On his deathbed, Oscar Wilde looked up at the particularly lurid wallpaper and said: "One of us has to go!" He went.
Funerals come in all shapes and sizes. They are always sad and emotional. Some say that a funeral is a celebration of the last major act of living.
The religious ones give huge hope to those close to the "recently departed". They are told that they will meet again. Some vicars suggest that there is no permanent loss and that one's loved one has only moved "into a room close by."
Although I personally find this concept incredible I concede that to many it gives a great deal of comfort. It must also give the conducting vicar a severe test of his faith when preaching such a line; he probably doesn't want to look too closely into the eyes of those sitting in front of him.
Then you get the funeral service that is at the other end of the scale, the "unbelievers" departure from this mortal coil. Recently I was a mourner at one of these, along with about 500 others. I didn't know him well, but we had played golf together and I wanted to be there.
The much-loved local GP had finally succumbed to a miserable wasting disease at too young an age. He'd prepared the structure of his funeral and the celebrant started the service with two very clear requests from his recently departed friend: "I am an unbeliever, but not an atheist.
"I don't want any waffling."
Those comments clearly set the tone for the service he wanted. The word God was not used and there was no suggestion that we might meet in another life. It was very simply a coming together of his friends and associates who wanted to say goodbye. We entered the building to the strains of a Beethoven symphony and during the service joined in with John Lennon in singing his famous Beatles song – "Let it be, let it be". We departed, following the coffin, to the foot-tapping music of Queen.
The woman sitting next to me gave me an early warning and apologised for what she called "my funereal sniffling". At the end of the service I was able to tell her she was not alone; there was not a dry eye in the house.
His close friends and children stood and gave what are probably the toughest speeches of their lives. They overcame their emotions of the moment, took deep breaths and expressed their mateship, love and in some cases their anger at being cheated out of their dad's lost years. We laughed at the lost tales; we gulped back our own tears and we joined in celebrating a great life.
Having been very much aware of his imminent departure he was able to give us some final thoughts as the service came to its end. His celebrant, a publican and isn't that a touch of class, read his farewell words; they rang in our ears as we left: "Don't weep for me for an undue period. Now get on with your lives supporting each other." It summed up the man.
Sometimes, the person who has died has "run the full course" and has patiently waited for his or her death. Their old friends have all preceded them to the grave and their bones have indeed grown weary. This is a time when grandchildren get to recall their memories of grandparents. I remember one such when No1 grandson told us of the story of "how everyone had been so delighted when grand pop had met grand mum and decided to get married; that is everyone except his fiancee". The church rocked with laughter. It was at this funeral I first heard of a practice that I've followed of writing to grandchildren on their birthdays. The sentiment behind these letters obviously affected this grown-up grandson, who shared one with us. It left him with very tangible memories.
Every time I see one of those "pictures from the past" shows thrown up on the wall at a funeral I make a mental note to go through all my drawers and cabinets and to take out all those awful snapshots that I don't want used at my final event. In fact, I've told 'er indoors, that if I go first I do not want such a show, I'll be happy to follow the format of our recently and sadly departed GP.
I started this article with a quip from Oscar Wilde on dying and I finish with a truism and lovely thought from one of his contempories DH Lawrence, who said: "The dead don't die. They look on and help."
- © Fairfax NZ News