Charles Cowling

There are limitations to blogging. If a post looks overlong people won’t read it. So you need to stick to a single line of argument; you haven’t space to expand or balance. Once you’ve written it you must strip it down, starting with the best bits. As you contemplate clicking Publish, vanity warns you that carefully crafted incompleteness looks idiotically simplistic — sometimes offensively so.

There’s an upside. That which limits the blogger liberates the audience. Finely judged incompleteness excites responses which correct, balance and enrich the original post in ways far beyond the intellectual capability of the blogger. It’s the resulting collaborative debate which really amounts to something. As with yesterday’s post. I’m writing this on the back of that.

Funeral ceremonies which address death as a universal event are in bad odour. We all know the diss-words. Cookie-cutter. One-size-fits-all. Same-old-same-old. Ceremonies like this don’t sufficiently address the individuality of the person who has died.

But funeral ceremonies which focus on the uniqueness of the dead person mostly overlook the universality of death and present it as an isolated individual misfortune. I’m not sure that celebration-of-lifers see a funeral as an opportunity to get their heads around their own and everyone else’s mortality, nor do they ever express a wish to spend time doing so. ‘The bell tolls for him, not me.’

The present day obsession with funeral tunes is interesting. Often, it’s the only thing secular folk know they want. The tunes they choose were not created to be played at funerals. They’re anything but unique to the individual.  The emotions they arouse are arguably a distraction from the business in hand.

All people know is that they must dutifully fill a 20-minute void with noise. Not glum noise, nice noise. Words don’t come easy. Thank heaven, then, for the secular celebrant with her cabinet of emotional emollients and her smiley, kind delivery.

Tunes come off the peg, easily lifted. Ready-made blather.

4 thoughts on “Fooneytunes

  1. Charles Cowling
    gloriamundi

    Exactly so, Jonathan – they choose it because it sums up something about the dead person’s humour, attitudes to life and death etc, not because they expect a laugh there and then.

    But I often wonder if the chosen music has the effect they’d expected or hoped for; I don’t feel I can go up and ask them, and it’s hard to tell. I’ve got a nasty feeling that it’s the schmaltzy ones that may really work for people, give them what they want, those and the gentle, solemn or melancholy pieces of classical music.


    Charles Cowling
  2. Charles Cowling
    Jonathan

    And have you noticed, Gloriamundi, how when the dead one OR the living ones choose a funny song, when they hear it is not the time they laugh, if at all?


    Charles Cowling
  3. Charles Cowling
    gloriamundi

    Good insights above. Charles has a valuable point when he says that there is a certain kind of “uniqueness-centred” funeral which treats a death as an isolated misfortune – which is simply to add alienation and isolation to the maelstrom of feelings experienced by bereaved people.

    And Jonathan has a good balance on serious-mindedness and humour -we would all surely want to avoid treating death lightly-more likely that people would try to swerve round it-“life is for the living, so on we go” only works if you’ve done the painful stuff first, I think.

    A recent funeral in which “Always Look on the Bright Side” worked well was so because the man who’d died chose it, and it was typical of his sense of humour, not because it helped the mourners treat what had happened with triviality or avoidance. They didn’t – at least, the family didn’t, don’t know about the others.


    Charles Cowling
  4. Charles Cowling
    Jonathan

    “Shall we think of our own mortality today? Not even subconsciously, of corpse not, and so you’re all invited back to the family’s nearby hearse for a nice cup of coffin.”

    Grief is a capable and persistent adult that knows what’s required of us and, unlike a toddler, will not be distracted from purposeful yelling at us by a sickly sweet. Jokes, quirky music or romantic fantasies will not do. Grief needs the nourishing food of the screaming soul, not the confectionery of the light-headed jest, and we can’t shirk it because it is fundamental to our health since our first ancestors were born. We could not live without it.

    Humour and jollity have no place in honouring the dead without an underlying solemnity, any more than your pretty bathroom suite with butterflied tiles is the slightest use to you without the stinking drains you’ve probably never unblocked with your own hands. And you can’t just chuck any old shit down a toilet. Ask a builder – ask me, I used to be one.

    ‘He wouldn’t want us to be unhappy, though, would he!’ Of course he wouldn’t. But think on; imagine you’re a drowning sailor. Are you musing, “I hope they’ll think this was a bit of a laugh as they heave what’s left of my putrid body into my cardboard box with Popeye painted on it”? No. You’re probably thinking, ‘Please, please, not NOW of all times, what are the kids going to do without me?”

    There’s a world of difference between sadness and unhappiness – unhappiness poisons, sadness feeds. It is not our job to tell people how to grieve, but we are not giving our best by standing by while they don’t, or rather, pretend not to. And actually, it isn’t all that hard to suggest to people that while they’re listening to ‘Always Look on the Shite Side’ they’ll be thinking that they’d give a right arm or two to have him back, just for one more day. It’s worth the risk because they invariably agree.

    Humour, shcumour. Laugh about his ridiculous quirks, fine, that would make anyone feel good; but don’t laugh about death – as we’ve all noticed, Death has the last laugh.


    Charles Cowling

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