An essay in melancholy

Charles 3 Comments

Last week I passed an empty hearse going the other way. It set me musing.

Freed from its solemn duties, no longer slowed by a weighty coffin and all the gravitas attendant upon such a thing, emptied of flowers and no longer the misty-eyed focus of profoundly sad people, it had about it none of the majesty and decorum,  the grandeur and grace, that properly wreath a hearse.  It looked inessential, superfluous, dispensable. Gawky. Going too fast. 

You think I’m banging on a bit. You’re right. 

I then fell to musing on the way people in cars treat hearses these days. They buzz and harry them, cut in and chop up processions. It’s like watching a kestrel mobbed by crows. People these days have no manners, no solicitude. They’re in a hurry, they’ve got places to go. 

But it’s not just a manners thing, is it? Or a hurry thing? There’s more to it than that. 

Once upon a time (not so long ago) the death of someone touched everyone. It evoked the mystery of existence. In everyone’s mind a funeral procession awoke questions: how long have I got? What does it feel like? What comes after? It spoke of the universal human drama of those born to die. It inspired awe and the doffing of hats. 

It’s not a manners thing. No, it’s a universality thing. In place of a general drama of life and death and the mystery of existence played out in our midst, for us, disconnected from matters elemental, there are one-off sketches in which unknown unfortunates die — bad luck. Seek not to know for whom the bell tolls, it ain’t tolling for me, mate. 

And so a funeral procession, instead of speaking to and for the human condition, is seen as descriptive of no more than a little local difficulty afflicting someone else. 

And the funerals of these incogniti address the particular and the personal, the private hurt, the here and the now, in crematoria which divert those who cared for them briefly from life’s mainstream (where death belongs) before setting them on their way again. 

Moral: it’s much easier to write prettily about mortality and funerals wearing a reactionary hat. 


  1. Charles

    …..ooh yes……………a Funeralcare Coleman Milne built ‘earse, it seems, on it’s way back to one of their much vaunted hubs…….not (I appreciate) the point behind Charles’ blog post

    (I really should spend more time away from this PC)



  2. Charles

    We use a modern-ish Mercedes hearse and limousine – but last week, we hired in an old style Daimler DS420. Seeing my obvious joy on arrival – the hire driver allowed me to drive it on the funeral! (I wasn’t conducting) It was a very pleasant trip down memory lane, we used these beautiful vehicles for many years until fairly recently. As I drove it was noticeable how differently people reacted to this classy hearse – courtesy, admiring glances etc. I am very tempted to endure the endless rust attacks and inferior heating and actually buy one again. Maybe the real problem is that modern cars look like cars – not hearses? As I write, there’s a lovely looking Daimler on ebay please don’t bid against me!

  3. Charles

    In reality, death touches us all when a funeral cortege goes past, or at least it brushes close by. I refer to the young man who tried to get between my car and the limo following the horse and carriage we had hired for my fathers funeral several years ago.
    Of the boy racer type, he obviously had little respect for the occasion or those involved, and had he not backed off it was to be a race between myself, wife and two psychotically devoted children to get to him first.
    Perhaps, on a macro scale socially it would have been better had he not backed off, the resulting carnage would have stood as a lesson to himself and others of a similar attitude watching as to what is “good form”, and the wise amongst us would have nodded our heads and said “got what he deserved”.
    Who says out of death can come no good? 😉

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