Monday, 8 March 2010

Death does not become us

I’m not sure I like funerals. I’m on my way home from my second in the space of a month, and I’m starting to wonder whether they are a good thing or not. Certainly in both cases the reason for us all being there was premature, heart-breaking and difficult to justify even if you had a sense of a higher purpose, which I don’t feel I do. But I suppose that’s fairly common of funerals. They are filled with utterly breath-taking gulping sobs of sadness, however much you try and put a positive spin on them.

No, I don’t believe the person with top billing would be serenely telling us all to be happy for the life they’ve just left behind, if they could communicate anything – nor would they want us to stop crying or beating our chests. They had no intention of dying. They want nothing more than to be there in the room with us. And in that circumstance, it would be a nicer room, because it wouldn’t be a crematorium. No need. No-one’s died.

But of course they have. So twice this month I’ve had to witness people I love suffering the indescribable pain of loosing someone they love. And I’m just not sure about the whole funeral thing anymore.

It’s very public for starters. You’re basically offering yourself to the public as a living focus for the person everyone has lost. And it’s your job to make everyone else feels a bit better. They showed up, they supported, they tried to make things that tiniest bit better. In return, you have to show them how much their support has helped. Look, I’m still standing, I’m going to be okay. There will be cracks whenever anyone hugs me for more than a brief second, but that’s ok too, that’s all in the script.

Maybe it’s a chance to practice your new vocabulary in support-group surroundings. I rather than We, After rather than Before, Now rather than Then. Roll it around, see how it feels. Maybe shared grief is easier to cope with. I’m sure my family were all really happy to be able to spend time together today, but really, at a funeral? Isn’t this when you want to curl up into a tiny ball and weep, not make small talk with people who never called enough. All this because someone decided that funerals are an important way to say goodbye?

Well I don’t buy it. The need to say goodbye is mistakenly on the list of necessities in life. As is the idea that time passing is good. Anyone who’s suffered the searing pain of loosing someone’s love will know that the thing to fear most is time. The idea that the more of it that passes, the less you’ll feel the pain, is appalling. The only remaining connection between you and the lost love is the pain. If that goes, you’ll be alone.

So how about we don’t make an occasion out of saying goodbye. How about we leave the lingering presence of the person we love hanging, unfinished, unpackaged. Would that really be worse than a funeral? I heard someone today ask the eldest daughter of the bereaved family where she got her dress from, and rather than being confused at the banality of the question it was the only time I saw her properly light up all afternoon. She looked amazing, she had a new frock, it mattered. It’s what her dad would have said, too.

Funerals are important for shared grief, to celebrate a life, to start to say goodbye. Maybe. Or, run. Run for the hills, and don’t worry about the rest of us. We don’t need to see a brave face. You’ve been cheated, and it’s not fair. It’s completely not fair. Weep.

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