Funerals are not entertainment

ROSEMARY MCLEOD
Last updated 09:38 25/10/2012

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Rosemary McLeod

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OPINION: In idle moments I fantasise about my funeral: who'll bother to turn up, how many will cry, whether there'll be sausage rolls at the after-bash. Important things like that.

I have a horror of some crazy celebrant with pink hair and releasing balloons, or lying in state in an open casket for people to gawk at.

I could end up with one of those tedious funerals where everyone who ever knew me feels they have to say something I can't deny and the thing drags on for half a day, boring everyone witless and making them sorry they came.

And how about a trendy vicar (an oxymoron for you) making wet wisecracks about the hereafter over my casket.

The truth is, I want to be immortal, but I have been inspired by some funerals I've been to.

There was my cousin's, when the choir from the mutton chain at the freezing works where she worked sang She was Beautiful. It helped a bit.

There was a dead young soldier's, formally and perfectly done.

My father's was a nice one: it pays to have never offended anyone but your ex-wife when you go, though you're not around to be gratified at the result.

And there was the tangi of a Maori friend, entirely conducted in te reo, that opened my eyes to another culture I'd been unaware of till then.

All of those funerals were formal to some degree, which is important, because there's a proper finishing point and everyone can go home satisfied that the job's been done.

Funerals have traditionally been samey, which I used to think was a bad thing and I now think is just as well.

A funeral is a serious event. It marks your passage into the great nothing that some people believe is a something; the experience, like your birth, that you can't avoid and which makes us all equal, no matter what sort of mess we've managed to make of our lives.

It's not entertainment - or so I've thought - but some funerals, according to a published weekend interview with two funeral directors, are getting worryingly creative.

Put it this way: when I imagine my funeral I think it will be all about me.

I think I'll be the chief topic of conversation and that whatever was important to me will matter.

But it seems your funeral is now all about whoever in your family will be in charge and how they're feeling on the day.

Your wishes will probably have damn-all to do with it, although you're paying, which hardly seems fair.

One big change, according to the report, is that hymns are being replaced with pop music. People are being farewelled with Frank Sinatra's My Way, Bette Midler's Wind Beneath My Wings, and Queen's I Want to Break Free.

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In a startling leap into tastelessness, Johnny Cash's Ring of Fire is being played at cremations, while Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman's Time to Say Goodbye is the song of choice at Wellington's Ninness Funeral Homes.

Roy Orbison's Pretty Woman is a fave in Central Otago, and that's weird.

Who can live up - as it were - to songs like these?

At least with the eternal The Lord is My Shepherd and The Old Hundred, which my grandmother chose for my mother's funeral, they don't suggest you were some kind of serious groover.

And in having a church funeral, even if you were never a churchgoer, you buy into the idea of continuity with your family, who very possibly were - just as at one time, not all that long ago, people were routinely christened. Those ceremonies were the bookends of your life: dependable.

I've considered lobbying for Elvis' Long Black Cadillac at my death bash but, realistically, people don't have the attention span for a number that long, and I haven't been the great, glamorous success story required.

I'd prefer something more restrained, like fireworks and a symphony orchestra.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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