(In response to the mourning death collectively prompt at Camels with Hammers)
When I’m dead, take my body for parts. I’m done with it. And to any of my British readers who haven’t signed up for the organ donor registry, please do so. Funerals aren’t for the dead, they are for the living. And, as may surprise people given my other posts mentioning the Anglicans in this blog, I think that the Church of England has its dispatchings about right (and if you are in a position to be married by the CofE it also does good matchings – pity that the current belief is that only some should be allowed to get married).
Why, and what does a good funeral need?
A good funeral marks an ending. It needs to be a little out of the ordinary to enable people to symbolically pass a threshold – and at the same time it needs to be partially familiar in order to not produce a vast sense of unreality. And it should definitely be a communal thing with people around to confirm, and to support.
Given the stages of grief have both anger and bargaining in the middle, and it’s a very sensitive time you need to set up a structure so people can’t flare at each other for a memorial – or the flares of temper and even the denial are somewhere they are expected. Two approaches that I’m aware of work here – one is a service with a ritualised formal structure to keep the mood from being infectious, and the other is a wake with coded emotion known culturally. Given that I personally consider a lot of my emotions personal, I’d rather have the service in public and rage in private – but this is an introvert/extrovert distinction, I think. Which makes things harder, of course. Not everything will be ideal for everyone and as a public wake is a thought that makes me shudder I think there should be place for one but have no personal preference.
Of course this leads to an obvious problem. With increasing secularisation, the religious structures and ceremonies are going. But that’s no reason not to keep 90% of the structure. Even from TV people know the basic structure of one of the existing funeral services, and familiarly different with an order of service so everyone knows where to be when works. It gets everyone where they need to be. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. And after hundreds of years of practice most of the rough corners have been knocked off the existing services.
Yes, it’s all very conservative especially for an atheist. But if there was ever a time to be conservative it’s a funeral. Much as I enjoy intellectual brawls, there’s a time and a place and a time and a place for security and ceremony. And given how much of Christian ritual (right down to the date of Christmas) was appropriated, I have absolutely no qualms about keeping the good parts.