Death Becomes Her

The news of the death of someone close or of a similar age leaves most of us feeling uncomfortable as we are forced to contemplate our own inevitable demise.

But I’ll bet all of you out there know of, at least, one person who appears to love the sensationalism surrounding this; that particular individual who is drawn out of the woodwork like a deathwatch beetle on an introduction to an antique oak table. They seem to love the drama of it; the sense of occasion. Or is that just me being uncharitable?

What got me thinking about this was the recent death of my partner’s uncle. His niece, who hadn’t shown her face in ages, appeared like a contestant on ‘Stars in Their Eyes’, transformed through the mist from a selfish ‘I’ve got a life’ harridan to a concerned and devoted relative – it’s amazing what the whiff of a cadaver can do.

She took over the funeral arrangements riding roughshod over any other suggestions. It might have been sad had it not been so obvious how desperate she was to be attributed the accolade of ‘chief mourner’.

At the funeral, the church was ‘standing room only’ even though he’d had no more than a handful of regular visitors over the last few years of his life.

Why does it appear to be more important to honour the dead rather than the living?

I think that mourners at funerals generally fall into one of the following categories:

  1. They will truly miss that person and want to say goodbye.
  2. They wish to pay their last respects, having promised to catch up but forgetting that time passes so quickly.
  3. They’re intrigued about the contents of the will and whether they’ve been bequeathed an inheritance.
  4. They want to make sure enough people still living return the favour and plug the gaps in the pews should they be next.
  5. The prospect of a free buffet… free bar just an added bonus.
  6. They want to make a big show of their ‘supposed’ grief.

Personally, I detest funerals. Not because of a lack of respect but because I become so emotional – just the sight of the hearse and a teary-eyed mourner has me convulsed in paroxysms of grief.

My partner thinks I could give Bob Marley’s backing singers a run for their money and that he could have made a fortune hiring me out as a professional wailer in ‘the olden days’.

I think that he’s so lacking in emotion that he makes ‘The Terminator’ look like an avid football fan watching his team lose the League… by one point.

Benjamin Franklin was credited as saying:

‘…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.’

Yet we live in a society that is often astounded by death perhaps, in part, by our arrogance that we are becoming increasingly adept at extending life – no matter what the cost to the quality.

Many people reach adulthood before tasting their first sliver of the finality of death. In earlier generations it was a much more accepted part of life.

My late grandfather used to tell me the tale of being left home alone, as a seven year old boy, while his mother and sister had gone shopping for funeral clothes. His father had been laid out, with pennies on his eyes, in an open coffin under the window of the living room. As my granddad continued to stoke the coal of the fire, his father’s body raised up to that of a sitting position.

As you can imagine, he was out of the house faster than a vindaloo and eight pints of beer moving through the digestive system on the morning after a night on the lash.

Hang on a minute… this is wrong on so many levels; social services would have a field day today – abandonment, health and safety issues, not to mention post-traumatic stress disorder.

But the point I am trying to make is that death was as familiar as the butcher who sold scrag ends to make a stew for the less fortunate, on the day before pay day.

This, in part, may go to explain why some hold a fascination for the macabre; perhaps it is just their way of making sense of their own mortality… or perhaps I’m being too generous.

Image Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos

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