Fate happnestanced to find me at a funeral this week. The event took place in the blazing heat and light of high noon, in Fremantle cemetery. In truth, with the black umbrellas, mourners sweating in dark suits and the vivid red balloons; it had the makings of a great painting.
I have always found funerals fascinating, especially as a study in the human condition. There are usually the relatives of the deceased person and their entire social network in evidence. One can tell a great deal about how a life was lived, by the mourners (and the amount of mourners) who turn up. The old adage ‘where there’s a will, there’s a relative’ springs to mind. At funerals everyone has a good look round and all the gossip goes on in hushed, respectful whispers.
“Did you see Wendy? She’s put on a lot of weight.”
“ Clive? Isn’t he the one who ran off with the boob job from Brighton? I hear she left her four kids behind?”
“Really? How old were the kids?”
“That’s terrible, but what do her tits look like?”
The other thing I have noticed at funerals is that seldom, if ever, people speak the truth about the deceased. Why has someone dying made them a better or worse a person than they were in life? I was at the funeral of an immigrant man, who chose never to learn English and who remained ignorant (by choice) for all of his 98 years. As his relatives waxed lyrical about his ‘genius’, and my having had acquaintance with the-daft-incumbent-in-the-box, I wondered who the hell it was that they were talking about? I have never heard the following for instance
“ We all knew Ken. He was a sociopathic git, who still owes me five hundred quid. I am sure I speak for us all, when I say I’m glad the miserable sod is dead.”
Another classic remembrance was when I had the misfortune to be seated in an accompanying car following the hearse at a walking speed. An elderly, respectable-looking bystander rapped insistently on the car window. Thinking the oldster was in distress, the window was lowered. “Who’s dead?’ They asked complacently. (Not you…yet I nearly answered.)
I recall another funeral, where the exceedingly well-heeled daughter of a deceased parent, said, “I hope we made Mum proud!” Seeing as she’d purchased their ‘beloved mum’ the cheapest casket, the cheapest funeral, held the wake in the un-air-conditioned, dingy garage underneath the magnificent family mansion, with not enough plastic chairs and three plates of cheesels to go round, I really wanted to comment “Do you think?”
Funerals as a rule lack imagination and are dreary affairs, with quite a lot of bad speechifying, followed (these days) by the dreaded photomontage, which can be likened to the ‘please-no-more’ slide shows of yester year. Dare I suggest an innovation? I’m calling it ‘coffin cam’ – where you get a bird’s eye view of the deceased, ‘corpse-in-situ’ as it were. You’d have a packed house!
Which is why, when I join the choir invisible, I intend for what’s left of me to be propped up in a plain cardboard coffin rotting away next to a big jar filled with coloured felt-tip pens. All who wander in can write on my ‘box’ exactly what they think and feel, or just plain doodle –I am hoping it will make amusing reading. I am strongly in favour of party hats, aromatherapy massages, a disco, a bonfire and inordinate amounts of alcohol. I also demand bagpipes, and a giraffe in the funeral procession. An Orangutan strategically placed in the pews might amuse. (“Is that her ex-husband?”)
It would go a long way to alleviating grief and boredom don’t you think? ☺