The Good Funeral Guide Blog

The difference between you and it

Thursday, 10 June 2010

I think we’ve all done some good hard thinking, over the last few months, about the value and role of the dead body at a funeral. The discussion of this, and other matters, has elicited some extremely interesting ideas and some statements which, to my eyes, look likely to become axioms. I’m thinking of Gloria Mundi’sA funeral is not an artefact.”

And I think there’s a sentence in a comment Jonathan left on a recent post which will go the same way. The entire comment deserves another outing. If you missed it, enjoy and marvel. If you didn’t, well, it bears any amount of re-reading.

It is interesting to reflect that, while the comments columns of so much online content attract all manner of beastliness sheltering behind anonymity, the comments column of the GFG is of no interest to such. Long may it remain so. I’m sorry that so many comments from previous blogs were lost in the translation from Blogger to WordPress. But the blog is extant in Blogger and can be reached through your Blogger account.

When I allowed myself to love you, and you me, we entered into an unspoken pact: that one of us would come to grieve the other, that it would be the worst possible experience to put a loved one through, yet we willingly agreed to do it to each other and to ourselves for the sake of our love. We may not have given it a moment’s thought, but we both knew, and we didn’t shy away from our inevitable pain then. So why do it now?

Can you remember howling for lost love? Of course you can. So if someone offered you a painkiller, would you have taken it? I wouldn’t, because although grief hurts me worse than any physical pain it’s a pain I want. If I’m really honest with myself, I actually enjoy crying for the loss of someone whom I can’t bear the thought of living without. It’s the nearest thing to the comfort of physical contact with them I can find at that time. Don’t ask me why; it’s an animal thing as much as anything. But it’s your body I’m grieving for, as much as grieving for you. When I think of you, I see you still in it; all your dear characteristics expressed in its movements and gestures and sounds and appearances and and and… It’s how I came to even know of your existence, and how I came to love you. I still love you in your body – your dead body, yes, aren’t I foolish! – and now I’m going to have to love you out of it, and that’s a transition that doesn’t happen straight away. So I want your useless, dead husk here with me when I put you – yes, you, even though I know it’s not you, it’s it – into a cremator or a hole so that I can begin to make sense of the difference between you and it. That’s why I put on this funeral for you.

So what’s wrong with a celebration of your life? Nothing. In fact it’s essential, unless it takes the place of mourning for your death. I’m celebrating even my pain of your loss because if it hadn’t been for you I’d have had nothing to lose, and no pain to tell me how fortunate I was to have had you in my life for the precious time we had together. I’m celebrating you to prolong the agony in a way, to be completely and unbearably aware of just what, just how much, I have lost because that’s all that makes sense of my grief.

So yes, Charles, anything that trivializes or masks the agony of grief in the name of ‘celebration of life’ should be shot down in flames. It is a betrayal to celebrate you without railing against the dying of your light, or without shouting my anger at you for bloody well dying on me.

And if I go first, I want it to hurt you just as much.

Here’s an extract from another blog entitled “No funeral service, no headstone … can these be good things?”

A friend died recently. At his request, there were no services of any kind. Since he left his body to a medical school, there is no gravesite to visit … I always found him to be an interesting person, but the details in the obituary made him even more interesting than I had imagined. I looked forward to learning more about him when friends and family would gather to celebrate his life. Sadly, I never had that opportunity … and I feel cheated. While I totally respect his right to leave this planet in any way he chose, I wish he had chosen another path … No services, no headstones. How do you suppose either of these affects a person’s long-term legacy?

Find the entire post here.

3 comments on “The difference between you and it

  1. Saturday 12th June 2010 at 10:30 am

    great post jonathan, really enjoyed that thank you

  2. gloriamundi

    Thursday 10th June 2010 at 1:48 pm

    Thanks Rupert, that’s kindly said – some of my services are highly conventional, I have to say, and other times we all (you’ll know what I mean) hit it right, and when we do, my whole understanding of mortality moves on a leap.

    That, of course, is not exactly the object of the exercise. I do what I do to try to help other people, but I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit to valuing very highly, in my own being, the experience of dealing with an intensely meaningful and highly charged funeral. I guess that’s a kind of selfishness.

    As you said in the excellent post to which I am still trying to muster a good enough response, our motives are a bit dark and semi-hidden. As in so many areas of our lives, what?

    And yes, Jonathan’s post is profoundly moving, tough in the best sense, and very helpful.

    And also yes, it’s a tribute to Charles that what he has done allows us all to work through this stuff and get such an enormous amount from it – the old webmaster!

  3. Thursday 10th June 2010 at 12:36 pm

    As Charles rightly points out, there is a civilised air of discourse that goes on in this comments page, and in that spirit I would like to say to Gloria Mundi that I absolutely would qualify my statement about Humanists being anti-theist with the pharse “some.” Your thoughtful approach to celebrancy is exactly what is needed. I bet your services are belters.
    And Jonathan, damn that’s a good post.

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