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Wednesday, 19 October 2022

Eheu fugaces labuntur

Don't be tempted to wear this at the interment; in
winter it will attract snowballs, in autumn conkers

Nothing’s official, you understand, but I could die later today or early tomorrow. Conceivably, no sweat. At 87 death is always on the cards. Which brings up the dismal subject of funerals.

Funerals risk being lugubrious (The New Penguin Dictionary – 1641 pp: Mournful; esp. exaggeratedly or affectedly so.) and are always awkward.

Awkward? Here’s one. During the last decade I’ve spoken at two funerals and should have spoken at a third. The difference being I spoke by invitation at the first two, but was not invited to do so at the third, despite my close friendship with the guy in the coffin. Since the omission may have been accidental or from pure dislike I didn’t fancy volunteering at the event. An awkward situation.

But mostly the awkwardness evolves out of language, What I said at those two events would, in the USA, be called eulogies. As a Brit I recoil from the word: one meaning being “high praise”. Not that I’d want to slag off the lead character, rather I’d want to be free to tell the truth. Not all of it, I wouldn’t be under oath. But the bits of the truth that mattered.

Almost no one knows what to say. They search in terror for synonyms for death and dying. “Passing on” has been popular but is now shortened to “passed”. As if death had to do with soccer.

I’ve discussed my own funeral but it’s been pointed out that no pre-death agreement would necessarily be binding. “You won’t be there,” I’m told. Raising an interesting philosophical point. Expensive wine is a no-no; most (I refuse to add "mourners".) will have driven. Music? Yeah, but not everyone will be a Schubert fan.

Just a mo. I’m saying “everyone” implying double figures. How about total silence?


  1. I cannot see the point of a funeral from the deceased's part. As you say, you won't be there. I'm not having one. When I die a phone call will be made to the office of "Pure Cremation".A vehicle will be sent to collect the body, which will be taken away for cremation somewhere.

    All done and dusted. As near as I could get to being carted off with the weekly rubbish collection. If family and friends want to get together at a time of their own convenience that's up to them.

  2. Avus: There isn't any point to a funeral from the deceased's part. Unless, conceivably, he/she believes in an after-life and thereby the possibility of acting as a detached spectator at the festivities. Funerals are for the living.

    But, ask yourself whether anyone will regret your passing. If no one will then your rubbish-collection concept is fine and dandy. If there will be genuine "mourners" then you have to consider their feelings; they are after all (your words) friends and/or family and death doesn't blow away these links immediately. Maybe they will be comforted by the ritual and it would be churlish of you to deny them this via your proposed abrupt collection. Or, if you still insist, at least check with them that this will be the case.

    My attitude reflects the ethos of my youthful upbringing. Parsimony. The cost of even a modest funeral seems ludicrous and I have insisted in my will that the obsequies cost as little as possible. I'd like to think there would be music since music has a way of making visceral connections that words cannot. But, as I mention, choosing a programme that reaches out to all represents a steep hill to climb.

    1. All my family, especially my daughter in Australia thoroughly endorse my funeral plan.

      My late wife was a church goer and had a conventional funeral to which most of her church congregation came. My daughter wished to be with her mother and help care for her in her last days. Her philosophy was, "she helped me into this life so I will be there to help her out of it". When my wife entered the local hospice and it was obvious she did not have many days left her Australian husband also flew over. Fortunately his is well off and both used business class for all flights. The cost must have been enormous.

      Neither are "believers" and felt swamped by all that church congregation. Both admitted afterwards that they much preferred my way out. It would be so much better to get the initial grieving over and then to have the family meet up at leisure later, at a time of their own choosing, when they could even be gay together.

  3. How can you make me laugh in a post about 'death'? Ha, I have to admit my dad was so dry and blunt about being 'worm food' and "I don't give a damn what you do (after I'm gone), I won't be there." Honestly, I never knew what would come out of his mouth. He did specify to be cremated and put on top of my mom 's casket---which we did. I will leave out his side comment on that. SM

    1. Sandi: In 2021 I had two ops for cancer - one in the mouth, one in the bowel. As to life expectations I felt strangely detached, and at no time during the subsequent (encouragingly shortened) chemo sessions and post-op examinations did I find myself tempted to ask for a prognosis. The only time the subject came up was during the pre-op meeting with the colorectal surgeon consultant who launched himself into a well-rehearsed routine about percentages relative to age, during which I found my mind wandering, saying to myself: I could work all this out if I wanted but I'd rather dwell on the intricacies of some Schubert song I was studying at the time with my teacher V.

      When he was all done the consultant added something odd: he'd be scheduling me for chemo post-op despite the fact that this was unusual for someone my age, normally the upper limit was about 70. I should have asked him why but for reasons I cannot fathom (I am, after all, a retired journalist and my profession predisposed me to asking questions) I didn't.

      I have occasionally posted about death on my blog (which kicked off in 2008) but never seriously. I am particularly fascinated by the Christian concepts of heaven and hell and how they might be defined. Just spend 10 seconds pondering this and you'll find the possibilities hilarious. That said, I may return to this subject quite soon. Watch this space.

      I'm glad I made you laugh. It's been an underlying theme in my blogging, making people laugh. Much better than making them cry. Or even worse, boring them.

  4. When I die I hope there is no funeral. But I DO want an obituary for future descendants to find when they are researching their genealogy. I may actually write it myself, and hope whoever is charged with wrapping my death up will use it. I knew a Math professor who died a few years ago who wrote his own obit, and it cheered me up considerably. https://www.legacy.com/us/obituaries/theithacajournal/name/michael-morley-obituary?id=13042657

    1. Darn it - this is Colette. Not sure why it listed me as CCRW. Sheesh.