I went to a funeral on the weekend. It was sad. I didn't know the dead fellow very well, although I'd known him for about 18 years. He died relatively young, and relatively quickly, of a brain tumour.
We went there with the kids and a friend. We got a few quizzical looks, from people wondering what the heck we were doing bringing young kids to a funeral. I thought to myself 'no one brings their kids anywhere anymore.' And it was true - our kids were the only people under 18 there. We sat down, Richard with FDPG on his lap, Dominic next to him, me nursing my sad sore stitched jaw, now minus one large molar and slightly amped up on Advil Extra Strength, and Max next to me, eyeing my wad of Kleenexes uneasily. I could just hear him thinking 'oh god, she's going to cry all the way through this thing and I'm going to have sit next to her and I didn't even bring any Lego.' The room was way more crowded than expected and the air was getting hot, what with all those people breathing and sighing and wiping their eyes. I looked out the windows at the cold, grey day, trying to avoid looking at the dead man's daughters. They were standing at the doorway, greeting everyone as they walked in. They were pretty composed, although the younger one had shiny red eyes. They were a few years out of high school.They were too young to have to bury their dad, I thought.
The service started. People said funny things, people said witty things, his sister read some of his poetry, then his daughters stood up before the mike, broke down a bit, then said lots of sweetly funny things about what a great dad he'd been. There was a board at the back that seemed to back up their statements: there he was, skating with his daughters, camping with his daughters, picnicking with his daughters, wearing funny hats, barbequing in the snow, laughing, and holding his daughters when they were newborn babies. I nursed my throbbing jaw, cried into my Kleenex, and worried briefly about having something stuck in my nose after blowing it. Nothing worse than having a conversation with someone who stares at the crevices in your nose the entire time. So I wiped more assiduously and sighed and stared at the back of Richard's head and listened to FDPG, who was actually listening very carefully to all the speeches, laughing merrily at all the witty bits and charming all the damply sad people around her. It's comforting having kids at events like these; one can be reminded that there is life after a death when there's kids around. They tug at your coat and remind you that you promised them a hot chocolate if they behaved themself and that they happened to see a Starbucks on the corner a block or two back and maybe you could go there right now instead of standing here with a bunch of adults, who are all inexplicably clustering together and crying.
If only they hadn't played this song at the end of the service, I would have been fine. We all would have. But, in what Richard thought was the dead man's final joke on us all (and one he would have loved to witness, I'm sure, because he was an eccentrically witty fellow), we were asked to listen to a piece of music before leaving. We sat there, wonderingly, until the first few bars sounded, and then it was as if the rains came. Mouths trembled and eyes filled. The dead man's daughters dashed down the aisle towards the family dog, ancient and mouldering on the carpet by the door, and hurled themselves around his neck. Sad sad sad. I leaned into Max and whispered, more to take my mind off the sadness of it all, "please don't play this at my funeral, okay?" "Oh stop it," he replied, "You adults always cry at all this stuff, I don't know why."
And when we came home, I googled this song. I wanted to know who sang it, with such a lovely voice. I cried all over again, thinking of those poor girls, mourning their dad. But I'm maudlin that way. I like funerals, even though they are unspeakably sad. When I was a kid all my aunts and uncles and grandparents were sent to the Great Hereafter with an Irish wake, and all the still-living aunts and uncles and grandparents would drink way too much scotch and sing and tell the most fabulous stories about the deceased's indiscretions as a youth. And there always seemed to be a ton of indiscretions, too. My relatives prided themselves on them. In the Old Country there would be an open coffin at these wakes, but when I was a kid it had been reduced to a Viewing at the Funeral Home. My nanna once told me that she'd been at a wake where they'd had to stand the coffin up against a wall, there were so many people there, and at one point the coffin lid had fallen open and the dead man had fallen out of it, but they were all so drunk they didn't notice immediately. I have no idea if this was really true, but it wouldn't surprise me in the least, given all the things that I DID see at some of these wakes. But now everyone seems self-conscious and shy about death. No more open caskets. No more wakes. Instead it's ashes to ashes, dust to dust, most discretely. Ah well, we can still cry. And drink too much afterwards. And remember the funny stories.
On your way, Michael.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.