Wednesday 9 March 2011

my funeral

My paternal grandfather passed away early this Sunday. He was 95. My mother's second husband died last month in a road accident. He was 62, I think (I can be quite bad with specific numbers).

My maternal grandfather passed away in 2008 after being in poor health for several years. In 2009, I lost my paternal grandmother. I remember that these two deaths had a deep impact on me, although in the first case it took time for that impact to show. Several months later, listening to something as over-exposed as The Byrds' cover of 'Turn Turn Turn' I surprised myself by bursting into tears at the words 'A time to be born/ a time to die/A time to plant, a time to reap/A time to kill, a time to heal/A time to laugh, a time to weep'. Qohelet certainly understood the weight of mortality. I was able to attend my grandmother's funeral, and I realised what a cathartic and healing experience a funeral is, for the living.

My step-father did not have a funeral. He wanted his organs to be donated to people who needed them and what was left to be given to a medical college, partly inspired by this case. My mother is also an advocate of organ donorship. 

As for myself, I have to admit that I like the symbolism of a funeral ceremony. It doesn't matter so much about the body - although, I'm not as altruistic as some, I think I'd just like it to be quietly incinerated in an electric crematorium without much of a fuss - but little as it would mean to me at that point, I'd like some sort of secular funeral service to be held. There should be music - if people don't think they can sit through Mahler's 9th I should prepare in advance a song list that will include pieces that I like and find relevant. I'd like some poetry to be read out - maybe some of my own if there's anything suitable by then - some prose excerpts from Montaigne, Sartre, Lovecraft, doubt specific passages will suggest themselves to me over the years from other authors as well. A short address by three or four friends and relatives. And then a toast to the dead followed by a feast, for the living. It seems like a good way to wind things up.


Space Bar said...

It was a good innings, 95 years. I saw the obit, but didn't realise (naturally) that he was your grandfather.

Funerals/memorials are necessary catharsis. The only thing is to find a way to resist ritual that has no personal meaning for those most closely associated with the dead person, and replace it with an occasion that does.

We did nothing for my father as funeral. he left no instructions but we claimed he didn't want rituals. Afterwards, we had a memorial where my mother and I chose passages from books/writers that had special meaning for my father. Some friends of his also spoke.

What briefly worried me - my father being a sometimes difficult and default reclusive person - was that nobody would turn up after they heard he'd died!

:D I needn't have. Everybody loves a good death.

(It's an excellent, grand gesture to make arrangements for after one's death; a push for control from beyond life. Do not go gentle into the good night. Ever.)

anna tambour said...

Your post shows the variety of our wants for after death, even though the actions will be for the living. Your wish for afters would make a grand wake, though wouldn't you like a touch of Wodehouse, too? Perhaps, "If you come to think of it, what a queer thing Life is! So unlike anything else, don't you know, if you see what I mean."

I hope you write more about your family. Your grandfather is fascinating.