What is a funeral for?

Charles 3 Comments

A survey of this blog’s favourite obits’ page in the Times Colonist in Victoria, on the west coast of Canada, yields features of interest.

12 deaths are recorded this week. So far as I can see, there’s not a single funeral among them. The breakdown reveals: 3 celebrations of life; 2 memorial services; 3 no service of any kind; 3 private gatherings; 1 not specified.

I wonder if the spirit in which these obits are written is informed by the fact that there will be no funeral?

I am struck by one, in particular, which addresses not the readers but the dead person. It concludes: “At your request, we will have a family gathering in your honour late summer in Cumberland.”

Read them all here.


  1. Charles

    Is this apparent tendency for a memorial a predilection for something inherently better than a funeral, or a reaction against something so absolutely bloody awful you’d want to avoid it at all cost?

    History seems to me to suggest the latter.

  2. Charles

    Charles, I am amused that you keep posting these Victoria Columnist obits – did I tell you my parents live in Victoria? It is THE retirement choice for Canadians, since it’s warm and dry compared to the rest of Canada.

    It’s also very English, in an old-fashioned way. And yet it is not surprising that they avoid funerals there – the West Coast on the whole is the tradition-breaking avantguarde of America. I wouldn’t go as far as Jonathan as saying that funerals are perceived as “so absolutely bloody awful” as to be avoided like the plague. There simply is no cultural understanding of the value of funeral rituals, and also an understandable refusal to accept something that has in any case lost whatever value it might once have had. The times have changed and funeral rituals have not kept pace – where tradition is already thin or non-existent, the resulting exodus just happens more easily, without resistance from the weight of tradition.

    But it is merely a matter of degree – the same thing is happening all over Europe, albeit more gradually.

    Surely you experience that yourself?


  3. Charles

    Thomas, I didn’t know you had this connection. What a brilliant insight you provide. The reason for posting the obits is because this is a matter of appalled/semi-appalled fascination to many Brits. And of course we view Victoria’s NSBR through the prism of our own funerary practices, so Jonathan’s observation above is revealing.

    I spoke at the University of Winchester a couple of weeks ago and argued mischievously that many deaths do not require a funeral. The Head of the Religious Studies dept was reduced to fury by what I said. I was struck by his academic closed-mindedness and tickled to be reminded that this is a very, very new concept over here, and one we are getting to grips with slowly. We have our retirement havens – Eastbourne, Bournemouth – but I am aware of no direct cremation movement there; which is possibly the reason why Bournemouth is sometimes described as Britain’s only cemetery with traffic lights.

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