Thursday, 12 April 2007

Doing death

We Brits really don't "do" death very well. Mention that you're going to a funeral, and people shuffle their feet and look embarrassed. Friends who have lost loved ones have told me of people being so unsure of what to say that they would cross the street to avoid having to talk to the bereaved.

Contrast this with the attitude of the Irish. It's been said that the only difference between an Irish wedding and an Irish wake is that there's one less drunk at the wake. My grandparents met at a wake, and the deceased lives on forever in family memory.

I've only been to Ireland for a funeral once. From the time of death until the funeral was over, the widow was never alone. People were constantly dropping in, and they would bring plates of sandwiches, cakes and scones and make endless pots of thick black tea (the sort my grandmother used to call "mouse-trottie" tea, because it was so strong you could trot a mouse across its surface).

For the funeral ,the church was packed with people of all ages, including children. There was no embarrassment, no awkward shuffling of feet and clearing of throats - death was accepted as part of life, and we all gathered together in honour of a person who had been much loved. People instinctively knew that the important thing is not whether you're saying the "right thing" - it's that you're there, showing your solidarity, celebrating the life of a person who will be missed but whom we believe we will meet again one day.

My great-uncle's funeral yesterday was a celebration of a long and rich life. He was 93, had achieved a tremendous amount in his life and was much loved.

He was also the last of his generation, so we mourned again the passing of a generation that fought for our freedom in two world wars (he was born in 1914, the year his 16-year-old brother ran away to join the army). My parents' generation were also conscious that they had lost their final buffer against mortality - they are now "the older generation".

But it was mostly a happy occasion - we are sure that he has gone to his eternal reward and is now reunited with his wife, his brothers and sisters and all the others who have gone before him. And hearing the large congregation belt out "Thine be the glory" at the end of the funeral Mass made the hairs on the back of my neck tingle - what a send-off!

His name was Christopher - please pray for the repose of his soul.


Esther said...

Praying! I am very sorry for your loss. May your dear uncle rest in peace.

newhousenewjob said...

Thanks Esther.