Thoughts of a funeral-goer

Charles Cowling

 

Posted by Lyra Mollington

 

Before Daisy met Barry, they had both been unlucky in love. Daisy’s unhappy marriage ended when her husband dropped dead of a heart attack. Barry’s wife left him and he discovered that their marriage had also been an unhappy one.

With the events of recent weeks we have found out quite a lot about each other. If a near-death experience can’t teach us about ourselves and others, what else can? Another interesting thing I discovered about Barry is that any talk of funerals and his placid nature evaporates.

When Barry was a boy, his father was killed. He ‘didn’t care in the slightest’ that he hadn’t been given the chance to go to the funeral. At his mother’s funeral twenty years ago he felt like ‘Bambi caught in the headlights’.

In short, funerals are Barry’s idea of hell. When his best friend Tom died, the funeral was ‘crap’ and not enhanced by the ‘loud and relentless sobbing’ from the front row. When I suggested that a few tears might be a good thing, I was greeted with a look of incredulity. Barry can’t cope with people crying in public – or in private for that matter.

He was especially aggrieved that a ‘doddery old fart in a cassock’ was in charge of the proceedings, especially as he knew that Tom had strong feelings about religion. Barry had visited Tom in hospital and a chaplain had ‘hovered menacingly’ at the end of the bed. After the chaplain left, Tom told Barry that he had nearly told him to bugger off.

He completed his diatribe with, ‘And sitting in regimented rows in an enclosed space listening to the naff poems and bloody awful songs people choose! Fly Me To The Moon? What the hell is that about?’ Further questioning revealed that Tom had never shared his funeral wishes with his children.

Nor has Barry. ‘Whatever I tell them they’ll still manage to make a right pig’s ear out if it.’ But he agreed that it would be a kindness to his sons if he could give them some idea of what he wanted. The problem is that Barry knows exactly what he doesn’t want (unnecessary expense/naff poems/bloody awful songs) but no idea what he DOES want.

Which is how we came to be standing at the gates of a large cemetery near where we live. It has both traditional and natural burial areas. Which seems to mean that only some graves have headstones. Others don’t and the grass isn’t cut as often. According to the website, its chapel was designed in 1906 and is available for ‘people of all faiths and beliefs.’

We had barely gone through the gates when a small group of people and a coffin caught my eye. Daisy was holding me back with a stern look. I persuaded her that we could move closer if we pretended to be visiting a grave.

We couldn’t hear very much. There didn’t seem to be a vicar but I noticed there was a grave-digger nearby trying to look inconspicuous. The undertaker instructed his four ‘gentlemen’ to lower the coffin.

A young woman nodded to the little girl next to her. She looked about seven years old. She began playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on the recorder. A toddler standing next to her bobbed his head in time to the music. The descant recorder is not my favourite instrument but she was note perfect and there wasn’t a single squeak.

Each person threw a flower into the grave. After a minute or two, they walked towards their cars. The recorder-playing girl and her brother were now holding hands with the young woman. She looked beautiful in her black dress. But with her high heels she was struggling not to sink into the grass.

The cars drove off. A passenger jet flew over. Daisy tried to tell me something but I couldn’t hear a word. And Barry pretended not to wipe his eyes.

 

7 thoughts on “Thoughts of a funeral-goer

  1. Charles Cowling
    Evelyn

    Nice to have you back,Lyra! Lovely to hear something of Barry’s thoughts on funerals. I’m not sure you’re a good influence – now you’ve got Barry accompanying you to funerals!

    I think a few of us fall into the category of knowing what we DON’T want, but then don’t clarify what we do…


    Charles Cowling
    1. Charles Cowling
      Lyra

      Thank you for your perceptive comment Evelyn. Daisy thinks I’m a terrible influence too!


      Charles Cowling
  2. Charles Cowling
    Alison Jane Kirkham

    I really enjoyed reading this, made me smile inwardly as I know a few Barry’s! Funny, touching and poignant. Thank you.


    Charles Cowling
    1. Charles Cowling
      Lyra

      Thank you Alison Jane. Yes, Barry is certainly not alone in his ideas!


      Charles Cowling
  3. Charles Cowling
    Lyra

    I finally persuaded the powers-that-be to replace Miss Marple with the real me. However, I confess that his photograph was taken more than 10 years ago!


    Charles Cowling
  4. Charles Cowling
    gloria mundi

    Lyra, you manage to sum up so much about ways in which we look at the end of life, and funerals, in our culture. So many echoes here from people and situations I’m sure we have all encountered. We’re a lot stranger than we tend to think, aren’t we?

    Very good to be reading your thoughts again, thank you my dear. I like your little side-swipe at many a council’s effort to provide a natural or green burial site – they mow the grass less often! In this area there is indeed a natural burial ground – people are laid to rest in woodland, amongst trees – young-ish trees, mostly, it’s true, but still, trees reaching way above your head, with lots of birds. No mowers.


    Charles Cowling
    1. Charles Cowling
      Lyra

      You’re right Gloria, the choices aren’t perfect. However when Barry and I were growing up, ‘choosing’ hadn’t been invented!


      Charles Cowling

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