Kim’s Funeral

I just wanted to write something about the funeral last Wednesday. If you think it’s crass or unpleasant for me to talk about how I was feeling at a funeral, then it’s best you don’t read any further.

As you’d imagine, the funeral wasn’t very pleasant. When old people die it’s sad but not generally upsetting, but when it’s somebody as young as Kim (22) it’s a very different atmosphere. We arrived fairly early and parked up, then waited in the cold until the hearse arrived. I didn’t know the etiquette that surrounds these things but thankfully Nod had an understanding of procedure. We watched as a very large number of people arrived, including many old schoolmates and some teachers. Finally the family drove past, which was very strange. Everybody went quiet and turned around as the car drove between us all. I didn’t really want to look at their faces, so stared down at the ground. I’d guess that most people did the same thing.

After the coffin was carried inside we all entered the church, at which point strange etiquettes once again arose. The family were sitting on the right hand-side of the crematorium, and all of the rows there quickly filled up, at which point people began filing into the rows on the left. Except, nobody would sit in the front two rows. Once people began standing at the back, the usher was telling people to go to the front rows, but nobody would. I just automatically went where I was told, as thankfully did Ben or I’d have been on my own. I suppose people were worried that the rows were only for ‘special’ people, but I couldn’t really see why that would be the case. The crematorium was extremely full by the time the speaker stood up. There must have been well over 100 people.

I’ve only been to a couple of funerals before, but I remember finding them unpleasant above the normal levels, due to the amount of religion. I’m an atheist as you know, and I get cross when I hear ministers stating that god must have done this for a reason, etc. I find it insulting. Kim, it turns out, was also non-religious, and the speaker was in fact a representative from the British Humanist Society (except unfortunately he garbled this and I heard it as ‘British Gymnast Association’ – it was only later that we realised what he must have said).

The ceremony was, I thought, eloquent and moving. The speaker spoke about Kim’s life, loves and achievements. One of her good friends read out a very poignant poem, and twice the ceremony was paused for music: Ronan Keating’s ‘When You Say Nothing At All’ and Eva Cassidy’s ‘Fields of Gold’. The latter song makes me cry *anyway* (one of only two songs that manage this – the other is Jeff Buckley’s ‘Hallelujah’), and I was glad that I’d steeled myself after a prior warning as I cleverly forgot to take any tissues. People were of course upset, but the tears were outshone by smiles at the stories of Kim’s experiences. What happened to her was tragic and awful, but she managed to maintain a level of happiness and refused to be bowed by her illness.

The ceremony ended with Maroon 5’s ‘She Will Be Loved’, and we all filed out. We stood outside for a fair while, talking and catching up with old acquaintances, before finally moving off. I spoke to Mrs Bennett and Mr Evans, both old teachers from Arden. It was odd and pleasant to see them again. Afterwards Ben, Lynsey, Nod, Eleanor and I went into Solihull and had a drink at Kim’s favourite haunt, Starbucks. It was fun chatting with Eleanor, as I haven’t seen her for years.

Thinking back to the day now, I think that it went as well as it could have done. A terrible thing happened, but we all said our goodbyes in a thoughtful manner. We remembered, and can now move on, without forgetting about her.

I want to say a few things about funerals in general. It’s not criticising anything or anybody, just remarking on general behaviour. Again, if you think that anthropological observations at funerals aren’t appropriate, then it’s best that you stop reading.

I find a few aspects of funerals puzzling. Particularly, the behaviour of everybody after the ceremony. At every funeral I’ve been to there’s been a strange lull. I’ve been thinking about it, and as far as I can work out everybody is doing their best to make sure they don’t do anything to upset the family. It’s just that this arguably gets taken further than is necessary. For example, when we were talking after the ceremony on Wednesday it occured to me that I was hungry. I had a chocolate roll in my pocket which was perfect. Something stopped me taking it out immediately, however, and the people around me indicated it was a definite no-no when I asked. Why is this? It’s not insulting anybody’s memory to be hungry. I suppose the worry is that it looks like I’m thinking about myself when I should be thinking about the deceased. But does anybody actually think this way? Do families in grief actually care about that kind of thing? I don’t know. I doubt it, myself. I’ve never lost anybody terribly close to me, but I can’t imagine that I would resent people continuing to go about their lives.

Another interesting moment for me was when a woman called Laura came over to speak to us. We’d known her at Arden, and I always rather liked her. When she started talking I found myself thinking that she was still as lovely as ever, then immediately felt guilty. Is that wrong of me? Again, it’s thinking of myself at a funeral, but it’s not something that I can control. I then got nervous and garbled a sentence, as I do whenever I’m around attractive strangers. There’s just nothing I can do about these things. In hindsight I don’t think that there is anything wrong with this. But it brings up an interesting point…

Most people would agree that a funeral is not the place to arrange a date. But, why? I’m not talking about my specific incident, just in general. How about getting somebody’s phone number? You might not see this person ever again. I’m not talking about my specific incident here, but in general. Again, I think it’s to do with not wanting to appear to be forgetting why you’re there. Most people would say that it’s not ‘appropriate’. But, who would actually mind? If you are genuinely there to say goodbye to the deceased then you’re not going to forget about them. But, terrible as it sounds to say, life doesn’t stop for you too.

I’m aware that these things bring up the idea of ‘respect’, but that’s too wide an issue to go into now. I don’t know. These things are difficult.

I hope I haven’t offended anybody with the above. Emotions run high, but I hope you can see that I’m genuinely interested, and am not insulting anbody’s memory. If you have any opinions, please do let me know. I’m genuinely interested in what people think on this.