Friday, 5 August 2011

On remembrance

Nan's funeral was held today, three weeks after her death. An oddly long gap, but then after her three year battle with the brainwiping animal of dementia, it didn't really seem like such a wait. As funerals go, it was fairly textbook. And that's the problem.

My dad, a vicar, was officiating at the ceremony. My mum had felt that the clergyman at her dad's funeral had done a very poor job at capturing his essence as a man, as a life. My dad did a very nice job... although he encountered some small problems here and there. As he told me later, he often finds that people who were actually close to the deceased are more appreciative of any personal touches than the friendly acquaintances, who tend to shuffle in their seats and look affronted. Humour? A funeral? This is grotesquely disrespectful!

My difficulty didn't come from the personalised bits, but from the set text of the funeral service. A line in the committal said that at baptism, my nan was adopted by god. In communion, she was sustained by the body of Christ. I don't think I'd have minded if it had been Father O'Random of the Holy Church Church saying it. But it was my dad saying it. He'd known my nan for 35 years. He knew it wasn't true as well as I did.

My nan went to church, but then most people of her generation did. It was part of their weekly social routine. The tribute at the service even acknowledged the fact that her "faith", such as it was, was a belief in good friends, company and a natter. Nan had no great belief in the beyond. She once told me that it would be a comfort to think there was a God and a heaven and that one day she'd be reunited with her husband, but she really didn't think that there was.

This is not one of those great internet anti-Christian, anti-faith rants. Come the day of my mother's funeral, for example, I will gladly go along with the whole thing since it is what she profoundly believes. Of course, today too falls under that category. I am sure it has provided her with closure she desired. But it was also a day for her twin brother, a man who shares none of her religious beliefs. What's in it for him? This template being used for absolutely all and sundry isn't what life is about, not who people are.

It's hard to know exactly what I feel about funerals. They are not a time for stridency or selfishness, nor for any great sweeping statements of this and that. But they are a time for remembrance. I felt that my nan was forgotten today. My sister-in-law asked me to tell her some stories about my nan at the wake, which I found rather telling. Surely if a funeral should be for anything, it should be for that? There should be room for everything. Religion plays such a part in so many lives that it deserves its place at such an occasion. But so did my nan, who was there today in body rather than in spirit. Which is such a shame.

I found writing my own little tribute to the person I remembered on this blog to be a very emotional experience, surprisingly so, in fact. I hope that it will be that day, 15th July 2011, that comes back to me when I think of nan's passing and not the perfunctory events of today. When Oliver Hardy died, Stan Laurel didn't attend the funeral. His explanation was, "Olly would understand". I'm sure he would have. I certainly do.

3 comments:

Chris O said...

Was thinking of you today on this sad day. As ever, you were very eloquent in reflecting on the matter to hand in your blog post.

Sadly my Mum died in January (as referenced on my own blog which aspires to one day be as good as yours) so I know how emotionally acute these things can be.

I had my own weird memories from that funeral which I won't bore you with, except to say that the service strangely didn't do her justice really. Not something I thought one would ever say about any funeral, but you live and learn I guess.

Anyway, may your Nan rest in peace and may you gain some peace at remembering her the way that seems most natural.

Nora Thompson said...

So sorry about your nan, but glad to know someone else out there is feeling exactly the way I do.

My step daughter was killed a little over a month ago, and the preacher officiating the funeral obviously didn't know a thing about her. Except for a few seconds where he read directly from the obituary in the paper, he spent the rest of the time trying to save us.

My aunt passed away just a few weeks after my step daughter. The service was pretty much the way she wanted it (including a closed casket) and officiated by someone who captured her spirit fairly well.

Last weekend, I had a nice talk with my kids and husband about what I want when the time comes. I want it to be completely personal. I'm leaving a folder on my computer with the music I want them to play at the party (rock and punk). I want people to wear jeans and eat junk food. I want them to be honest and say, "God, she was an idiot," as long as they truly mean it.

Thanks for posting. Your nan was a luckly lady to have you in her life.

dotmund said...

Thank you both for your very thoughtful and personal comments.

My friend has written a blog post in response to mine about a recent experience of her own at a funeral, which you may also find interesting. It is here:

http://englishassheisspoke.wordpress.com/2011/08/05/death-vicars-and-beer/

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