Whose Funeral? It’s Your Funeral

I’ve been thinking about the lines in No Man is an Island, that we are all diminished by one person’s death. What exactly does it mean? That we are all mortal? Or that a little bit of us is chipped away when someone we love dies?

Therefore never send to know for whom

the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.

It’s true; every time someone we love dies we feel a little bit of us is chipped away; a part of us cut out and thrown into the fire. It reminds us, too, of our own mortality – something most of us would rather forget, and yet we are never more alive than when we are aware that life is limited. If we had endless time, imagine what we could do – yet what would we do? I suspect we’d simply sit around like the Captain of the Golgafrincham ship in HitchHiker’s, order another G&T and put some more hot water in the bath. Mozart died at 24 and look how much work he did! We should act like there’s no tomorrow. Then again, as this Peanuts cartoon points out, that doesn’t work for everyone.

It was Lynne’s funeral yesterday. Because of lockdown we weren’t able to go; attenders were limited to 25 in the church and nobody was allowed to sing, so those of us on zoom had to belt out the hymns – which we did, though I’m not sure if anyone could hear us. It was a very moving service and surprisingly cathartic – for us at least. They also had one of my favourite poems: Wordsworth’s heartbreaking sonnet Surprised by Joy.

Everyone deals with grief in their own way and everyone has their own ideas of how to go about it. You mourn, then when you think you’re done mourning, you mourn some more – and then some more. But then we must live. If death teaches us one thing, it’s this:

Carpe diem. Live.

Kirk out

A Senior Moment?

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OK I’ll be honest: I qualified for a Senior Railcard more than a year ago but didn’t get one.  I resisted; I put it off, partly I wondered whether I used the trains enough to justify the expense but mainly, if I’m honest, it was seeing that ‘S’ word that stopped me filling in the form and stumping up my thirty quid.  But now I guess the sting of hitting sixty has faded a little (life in the fast lane, eh?) plus I’ve made a conscious decision to drive less and take the train more, so here we are: yesterday I filled in the form, stumped up the cash and received confirmation which seemed to be competing to get the most repetitions of the word ‘Senior’ in one email.  Dear SENIOR citizen, thank you for applying for your SENIOR railcard now that you are a SENIOR person.  Get all the SENIOR benefits from you SENIOR card… OK, I get it!  I am now Senior.  I am having a Senior Moment and will go on having one for quite some time.

When I was young the elderly used to be called Senior Citizens if you were being polite and old people if you weren’t, but nowadays nobody is actually ‘old’ because being ‘old’ is next-door to being dead and no-one wants to talk about that.  Death has long since replaced sex as the great taboo; we postpone it for as long as possible (no death before seventy, please) and most of us never see it happen.  Death is tucked away in clinical environments, hidden from view: even accidental or criminal death is very soon hidden behind forensic tents and crime-scene tape and few of us actually witness the death of a loved one.  My sister and I insisted on staying with our mother when she died (she’d been unconscious for ages) and though it was hard, I’m glad we did.  It was peaceful and I’m sure it helped the grieving process.

In the midst of life we are in death.  Oo look, I’ve gone all biblical now: but I think that’s something we tend to ignore.  We have an uneasy relationship with the dead, being unsure how to commemorate their passing (do we dress in black and look sad?  Do we wear bright colours and celebrate?) and funeral corteges go at quite a clip compared to when I was a child, so as not to hold up the traffic; after all we can’t have the dead inconveniencing the living, can we?

I have to confess, I’m not a fan of the ‘wear bright colours and celebrate’ trend.  I dislike being told to ‘wear bright colours’ (though to be fair, I dislike being told what to wear in general) because there’s an implication that one is being told how to feel – and I may not feel like being glad and celebrating: the mourning gets squeezed out, somehow, in these events.  But then I’m not a huge fan of everyone wearing black and being deadly serious.  There should be laughter and joy as well as mourning.

It’s hard ain’t it?

But this remains one of my favourite funeral scenes, containing as it does both laughter and sadness, joy and grief – and of course, poetry:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bPgkl2dPqGw

Kirk out

 

 

 

 

Everybody’s Dead Dave

So begins the first episode of that classic sitcom, Red Dwarf – and it also sums up how I’m feeling at the moment.  Everybody’s dead, Dave – aren’t they?  They’re dropping like flies at the moment; first Bowie and Lemmy and then Alan Rickman and that composer guy, Peter Maxwell Davies and now Patsy Byrne (Nursie in Blackadder) and – hang on, there was someone else – Cliff Michelmore, was it?  (It was, and bloody hell! he was 96!)  Basically everyone I grew up with is either dead or dying.  And it strikes me that it’s a bit like what happens in your family.  In the normal course of things you first experience death when one of your grandparents goes, usually in your teens.  That’s what happened to me: my grandma died when I was about fourteen and although my granddad survived her by nearly thirty years he went before either of my parents.

And so it is with famous people: the news comes on and your parents go, ‘Oh!  Alvar Liddell’s dead!’  You are vaguely aware of Alvar Liddell, who used to be a newsreader (I always thought his name was Al Varleydell) but it doesn’t really affect you because old Al wasn’t someone you grew up with.  He belonged to a different generation.  But when the immortal David Bowie dies; when actors and singers and film stars and TV presenters who were fixtures; immovable parts of your own childhood or adolescence – start to pop off; well, that’s a different story.  It’s like your parents dying.  And it strikes you when your parents die that basically, pal, you’re next.  It’s you in the firing-line now; no-one standing between you and death.  When the Grim Reaper comes around it’s your turn.

Sorry to be maudlin.  I don’t mean to be: but the reality is, we all have to die.  So the sooner we accept this as a fact, the better.  We’re kind of weird about death nowadays; it’s almost replaced sex as the great taboo, and I’m quite uneasy about it.  It’s one thing to have a long and fulfilled life; it’s quite another to have a long, boring and incontinent old age.  I’d sooner go when I was in the midst of things.

And because we don’t quite know what to do about death, our funerals are often quite odd.  I’ve noticed recently that funeral corteges go much faster than they used to, and that what used to be a sombre affair can now be a colourful celebration of someone’s life.  That’s not wholly a bad thing, and yet – I have an uneasy feeling that something is left out.  I once went to the funeral of a young man who had committed suicide, where everyone wore bright colours and celebrated his life.  It seemed quite startlingly inappropriate to me.

So I’ve brought all these ideas together in a poem, called ‘Funeral.’  It begins:

When no-one can slow down for death

the hearse speeds up a shade

the carriage touching twenty-six

so no-one gets delayed.

Just grave enough for dignity

a gesture to eternity.

The more learned among you may recognise a reference to Emily Dickinson there.

Kirk out