Monday, March 19, 2012

Thoughts on a funeral

On Wednesday I went to the funeral of Celia “Aze” Beasy, my girlfriend Theresa’s great aunt, at St Stephen’s Anglican Church in North Balwyn.

I only met Aze once. She lay quietly looking out the window from her bed, speaking briefly when prompted by her energetic younger sister Valmai. But before the funeral Theresa told me of Aze’s wonderful shack at the beach, where canasta games dragged on forever because her friends would constantly drop in unannounced. Having witnessed the purgatory of her last days in a nursing home, it was good to have this snapshot of life as she really lived it.

Aze moved down from Newcastle very late in life, and many at the church would scarcely have recognised the vibrant woman described in the eulogy. I almost felt sorry for her, surrounded in death by so few people who really knew and loved her. On reflection, however, I think this says more about me than her. She lived a long and happy life. What else matters?

It’s a difficult question to answer. At least there was one happy side effect of Aze’s death, which doubtless is quite common: her family pulled closer together. They spent more time together, talked more, hugged more. It was great to see.

As a newcomer, I felt more at ease with Theresa’s family at this time of grief than previously in more informal settings. Suddenly, I was useful. I held a box of tissues, Theresa’s hand and her Mum’s hand bag; I passed around food platters and chatted up senior citizens; I belted out “Jerusalem” when the priest seemed to lose his way; I even managed not to think of Will Ferrell in Stepbrothers when “Con Te Partiro” was played.

And no, the day wasn’t all albout me – but I do have a tendency to narcissism, which is partly why I’m interested in funerals.  At times I’ve imagined giving the eulogy of a close friend or family member, and delivering such a virtuoso performance that the attendant throng was wept bone dry of tears and rolling in the aisles with laughter. In contrast, Aze’s eulogy was delivered quite matter-of-factly by an acquaintance she made after her 80th birthday.

Perhaps the ideal eulogy is this: an energetic, talented youngster steps up to bring a life long since gone grey back to the full colour of its bloom. A friend of mine recently returned from London for the funeral of her grandfather, at which she delivered her fourth eulogy in even fewer years. She was a big hit. Afterwards, distant relatives and family friends were jostling for position, hoping to book her in to “do them” when the time comes.

But of course, the usual narcissistic funeral fantasy involves one’s own send-off. It’s morbidly but endlessly fascinating to ponder: what would happen if I died tomorrow? Who would speak? Where would they hold it? How many people would turn up? Perhaps more importantly, who would write the Facebook event invite – and who would click ‘Maybe Attending’?

In the mixtape era of the early 1990s, I selected Metallica’s “Orion” as my funeral march. Thankfully, times have changed and I now have a suggested playlist on iTunes, although it does need some work. In fact, even thinking about this makes me want to buy my legal eagle friends a beer (they aways end up paying anyway). Is it possible to produce a will so watertight that the executors of my estate are legally obliged to play a particular selection of music, at a minimum decibel level, and on a particular brand of speakers?

Here’s a mouth-watering scenario: at the ripe old age of 90, I disappear in a sandstorm during a Trans-Siberian ultramarathon and am declared legally awesome dead. My recalcitrant conservative children engage in a lengthy court battle against my surviving coterie of old friends in an attempt to have my will quashed, but are ultimately unsuccessful. In an ironic twist, said old friends sit too close to the Bose sound system at the funeral and suffer multiple simultaneous cardiac arrests during the blissful electronic maelstrom that is Pita’s Get Out Track 3 at the legal minimum of 100dB.

Those who survive this ordeal then find themselves at a wake where all my worldly possessions are laid out for their perusal. Everyone has to take something home, especially if it’s a book with their name in it – or a picture of me looking young and beautiful. Or perhaps old and beautiful, either is fine. By the age of 90 there will be over 5,000 tagged photos of me on Facebook, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find a few decent ones.

All my signature dishes are served: zucchini pizza, rice balls, smoked trout salad and spanish tortilla. Dessert platters heave with a dozen different custard pastries. There is vodka, jagermeister and a bottomless ice bucket of Cooper’s pale, and when everyone is tipsy (but not too drunk) a beautifully crafted joint gets passed around. The music is cranked up, and suddenly a live-action performance of Dan Ducrou’s “Grandpa Does the Melbourne Shuffle” is underway. Cue more cardiac arrests.

This fantasy might have outstayed its welcome, but be warned: this is only the beginning. Soon my will will be written, and so will the directions for my funeral and wake. Actually, I might do the Facebook event too. It would be such a shame not to go out on a high.

In the meantime, I guess I'll have to work on being worthy of such a send-off when the time comes. Harnessing narcissism to live a good life? As Woody Allen says, whatever works.

1 comment:

Chris H said...

Pita track 3 always makes me emotional and would make a fitting funeral dirge. Not entirely convinced that Orion wouldn't make a half-bad choice either!