And what did you want?

Charles Cowling

There’s a sprightly piece about funerals in this week’s Spectator. Its content is not available free online, so I’ll transcribe the best bits and hope that I’m not infringing copyright but, rather, advertising the magazine.

It’s by James Delingpole.

If I’d written a film it would have been called Four Funerals and a Wedding, because personally I find funerals much more fun. Not all funerals, obviously. But the funeral of someone who’s not a close relative and who’s had a good innings can be a very splendid occasion.

God I hate weddings. The only one I’ve really enjoyed was my own, because I got to decide on the food and the music and all the speeches were about me … It’s the trappedness I loathe and fear most … At least with funerals you don’t go with any high expectations of fun and frivolity – whereas at weddings you do, setting yourself up for almost inevitable disappointment. And there’s an unspoken assumption at weddings that, as a guest, you’re privileged to be there and should be grateful to have made it onto the invitation list, which puts pressure on you to be on your best behaviour. At a funeral, on the other hand, you’re thought to be putting yourself out slightly. The family are touched and appreciative that you’ve made the effort. Also there’s no best man, no sit-down food ordeal, you don’t have to bring a present, and if you do behave badly no one minds or even notices because everyone’s on one of those weird, faintly hysterical, ‘it’s what he would have wanted’ post-funeral highs.

Then there’s death. I don’t think nearly enough of us think nearly often enough about this and what it means … I think that we might all be inclined to live better, more fruitful lives. I thought of this as [the daughter of a man whose funeral he had attended] read out a homily attributed to RL Stevenson (though more likely to be a variant on something written in 1904 for a poetry competition by an American woman named Bessie Stanley). It goes: ‘That man is a success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much; who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who leaves the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem or a rescued soul; who never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty or failed to express it. Who looked for the best in others and gave the best he had…’ When spoken right next to the coffin containing the body of someone who’s course is run, those words have quite an impact.

On a similar note, this is the poem short story writer Raymond Carver had inscribed on his grave:

LATE FRAGMENT

And did you get what

you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself

beloved on the earth.

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