Thoughts of a funeralgoer

Charles 6 Comments

Posted by Lyra Mollington

There was only one topic of conversation at our book club on Tuesday morning – apart from the book we were discussing, of course! 

Yes, it was the fascinating television documentary from the evening before – although we agreed that the whole thing had to be taken with a pinch of salt.  After all, TV producers need something out-of-the-ordinary (and a few shocks) to attract the viewers.  However, that’s what makes great television and I’m not ashamed to admit that I was glued to my seat for the entire programme. 

 ‘Strictly Kosher’ is an interesting insight into the traditions and customs of the Jewish community in Manchester.  As an outsider, I had the luxury of being able to keep an open-mind, but there must have been many Jewish people shouting at the television as they watched members of their faith appearing foolish or eccentric.  Indeed, I am sure some would rather not be associated with certain attitudes and practices.  Like the vast expense incurred when celebrating Jewish festivals.  For example, purchasing a single citrus fruit for anything from £30 to £500 depending on the quality.  As one man commented, ‘I’d rather buy a new leather jacket!’ 

But the characters and their stories were compelling.  In particular, Jack’s story was incredibly moving.  At the age of only 16, he had experienced first-hand the horrors of the Holocaust.  Now an old man, when he visited the grave of his little brother, who was a victim of the gas chambers at the age of nine, we were weeping with him.  But Jack doesn’t spend his days wallowing in self-pity.  He visits schools and tells his story to youngsters, using his experiences to inform and educate.  Yes, it’s painful to hear about these terrible crimes but we need to know about them to learn from them.

Coincidentally, the novel we were discussing at book club was another inspiring story about ordinary people and their struggles against corruption and depravity.  The Book Thief is written by Markus Zusak.  The narrator of the book is Death himself – a compassionate being who despairs about war and man’s inhumanity to man.  He does not cause anyone’s death; however, he must deal with the consequences.  And he longs for a holiday. 

As we left the library, Valerie asked if I had watched a Channel 4 programme about undertakers – it was on just before ‘Strictly Kosher’.  (Regular readers of this blog may remember that, three weeks ago, I wrote about Valerie’s mother’s funeral.) 

Valerie looked troubled.  ‘Perhaps the Jewish people have got it right – they bury their dead straight away.  No lying around for days or weeks.  The worst thing is, until I watched that wretched programme, I was really happy with mum’s funeral.  The Co-op people were brilliant.  Chris and I even sent a thank-you card to the girl in the funeral home.  She was lovely.  So kind and caring.’

I told Valerie that she could feel proud that she had given her mum the best possible send-off.  I continued by saying that I still couldn’t stop smiling every time I thought about us singing ‘The Happy Wanderer’. 

‘But all I can think about now is that hub!’ she replied. 

She went on to tell me that she had been having visions of her mother’s body travelling back and forth to the funeral home every time someone from the family wanted to spend time with her. 

‘She’ll have been up and down that motorway like a Waitrose delivery lorry!’

I suppressed a smile.

Valerie suddenly laughed. ‘What am I doing to myself?  Mum loved a road trip!  She would be horrified to see me fretting over this.’ 

I kept a straight face and said, ‘Yes, and not many people can say, “We sang The Happy Wanderer at our mum’s funeral!” ’

She called after me as I left, ‘Don’t forget!  Part two of Strictly Kosher is on at 9 this evening.’


  1. Charles

    Charles – what a joyful recording of The Happy Wanderer! Thank you for adding it to my post. Hearing it again, I rather think I’d like people to sing this just before I’m lowered into my woodland place of rest.

  2. Charles

    Reading your post after this torrid week I feel myself smiling, then laughing out loud and then relaxing. The weekend beckons. You are a treasure Lyra. Long may you wander.

  3. Charles

    Thank heavens for Lyra – a breath of fresh air! And Charles, a perfect rendition on a scratchy record player- love it!

    As to the Jewish funerals, not only do they bury quickly they also use a very simple pine box – with holes to speed the decomposition process! No worries about stacking, hygiene procedures or viewing here. They’ve probably got it right you know- spend the money on perfect citrus fruit for the living, not flowers for the dead…

    See here

  4. Charles

    Perfect – thank you Lyra. I’m not good with a lot of negativity (if that doesn’t sound too negative) and laughing about something can be a lot more constructive than shouting. The Book Thief is a gripping story. I like your summary of the narrator, Death: like an undertaker then?

  5. Charles

    Dear Lyra,

    As usual I love your musings.

    Can I put your friends mind at rest, the hub is the first stage in the deceased persons journey, from there the coffin would have been taken to the chapel of rest and would stay there until the funeral cortège leaves.

    Hope this helps.


  6. Charles

    Thank you to everyone who commented and my apologies for not replying sooner.
    David – thank you for that information. I may leave things as they are with Valerie – she rather enjoyed the idea of her dead mum zipping around in a van, although I know that wouldn’t suit everyone.
    Evelyn – fascinating link thank you.
    Belinda – I assume your question was rhetorical?

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