Friday, 13 February 2009

Funeral for a Sea Dog

I went to a funeral today and as funerals go it was okay. Two minutes short of 20 minutes on a bright, sunny chilly day - a good day to be cremated. There are okay funerals, enjoyable funerals, embarrassing funerals and funerals that are too long. I've been to fun humanitarian funerals, ritualistic Roman Catholic funerals and ordinary mundane C of E type funerals. Today was the funeral service of an old neighbour of ours who died last week and whilst I won't name him, he was a retired merchant navy sea Captain. He had a stroke five years ago, just before his wife died and he's spent most of that time in a nursing home. The son, who we haven't seen for a while greeted us warmly and said, "The old bugger's dead." I thought, 'thank goodness, we're here for his funeral.' There's always room for humour. The Captain was a strong character and although he couldn't speak following his stroke and was less than mobile, I get the impression he communicated exactly what he wanted and dictated the pace. I don't know how old he was when he died but I guess in his mid 80s and it was quick; so a decent innings.

Wife: Arthur...
He: Yes dear?
Wife: I think I would like to be cremated.
He: Okay dear, get your coat on.
Attrib. Jerry Dennis

I used to enjoy the summer months in the front garden chatting to him about his life at sea, his adventures and his family who he adored. But his wife told me that he liked things just so; so when he was about to arrive home after months at sea, there was mad frantic activity getting the house and garden 'up to scratch'.

As time moves on and when you get to my age, there are more funerals to attend as contemporaries or what few senior relatives you may have left go on their merry way to wherever souls or spirits go after death. The worrying thing about that is when one of them is the same age or younger and that has happened to me recently, both lost to cancer. I have liked the humanitarian funerals particularly because they conform to my ideal: a celebration of a life gone and giving thanks for enrichment obtained through knowing the individual. There is a life history, funny or whimsical stories, and no objection to music - strange or otherwise being played at appropriate moments in proceedings. There are a lot of people I know who have had religious funerals who have had no particular religious interest and I wonder about that but I'm sure God would not object, we are after all all his children.

Planning for my own funeral has not been committed to paper but in my head there are a couple of songs I want played and I want it to be a relatively short and sweet affair with no hymns (no-one sings them anyway because they are too embarrassed, too upset or they key is too high and they don't want to be heard wailing out of tune) and prayers or thoughts for the living left behind that they should enjoy their lives in happiness and health.

What would you have as a memorial? There's a question. As I am to be cremated there will be no headstone, but perhaps a plaque on the wall at the crematorium would be okay. Spike Milligan had written on his tombstone, "I told you I was ill." Or I could publish a book either a novel or a home made tome like a family history (I like that idea). Or just be a memory to those who you have touched in your life - I like that too. There will be an eternity in the other world for us all to get to know each other better; shame we can't do it here and now.

On his seventy fifth birthday, Winston Churchill said, "I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the ordeal of meeting me is another matter."

Four spelling mistakes today :(

Chat soon


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