The Big Issue : Edition 497
THE BIG ISSUE 30 OCT – 12 NOV 2015 13 the meaning of funerals and how they understand this death. The memorial notice asked that all participants “celebrate a life”. Moreover, it asked that we come dressed in bright clothing. Now, I own no bright clothing and was therefore unable to comply. Which, in this case, was good, I think, because the departed favoured a very dark wardrobe. I have seen this unfold over the past few decades. We no longer have funerals, but “celebrations”. We no longer wear so much black, but prefer sequins. In the case of one prematurely ended life – a very dear and funny lady of just 37 – I actually did comply with the request to wear shiny fabric, as she herself was mad for tat. The first time I met her, she was wearing a puffy cap made entirely of glitter. So one could not help but adhere to this supremely kitsch tradition at her memorial. But at this most recent event, it just seemed inappropriate. Of course, funerals (or “celebrations”) are not for the dead, but for the living. If it comforted the family of the deceased to see mourners dressed in turquoise, I understand that this has an excellent function. But I also wonder if folks will look back at the party-style memorial they held for their very sober relative and think “we should probably have got everyone to come dressed as Nick Cave”. In short, I believe a memorial should reflect a life to be effectively memorial. Streamers and glitter are great when they festooned the life remembered. Grief and dark suits are the thing for an aesthetically conservative miserabilist. For what it’s worth, I want my memorial to be called a funeral, and I encourage all mourners to throw themselves on my black coffin and scream “She was taken from us too soon!” I want a very sad and tasteful playlist, no mention of either celebration or religion and no scintilla of party. I also expect people to get into fistfights at my wake. I want to be remembered as I lived: depressing and cynical and belligerent – as I think this recently deceased person would have wished to be remembered. I intend no disrespect to the family here. It was a lovely service and very buoying. It made me feel better about death. But I believe that the deceased, who was a fabulous old grump, wouldn’t have wished to make anyone feel better about anything, much less death. This is not to exhort a particular respect for the wishes of the dead. Their wishes, of course, died along with them. It is, however, to say that wherever possible – and few find organising a perfect funeral possible in their grief – we should honour memory. The passionate atheist is entitled to a “god is bullshit” eulogy as much as the faithful Catholic is entitled to an elaborate mass. The delightful, frothy party girl needs balloons and giggles and the old grump needs to make us miserable. And by these means of reflection, we all get to gaze, for one last time, at a life and the truths it contained. Wear black to my funeral. “I believe that the deceased, who was a fabulous old grump, wouldn’t have wished to make anyone feel better about anything, much less death.” RAZER Funeral Directives PHOTOGRAPHSBYJAMESBRAUND JUST A FEW weeks ago, I attended a funeral. And before you start fretting that this is going to turn out to be a Moving Personal Story of Loss, it’s not. The deceased was of a reasonable age and had lived a very reasonable life and their departure from this earth was, more-or-less, first class. As we are condemned as a species to know, we are all individually doomed, so to be afflicted unduly by every death would just be illogical, exhausting and a waste of strong emotion. None of which is to say that I am not sorry that this person is gone. I am sorry. It’s sad. It always is. But this is no reason to bang on in a public forum about the meaning of death. It is, rather, a reason to bang on about » Helen Razer (@helenrazer) is a writer and gardener. And, incidentally, we wish her a long and happy life.