Sunday, 4 August 2013

What is the point of funerals?

Church of Scotland, Colonsay
Is it to pay one’s respects to the deceased?
Perhaps. But surely the deceased would have preferred a visit from us before they died? Or maybe not?

Is there a health and safety issue?
Without a doubt. Bodies decay, and must be safely disposed of.

Why go to funerals?
To make sure that the person has actually died? If we didn’t go to funerals, could there be some lurking doubt that one’s partner / spouse / child / friend / relative / neighbour / co-worker had not died, and instead, had gone, without leaving an address, to Rome, or some other paradise with no wi-fi?

Is it to give thanks for a beautiful life?
Yes, partly. But how to behave when the officiant stumbles through a potted version of a life that doesn’t chime with what you remember? Keep silent? Maybe. I want to get up and say: “You haven’t mentioned…”, or, “Really?”, and even, “You can’t have known them very well, because if you had…”.

Are funerals cathartic?
It depends. Sharing memories about the person who has died can help to mitigate the pain. Connecting with people they knew, and loved, can be life-affirming. There is some truth, I think, in what a friend said to me, when I told her I was not looking forward to a particular funeral: “Don’t worry. You always meet someone nice and unexpected, at a funeral”. And, in fact, at the last funeral I attended, I did meet two unexpectedly nice families.

Why do older people go to funerals?
Why do we expect very elderly, bereaved people to walk, sit, and stand, when plainly, they need help? Why ask the physically frail to stand for the committal? Have we no compassion?

Why do younger people go to funerals?
Is it all “Carpe Diem”? Must we be confronted with the physical and mental frailty of loved ones, who once looked after us? Are funerals an automated reminder in the biggest cloud of all, that it will be our turn one day?