes irresistibly to mind here.)  It’s not enough to care; you must show that you care, and the best way to do that is by shedding a tear.  If you’re being interviewed about some crisis in your life, better cry a little – that way people will take it more seriously.  They will ‘feel your pain.’

On the other hand, there’s the whole funeral phenomenon.  Funerals used to be a time for wearing black and looking solemn; for walking or driving very slowly behind a big black hearse; for wearing veils and looking at the ground.  But nowadays you’re as likely to be asked to ‘wear bright colours’ and ‘celebrate someone’s life’ – and I can’t help feeling there’s an imbalance in all this.  I dislike enforced cheerfulness even more than I dislike enforced misery: at least when wearing black you could look sad; but now we’re all supposed to be joyful.  I’ve even seen a blue hearse – and don’t even get me started on the speed of the average cortege as it nips down the road.  It’s like the one in ‘A Fish Called Wanda’ (I can’t find a clip but you know what I mean.)

So on the one hand we have ubiquitous grief on the media; on the other we have bright colours and fast hearses.  What is going on?

Kirk out

The Fingerprints of Life – Gaz’s Funeral

We’ve just returned from paying our respects to Gaz, the popular owner of Fingerprints cafe who died in a road accident a couple of weeks ago.  The whole area has been in shock: Gareth was only in his thirties; his parents were still alive; he had, as they say, his whole life in front of him.  And then one night an accident on a lonely highway took that all away.  In the midst of life we are in a road traffic accident – and suddenly the whole of Clarendon Park is in shock.

The cafe reopened after a few days; then a note appeared in the window saying that the funeral cortege would pass by at 11 am on the morning of Tuesday 29th.  Holly and I went down: as Fingerprints was closed we first had tea on the terrace of the delightful Salvador Deli and by the time we crossed the road a large crowd had gathered.  In the end there must have been over 200 people come to pay their respects.  They lined both sides of the road and many of the local shops had closed so that the staff could attend.  Then the cortege came, slowly, slowly, with a man in full fig walking in front.

I hadn’t expected to find it so moving.  Before the cortege even reached us, I was in tears, and by the time it drew level I was sobbing.  I turned to see that Holly, too, was weeping, as were most of the crowd.

Then the whole street went silent.  It was like Princess Diana’s funeral when the whole of London came to a standstill: I remember my parents were driving up on the M1 and they said all the cars slowed down and moved at the same speed as a mark of respect.  The cortege stopped to take on an arrangement of flowers – the cafe’s tribute – and then it slowly moved off; one entire hearse full of flowers, then another with the coffin, followed by four or five limousines with mourners.

And then it was over.  I came home feeling utterly drained; I don’t know if I even met Gaz, but the event struck a chord with me as it did with so many; not only because of his youth, but because of the kind of cafe Fingerprints is.  We felt like family.  I felt like a mourner.

Kirk out