About Me

Monday, 12 September 2011

Funeral Form

I found out this week that a friend from school has just died. It's tragic, she has a husband and young son and was not even 40. She was in my year throughout secondary school and we had quite a few lessons together. She was lovely, always laughing and having fun, I don't ever remember her being angry or getting cross. However I hadn't seen her for almost 20 years and we weren't that close. So, although the funeral is local to me I have decided not to go. It seems a bit of an odd thing to do, to go to a funeral of someone you were not that friendly with and haven't seen for 20 years. But another school friend (who I am in touch with) in the same position to me is going and I know a lot of people from our year are, who I also haven't seen for a long time. So part of me is wondering whether I should reconsider.

It has prompted me to think about why people go to funerals. Obviously for close family and friends there are many reasons; saying goodbye, having 'closure', from a religous perspective, a sense of duty, and so on. But at most funerals there seem to be a contingent of 'random extras' who either have not seen the person for a long time or hardly knew them. Do some people just 'like a good funeral'? And then when someone is well known or respected, people sometimes line the streets to watch the coffin pass by. I have never quite understood that either. Is it because people feel some kind of affinity with the person even though they didn't know them?

I think one reason people attend funerals is because they make us so aware of our own mortality and it's almost as if subconciously we can reassure ourselves about our own lives while mourning the loss of another. It makes one put things in perspective, but then do you need to attend the funeral to get that? I think sometimes people attend to 'be seen' too. If the whole village is going, then I'd better, or I'll be conspicious by my absence, that sort of thing. But I'm not sure that is right either?

Guilt, I think also plays a part, if people haven't seen the person for a while or haven't made an effort, and guilt too that they are still alive. Particularly when younger people die, I think there is a sense of 'thank goodness it wasn't me'. Or perhaps it is that sense of feeling thankful and in some cases (even in non-Christians) that sense of wanting to give thanks.

I know my friend who is going to the funeral of our schoolmate, wants to see old school friends and I think perhaps she feels bad about losing touch with people over the years. For me personally, I am not sure that is a good enough reason to go, I would feel like I was there under false pretences. And if I'm honest I'm not really sure I am that bothered about seeing them all anyway. I haven't seen most of them for 20 years because I haven't been that bothered before, so why now? would I really be interested to know what people are doing?

I'm not sure if this all sounds a bit callous? Perhaps I am overanalysing everything (as usual..) But the only reasons I can think of to go, seem to me the wrong ones. Most funerals do seem to be 'open season' unless it is actually stated 'family only'. Is there some kind of unwritten code about who can or should go to a funeral? With a wedding it's easy because you get an invite, but funerals tend to be at short notice and therefore people sort of spread the word so you never know whether you would be welcome or not... What is the usual funeral form?


Anita said...

Red, I like your rationality and honesty. I think it's good to be sensible about our use of time, and to think what good our presence at that funeral might do. Sometimes family like to say, "The funeral was packed," as a measure of the worth of the person and how much she was loved, but as you say, there are always a lot of "random extras."
I don't go to a lot of funerals. I went to that of a friend's baby, because the friend was kind and lovely. I didn't go to the funeral of a husband of another woman I'd had coffee with a few times, because I didn't see what good my presence would do. She was shocked that I didn't go. So, it's hard to get this right, isn't it?
I think it's important to go if you are close to the survivors, or if you need an hour or so to grieve for the dead person.
I guess as we get older funerals become more common. Sigh!

Perpetua said...

I'm coming late to this, Red, and by now the funeral will be past, but for what it's worth, I would have gone in these circumstances. I've taken enough funerals over the years to know how very much it matters to the bereaved that others care enough to attend.

I also wouldn't be too sure about just how random the random extras are. None of us know just how well our loved ones know others or how widely their network of friends/acquaintances/contacts stretches. The saddest funeral I ever took was of an elderly lady, where the only mourner was her almost estranged daughter-in-law, who was only there from a sense of duty. It was held in the nearest crem (40 miles away) and her equally elderly friends and neighbours couldn't get there and felt the fact keenly.