I've been to two funerals in the last two days.
I think that should be my quota for this year, or at the very least the next six months, but I know that short of choosing not to attend a funeral, this is something that I have no control over.
The two funerals were very different. The first was a guy who had been a workmate and good friend. It was huge, there were several hundred people there. It was held at a large church in the West side of Christchurch.
The first half of the funeral was lovely. The tributes and memories shared were very moving and I cried a fair bit as various family members that I was finally able to put faces to (having heard many stories of various exploits and adventures from my friend) got up and shared the odd tidbits. Then the Minister who was officiating got up and spent the next three quarters of an hour waffling away, telling stories that eventually got to his point - he was preaching. His sermon took longer than the rest of the funeral. It also was all wrong for my friend. He wasn't particularly religious in any form and if he'd been present he would have been rolling his eyes at it all. How was this sermon about him? It was all wrong and I felt it was really rather disrespectful.
Today was the second funeral. A friend’s Mum. I didn't really know her, I'd met her a few times at family events for this friend and his wife.
This one was held at a small chapel in the Eastern side. The first thing said by the chap officiating after the family had filed in and we had sat down again was the "in event of an earthquake" safety notices.
The service was small and lovely. The memories shared were again moving, and I cried my eyes out when the grand-daughter read a fantastic poem that she had written for her Grandma. It was about not being sad because she'd gone, being happy because she'd lived and been a part of your life.
I noticed that several of the eulogies were spoken to the coffin not to the crowd. They were addressed to the deceased, they were personal messages to her that were spoken proudly in front of everyone. I think this was the first time I've ever seen that. It was touching.
Two very different funerals but both following the same traditional structure. It made me think about what I want to happen for me when it's my turn. A lot of people seem to count the numbers who attend as some kind of mark of prestige or something. I always wonder how many of those who turn up at the funeral had visited in the last year, how many were there out of a sense of duty or morbid curiosity.
I went to one last year for an old friend. I hadn't seen her in a few years, we'd drifted, but it was one of those friendships where that didn't matter. When we did see each other it was all okay. I heard of one lady today who has said that if you don't receive an invitation to hers don't bother turning up. She thinks that if it's too much trouble to stay in touch when you're both alive, why be a hypocrite when one of you dies.
I've noticed that everyone at funerals has a story or ten to tell, everyone mills around outside before and after talking about the deceased, memories are shared and there is as much laughter about the good times or funny times as there are tears about the sad times. But as soon as it becomes the formal setting of the funeral service, either everyone clams up and doesn't want to speak in front of the crowd, or we're all bored by yet another person crying about how much that person meant to them. It almost seems to become a competition about who is going to miss them the most.
Someone is always upset or offended (kind of like a wedding), there are songs played that many of the attendees can't listen to again for a long time as they become an overwhelming emotional trigger, and there is always someone complaining about how this was all wrong and didn't fit their memories of that person. And then there are the notable absences. There can be many reasons for someone not to attend, and some people struggle to face funerals. Although by the same token, it can be heartwarming when people who would not normally choose to be in the same room, much less the same building as another can put that aside for long enough for a funeral.
Let's be honest, funerals are for the living, they're not really about the deceased at all.
I don't want the formal traditional setting when it's my turn. I am not Christian, so much that goes into a Christian funeral often makes me uncomfortable. I fully respect those who truly believe in the Christian faith, and I'm quite happy to be respectful about that when it comes to their funerals. But when it comes to those who were openly agnostic or non-religious in life, an overly Christian funeral (complete with sermon) seems like a safety net a little too late - one of those 'just in case it is all real' scenarios, or it's the family putting a 'respectable' face on it, or it's the family making it what they want rather than what would have suited the deceased. Because I feel like this, I don't want my Christian, agnostic or otherwise friends made uncomfortable by an overly Pagan funeral.
In fact, I don't really want a funeral as such at all. I want my family and friends to have a big party at my home. I would like those I love to sit around and talk crap about me while having a good time. No one needs to pay any sort of homage to my empty shell (which will not be embalmed, I don't need it preserved, I won't be using it again) and criticising the way the mortician has done my makeup or my hair.
I get that it's a send off, it's a way for many people to say goodbye and have a sense of closure. But it doesn't need to be morbid or sombre. There is often a hushed atmosphere, like everyone is afraid to speak in a normal voice. Tears are stifled, or heads are bent as tears are quickly wiped away - why is this? Is it somehow shameful to cry? I cry with my head held high, I'm not ashamed of a single tear, I'm sad, everyone else is usually sad, the only time the tissues come out at a funeral is when my nose runs. Makeup these days is generally waterproof, smudgeproof and the worst that should happen is that you'll wash it off, so that doesn't really work as a reason to be hiding tears and wiping them away stealthily.
I'd like my send off to be raucous and rowdy. I'd like there to be laughter and an honest form of story-telling. I don't want anything to be censored down so as not to shock anyone, or prettied up to make me out to be a better person than I am. I am who I am, I'm not ashamed of that, why should anyone else be? Funeral services are often now described as a "Celebration of the Life of " but they're still the same thing, I would like it if mine could be a real celebration of my life.
I realise that there is a pretty good chance that when it actually happens, those close to me will forget about this, or be pressured into doing what is expected. This is one of my reasons for blogging this - let it be out there and public, let it be known to all. But also let there be a change in the way we do things. Everyone seems to hate the funeral but love the wake - so let's skip the funeral and just have the wake.