Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Good Life

On Friday I went to a funeral and yesterday I went to a three-year-old’s birthday party. Both were good. The funeral was for the husband of a friend who lives close by and is one of my long-time writing companions and I wished with all my heart that he would not die, he was not old. He wasn’t someone I knew well, but sometimes it doesn’t take much for a person to reveal what is essential about them. The goodness and simplicity of the funeral felt in accordance with the character of the man. I wept, as I have done at each funeral I have been to (there have been four) since my father’s death. As my friend’s husband was a Buddhist, there was a monk dressed in saffron robes who chanted by the coffin which was made of some kind of raffia type of material and reminded me of the Moses baskets that new babies are held in and is the most beautiful coffin I have seen and, I think, most perfect for carrying a newly-dead body from this life. I have no sense of where the dead go to, no conviction that tells me they are still alive in the spirit. Much as I would wish to believe that my father were somehow “there,” it is his absence rather than his presence that I experience most forcefully. But where belief and conviction fail, faith leaps (sorry, could not resist) in most extraordinary or ridiculous fashion – I can’t and won’t decide which it is and feel that perhaps it is both. I have this faith that the substance of a person, the soul, is there, wherever there is, perhaps returned to the place it came from before incarnating into the physical body at birth. I have also this intuition that tells me it is important, and not only for those who are still alive, how we conduct ourselves and rituals at the time, and in the days after, the death of a person.

The birthday party was for my nephew, the son of my half-brother, one of the many half-siblings from my father’s second marriage. Born shortly after the death of my father and with a Portuguese mother, he has the Portuguese version of my father’s name: Michael. The party was held in the grounds of a youth club/sports pavilion. There was a bouncy castle, balloons, a cake with Noddy and Big Ears in a car with the birthday boy’s name on the number plate, a party conductress (can’t think what else to call her) and a clown that shouldn’t have been there. The clown had been booked and then cancelled in favour of the party conductress, but the clown’s wife hadn’t passed the message on, so there he was all painted up and ready with his box of tricks. He said as he was there that he would like to do the gig anyway, paid or not, and in the event he was given half the fee he would have had. He was a nice person, but his tricks consisted mainly of twisting balloons into different shapes and giving out lollipops. I couldn’t quite see the point of the Conductress who got everyone singing Happy Birthday with the unnecessary aid of something pre-recorded and followed this up with pass-the-parcel and Mr. S and I couldn’t help reminiscing how we used to do the singing, games and puppet show of Mrs. Rabbit’s Cottage, all by ourselves. But still, it was good to be there with small children who (now that I no longer have them) I sometimes miss, and with the open-hearted loving kindness of the fully-functioning side of my family.


That's so pants said...

Hi Signs

Observed with immense sensitivity and thought, as always. I am one of those people who does not find death particularly unpleasant and who finds the ritual of a proper funeral both appropriate and comforting. I was with a very close friend when she died and found it an honourable experience - not horrible in the least. I was also in charge or organising her proper East End send off. It actually was quite lovely.

Children's entertainers can be great. I remember seeing one trying to put out three sticks of fire but kept accidentally setting alight to all of them again. He drove the children nuts for about 15 minutes as he had them try to figure out how to do it and them mishearing or misinterpreting their increasingly frenetic shouted instructions. Priceless.



Reading the Signs said...

Thanks Pants,

yes, I think when it's done in a good way it is a lovely and enriching experience for everyone. I have never been with a person at time of death and would dearly love to have been with my Dad.

NMJ said...

Hey Signs, Another beautifully evocative post. Death of loved ones terrifies me, but the raffia coffin and the saffron-robed monk are comforting the way you describe them. My 90-yr-old granny is terminally ill with cancer - but she is totally in denial - and after her most recent hospitalisation to cauterise internal bleeding said she was going to Holland and Barrett's to get an iron tonic.

Kahless said...

Hi Signs,

I am also of the view that it is important how funerals and death are handled. I also have formed the view that seeing the actual dead person, if appropriate and they were close to you, is important too.


Reading the Signs said...

Hey NMJ, I think you might be interested in the youtube video on Shallowlands (see sidebar) - it's of Jung talking about life after death and he seems to find it significant that people, near the end of their lives, tend behave as though life is never going to end.

Hi Kahless,

I was able to be with my father shortly after he had died, and that was good.

Anna MR said...

Hei Signs, like the other commenters above (hello all) I am, yet again, impressed by the beauty, sensitivity, and quiet wisdom of your post. There is a quality in your writing that speaks, poignantly, about a profound understanding and appreciation of some real key issues of life. You are, in other words, a star, my dear...

Mwah xx

Reading the Signs said...

Thanks Anna,

not sure I feel quite deserving, but nice things appreciated.

Anna MR said...

Ha, stop it, of course you are deserving, Readingthesignskin. Double deserving. I would have said it more eloquently and less pompously, if I'd had the skill.

Reading the Signs said...

You were quite eloquent and not pompous at all, missymr - but I will stop being bashful, as you have asked.

cusp said...

Oh why can't I put things as eloquently as you ? Personally I find funerals quite grounding (sorry for the pun !). I can only think of one that was gut wrenching and that was because it was for a child.

I love the idea of the raffia coffin and it sounds like the whole service was a good reflection of the man and, in that, a celebration of his life ---as a good funeral should be.

The party sounds good too. I also love kids parties ---especially tinys' parties: all that cake mushed into hair and carpet. Lovely !

Reading the Signs said...

Hi Cusp,

Grounding is a good word - I know what you mean (I like the pun too).

I used not to enjoy kiddies' parties (or kiddies, come to that) - until I had some of my own. And now I love them. It is good, though, no longer being responsible for doing it all and clearing up after.