DON’T DANCE AT MY FUNERAL
I’ve been to a few funerals recently for friends who died too young.
Those are often the saddest occasions because of a sense of unfulfilled potential.A Bay City Rollers farewell in the popular romantic comedy Love Actually.
Now I know that we baby boomers have to do everything differently – from sex to parenting, from health to leisure, we pride ourselves on new ways - but does it have to extend to how we give people their final send-off ?
One such funeral was almost relentlessly upbeat. So much so that at one point the congregation were invited to sing along and dance to a hit song chosen to reflect the deceased’s personality. (In case you are wondering, three people bopped on the spot. The rest of us jiggled our shoulders and nodded to the beat to show solidarity. Vocally, we ranged from lip-synchers to an appropriately timid chorus. A full-bodied congregation it was not.)
The person who had organised the ceremony did so as a surprise party for the deceased’s imminent birthday rather than as a solemn occasion to mark the loss of a man she adored.
A great idea, executed with genuinely deep love and respect, except that the deceased was not a party kind of guy.
When it was all over, the coffin stayed where it was. Curtains did not close to symbolise finality. This was disconcerting. Even though most of us hate those synthetic draperies stuttering along a metal track, pre-empting the coffin sliding out of view, we collectively understand that this is part of the ritual of committal which brings proceedings to a conclusion.
But we just left our friend behind in a box as if our departure were merely a casual ‘ see ya later’. It didn’t feel right, him staying alone there while we kicked on to the wake at a pub.
Afterwards several people commented that while they appreciated the cheerful spirit of the occasion, it left them no room for grieving.
I know what they meant. As I drove home, I remembered the man who had died so prematurely, indulging in my personal tribute to him in the privacy of my car. That was where I said goodbye.
Technology has affected the way we say farewell: there’s so much more visual material now, with screens on which to play digital photo montages and home movie clips - it’s all evidence of the emphasis shifting from acknowledgement of death to a celebration of life.
Any minute now the word funeral is going to become obsolete, replaced with some upbeat euphemism coined by a Californian positive psychologist. Positive psychology hinges on avoiding consciousness of the ultimate set-back: our own mortality.
All those optimism gurus simply want us to forget the fact that in the end no matter how motivated you are, you are still going to die.
Positive psychology also encourages those with professional low-self esteem to spin their job descriptions into something that sounds either more glamorous or wholesome. Thus funeral directors these days like to think of themselves as being in the event management business – seriously.
Whether you call that semantics or simply rebranding it’s a bit like prostitutes calling themselves sex workers. It’s true, but it’s not the whole story.
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