Friday, May 19, 2006

How do you hold a baby's coffin?

I have always thought that Funerals are quite fun affairs - death and loss aside. Sure, the whole mourning thing is very upsetting, but it is also cleansing and cathartic, and leaves you feeling better afterwards. And there is also the celebration thing: celebrating a life lived, hopefully well. I have thought this since the first funeral I attended - my Grandfather's, or my Great Aunt's, not sure - which united cousins and friends who I had not seen for years. It was, ultimately, a reunion party that left us feeling more positive, like the worst was over.

I thought that I was alone in thinking this. Or perhaps that it was just my family, because we were having a laugh in the funeral car about some of the ridiculously funny things that my Grandfather used to do and say. Some of these had names - "The Toilet Seat Incident"; or was it Aunty Thelma's epic travels in her own train carriage, or when she thought her nurse was a gypsy because he had an earring. It doesn't matter, really. The point is that all the stories were infectious and pretty soon we were in the comedy car. At one point I apologised to the driver for our extremely bad taste. He didn't mind. He said that the biggest emotional struggle for a funeral car driver is keeping a straight face when the rest of the car is laughing. He said they are usually quite funny drives.

And funerals can be quite sexy: everyone wears their best clothes; the women look all flushed and vulnerable; the men look all stoic, while betraying an emotional range they usually conceal; and of course teenagers discover a whole new set of adult emotions to experiment with. This I also thought was my own idea until I found thirteen films that agree with me.

Having made these observations over the years, it took today to gel them into the single idea that ultimately a funeral is a positive experience. Because today was the exception that proves the rule.

This morning I held Universal Wifey's trembling hand at the back of a crematorium, tears rolling down our cheeks to the droning lullaby of a Hindu Priest. The casket was ridiculously small - like a dolls-house toy - and it occurred to me that with something so small the usual funerary pomp just doesn't work. You can't have many flowers, because the casket is smaller than the bouquet. The coffin is too small for pallbearers, so it has to be carried by one person, awkwardly. A hearse is a ridiculous conceit when the coffin fits on a lap. And without the formality the whole event becomes horribly personal and intimate. And when there is only fifteen minutes of life to celebrate, nothing can offset the gutting misery of lost hope and shattered dreams.

Again, I thought that this might have been my own observation, until we were waiting to pay our respects to the parents and I saw the undertaker crack. Have you ever seen an undertaker cry?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

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Thank You.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008 9:57:00 PM  

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