Do funerals warrant attendance after a lapse in friendship?
In Mrs. Brixton’s Household Guide to Bereavement the author writes that, “A person attending too many funerals will develop a reputation as an idler seeking free cheese”. She is right about so much. Can’t we all cite a mystery guest wearing a sportscoat in which terriers have recently whelped turning up at our father’s wake claiming a shared skerrick of boyhood with him before scarfing down the lion’s share of the sushi and single malt? There was a bloke at my dad’s funeral who kept telling me, with what seemed like real sorrow, “Robbo’ll be missed.” Perhaps. But my father’s name was Graeme.
Mrs. Brixton suggests four funerals a year is about the right number to attend, “unless the Germans have started another war, in which case, needs must. But one should guard against giving the impression of being unemployed, surviving on canapes at wakes,” she advises.
On another page she instructs, “A funeral can be a convenient opportunity for a family truce. Differences are more readily put aside in an atmosphere of common grief than in seasons of joy. Thus, death may be a gateway for the black sheep to infiltrate the grieving flock. An untimely death, naturally attended by the most potent grief, is more efficacious in this matter than the expiry of an addled aunt whose hearing has long been muffled by the beat of angels’ wings.”
I get you, Mrs. B. If a train-surfing nephew comes unstuck I might use his funeral to grease up to the frosty sister. But if a septuagenarian croaks peace will not necessarily spread like midday lard at the memorial feast.
When my old man was dying and we were planning his funeral it was starting to sound like fun, and he said, “I just wish I could be there.” I replied, “Oh … you will be”. He liked that. But funerals are tricky terrain. Private invitations aren’t sent. You have to judge whether or not you should go.
This week I’ve been trying to work out if I should attend the funeral of a bloke I knew. You go to a funeral to swap memories of the departed, to toast them and roast them, to wish them luck on their journey into nothingness. And unless you’re some medieval freakoid this is all done for the family, the parents, the remnant spouse, the kids. But what if a bad apple turns up to a funeral? How’s that wash with the kin? What will my presence say to his children?
We were friends. Sporadically. Will his daughter find my attendance an intrusion? Will she gaze across the crowded room halfway through reciting the sorry ode she’s penned in her father’s honour and see me and ask, “What, in the name of all decency, are you doing here? If it’s the canapes, take a handful and piss off.” The freshly bereaved can be sods with a few consoling shandies on board. As protective of the dead as a bulldog is of a bone.
There’s often a deal of hypocrisy in attending a funeral. I imagine myself apologising to my old mate, him propped in roses wearing a mortician’s smile. “Look, Baz, sorry I didn’t bother to keep in touch with you while you were alive and it was possible. But here I am now in glad rags, dripping with eau de cologne and performative regret and loaded with anecdotes from the ’70s.”
You’ve got to ask yourself if you’re going along just to be seen to be doing the right thing. Just so you won’t be thought a callous bastard who went bowling while your once-upon-a-besty sat in an open casket being lovingly derided by neighbours and other villains.