Monday, 18 January 2010

Reflections On A Funeral

Had to attend a funeral this weekend. Been to plenty before, so not a new experience. But there was something about this one...

It was of a close friend of my parents, whom I remember vividly from my childhood, but I hadn't seen for 25 years or so. Nor had I seen his sons in that time. We had played together because our parents' friendship brought us together on numerous occasions. That neither they nor I had chosen to perpetuate the relationship once we stepped on to our different launchpads into adulthood, was judgement enough on the depth of that friendship.

The deceased parental friend formed part of my parents' 'Card Crowd' circle. Every month for 40+ years, a card evening was hosted in a different home, with drinks, nibbles, poker & cigars for the men, Kalouki and chat for the women who sometimes didn't bother breaking open the deck of cards. In all that time the group suffered their statistical share of divorces, child troubles and illness, but they were of an age where if one of the partners dies, they were young enough to remarry. Same thing with divorces, though that always prompted a tricky issue of which of the man or the woman would be invited to the social evenings. In my father's case, he just spurned the card gathering and saw the odd male outside of such a gathering. I ought to add he is a compulsive gambler so surrendering the card games was actually part of his recovery programme. Before he quit the circle, he did use to attend and just watch and chat. But I think that just became impossible for all concerned.

That's the background. Two things struck me about the gathering at the funeral yesterday. A minor point was that I saw the sons for the first time in 25 years and of course they had all grown into men (as I suppose have I). They were instantly recognisable and yet I still couldn't but see them as frozen in time 25 years ago. The conflicted input of reality and memory were really hard to reconcile and hold in focus. If I don't see them again, will they forever be held in my recollection as children, having edited out this one contradicting image of them? In their religion, they maintain a house of mourning for a week, where prayers are said and people are encouraged to drop round not only to pay respects, but to provide support, company and shared recollections. As a part of the coping process, it works rather well. Having initially concluded that I'd paid my respects to the deceased at the graveside, I have now decided to go to a prayer session later this week. Partly to help fix a new image of them in my head and to purge the frozen one I retain. Inevitably we will catch up, however superficially, with 25 years of life about which we know nothing of one another, apart from what our (proud?) parents may have leaked in that period. But then it will be strange to beat a retreat from the door and probably never see them again in the future? I don't know, but there is a tug to attend all the same. It must have something to do with that suspended state of childhood we all bury under maturation and development. Time to disinter it, even for a fleeting moment.

But the major impression relates back at the funeral. It was packed. I was almost crowd surfed into the hall, such was the pressure of people trying to enter. I am average height, 5'9", yet everyone there seemed smaller than me. Hunched. Old. Grey. Leathered. And it struck me that this time there will be no more remarriages when there is a passing over. On show was a proto-generational cull, waiting in the atrium of the grim reaper. Just a grouping of people who had all reached an age, where they would really begin to be required to attend more and more of these rituals and mark off another one of their peers on five bar gates of death. That was a scary perception and not one limited just to my parents being included, but as I say, that whole generation. And then of course, further down the line, such a similar cull confronts my generation.

The night I've plumped for attending the house of mourning is my birthday. Seemed appropriate somehow.


Anonymous said...

(Speaking of rituals...)

When I attend a funeral, I find it difficult to not make some observations I inevitably want to write about. I find this especially true if it's the funeral of somebody I had no close or direct relationship with - it's a powerful, moving scene, one which you are a part of, but not.

Also, any meeting with death is a sobering, humanising experience. It's a rich experience, if you're a writer. It's difficult to tell if the 'shock' of the funeral is the knowledge that we will one day die, or that we are in fact alive. Your last line suggests that you left with the latter.

Nice little piece, Marc.

Sulci Collective said...

Thanks anon. If you want my honest opinion, it's actually the former as I have a great fear of my mortality. To me it's not a shock of realising you are alive (I wonder at what age that consciousness as a thought process first hits the child- I don't believe it comes a s a shock, but an entitlement since the child believes himself to be the centre of the universe and all creation attends on him). No, not a shock of realising one is alive, but horror/anger at the great cosmic joke - that our consciousness and awareness and sense of self is formed, only to be ripped away from us for eternity. What is the point of that? We produce children, works of art or technology, all which may help the future generations to enjoy a slightly superior quality of life, but redounds no benefit to us once we are moldering in the soil. Our defining acts on earth do not grant us one second of immortality. So what that Van Gogh's name is still held in high regard in the art world, or James Joyce still thrills and inspires and baffles. Any royalties don't accrue to them either.

It's taken a while for the full impact of Nietzsche's pronouncement of god's death to play itself through. But now in the early 21st century, are there any but the most committed of religious believers in the West who believe in an after-life? I can't believe there is and I think this accounts for both an attitude of I'm going to get the maximum I can derive from this one-shot life, as well as a general sense of drift and purposelessness in others.

I don't find this particular cosmic joke terribly amusing.

Thanks for your comments.

Liras said...

Hmmm. Well written.

We have a strange way of coasting on time until literally, we fall off the stream. Our love of life is often ferocious enough that we see ourselves as present, not aged. We can be featured in the local newspaper as the town's oldest person and still, we are not 'old'.

Maybe because even as we lose those we love, life renews itself and courts our senses?

I have never been one to worry about the afterlife, for it is afterward. I think that even if you get a key to your Heavenly abode hand-delivered to you by the Archangel Michael himself, that has no bearing on today.

I am one who says that I don't have time to waste, for it is really all over in a twinkling. Not because the big ol' eternity is waiting, but in spite of it.

I am not out of my 3rd decade yet I have buried a number of people. Everyday, Time hammers into my head that it is slipping away.

I am not laughing at the cosmic reality, either.