The Big Goodbye

It took me awhile to figure out what funerals are all about.  In this case, it didn’t take me this long because I’m slow, it’s just that at my age, funerals are a relatively rare occurrence.  Anyway, funerals are not about the dead – they could care less what happens, as far as I can tell.  Rather, funerals take place to reassure the living that a similar ceremony awaits them.

The realization hit me at my Great-Grandma’s funeral this summer.  First hand accounts of her parenting skills left a lot to be desired – as a mother, she was indifferent and negligent.  I only knew her as an elderly woman, but the stories I heard seemed accurate based on her actions at family gatherings.  She died this summer at a ripe old age, which led me to the catholic church in Athens once again.  To hear people talk about her at her funeral, the scope of her benevolence and tenderness meant we could expect her to be beatified any day.

If one went to a funeral every funeral in town for a few days, you might get the impression everyone who recently passed was a modern day saint.  Most eulogies read like hyperbolic Madlibs – all you really need to do is change the names.  So-and-so loved their kids more than anything, worked hard, had a wonderful life, saw the lighter side, cared for the poor, smelled like fresh roses, and damn near wiped out world hunger.

Obviously, not every dead person could really live up to such standards.

My theory is that those who speak of the dead invent fabulous stories about them to reassure the gathered family and friends that when they pass, a similar degree of polish will be applied to their lives.   You’d be hard up to find someone who pronounces the deceased as dishonest, unkind, or douchebaggy, even if that were truly the case.  And who can blame them?  If I told the truth about someone I knew well, and said they were a normal person, that they made mistakes, weren’t a perfect friend/parent/Christian, etc, I would get run out of the church and probably disowned.

And that’s if  I told the truth – not trying to stir up shit like the cretins at Westboro baptist (may they live long enough to die regretting what they’ve done).

The reason behind all this seems clear enough – we are mortally afraid of death.  That it is the end, the very end, and that our lives may not have lived up to our own or others expectations.

This should be the real message a funeral sends – that life is short and precious, and because its conclusion may come at any time, we should live in happiness and excitement, not fear.

Instead, I strap on rose-tinted glasses whilst listening to speechifying about my Great Grandma, and wonder what they’ll say I meet my maker from old age  falling into a volcano.

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