Going back for the – er, erm…?

Charles Cowling

There isn’t a name we all use for the gathering after a funeral, is there?

Once upon a time there was the funeral feast, with bakemeats and all the booze you could drink—a good way of ensuring the dead person would be remembered fondly. But the feast petered out and became a bleak little tea. And now we don’t really know what to call it. Not a party, for sure—far too jolly, for all that many gatherings after a funeral evolve into something indistinguishable. Refreshments? A wake? A reception? A ‘do’?

None of these is entirely satisfactory, least of all ‘wake’. Waking a body is spending time with it between death and burial; it means watching over. Sorry, it’s too late for a wake.

There ought to be a word. A very specific word. It’s a very specific event, and a very important one. It is part of the funeral ceremony—the coda. It is a test of any resolutions we may have made in the presence of the coffin, summed up, perhaps, in the concluding lines of that popular funeral poem He/She is Gone: “smile, open your eyes, love and go on.”

After the emotional intensity of the funeral, the ‘do’ afterwards usually comes as a relief and a release. It depends on the circumstances, of course, but even the saddest funerals tend to be followed by a significant lightening up. There are other factors at work. When it comes to pulling power, only a dead person can reunite so many people—distant relatives, old friends. We gather for our dead in a way we never would if they were still alive. We gather for each other, too. At a time like this we want to be with each other, there for each other.

So there we are, raising our glasses and and nibbling quiche even as our dead person burns.

The longer a funeral party goes on, the more it begins to resemble a wedding. There may be everything to be said for letting it go on as long as it wants—days, if necessary.

But what should we call it? Zinnia Cyclamen comes down in favour of ‘do’. Lot to be said for that.

Have you got a better word?

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Harry Newton
Harry Newton
11 years ago

I think this is usually called the ‘funeral feast’.