Most of us will end up in a box, carried by a bunch of strangers to the sound of an organ. We won’t be aware of it, but it’ll happen. There’ll be some songs. “Abide with me?” “Thine be the Glory?” That guy from the local amdram that wishes he was Placido Domingo will lead the church flat. Whichever of our friends are still alive will clutch a piece of paper with that photo we never really liked on the top. Why did they choose that photo? They’ll bellow along to the hymns, an enthusiastic solemn cacophony. The vicar will pretend to know you, but bets will be out as to whether or not he’ll get your name right. He might make some positive statements about your personality with the sincerity of a recorded voice saying “I’m sorry for the delay.”
Some mate of yours that still owes you 20 quid from that last game of backgammon will hesitantly hobble up and attempt to make sense of where you went in a jumbled speech. It won’t make much sense to them yet that you aren’t about to jump up and say “I’m here!” Our true friends are immortal, surely? That’s why we can be so shit about calling them.
Lesson time! Everyone will nod sagely as the wisdom of Ecclesiastes tells us unquestioned that there is a time to hate and a time to kill, oh as well as a time to love and a time to die because that’s why we’re here. But there’s definitely time to hate and kill too. While we decide who to hate and kill there’s sad music. Maybe some sad children wear suits.
Then our heavy corpse will be expertly lifted and hustled off to the crematorium, where the guy who does the logistics is just hoping he’s got the bodies in the right order. There’s a queue waiting outside with the next body, and someone in there when you arrive. The flowers might get jumbled so you burn as”Doris”. Afterwards the family probably just get a generic pile of ashes in an urn, the remains of someone’s lunch, with “Grandma” on the label. Already more idea than truth. But it’s all about symbols, about belief and about overlooking, this business of dying.
I’ve had my share of funerals. Too many already and I’m relatively young. I see the need for an end of life ritual, but this version is somehow counter to my tastes. But I also see with an entertainer’s eye that sometimes you just gotta give ’em what they want. And it’s familiar, easy closure.
Today was the funeral of my cousin. It’s a branch of my family in Folkestone – my maternal grandmother’s side. Nigel was a good guy, an architect, changing the landscape in that area. Last time I saw him outside of a family gathering was when I played Turner at Margate Theatre Royal. At the time he was building the Turner Contemporary Gallery on the harbor arm. I was thrilled he came to my show. We hung out afterwards.
I was glad to see him off today. It was a solemn but apt funeral. It’s impossible not to have a conversation about Boba Fett when I see that side of the family. My cousin Emma knows the actor in the costume, and sees how he makes his living via conventions. “You could do that. All you need is that part in Star Wars.” Yes, universe. That’s all I need. That part in Star Wars. I might turn down The Sun. I won’t turn down Star Wars. And GO universe!
And so we go on. And for me, fewer and fewer of the older generation remain to annoy me with their opinions. I’m glad I made the trip to see him off. Say what I will about the traditional service, it’s familiar. And familiar helps. Hopefully next time I go to Folkestone it’ll be for pleasure.