The great marker points in life are birth, marriage and death, or “hatch, batch and dispatch” in the clergy’s jargon.
You go through phases in life, don’t you? In your twenties your friends gradually pair off and you go to a round of weddings. Children follow and it’s christenings and/or birthday parties. Funerals are less predicatable, but when your parents get to a certain age there ‘s a bit of a spate.
I didn’t get many wedding invites. Being radical socialists most of our friends stuck it to the man by not getting married. My other half and myself decided to add an extra radical twist … by getting married. The feminists didn’t like it and it still confuses the authorities because my other half didn’t change her name. I can’t believe we did this, but we colour coded the guests at our wedding. White carnations were for the class enemy, pink for the liberals and red reserved for bona fide socialists. Well, it was the middle of the Miners’ Strike. In fact it was 28 years ago last week. Blimey.
We finally caught up with friends’ weddings when the rules to a number of pension schemes changed a few years ago. Those that were still together trekked off to the registry office with their grown up children in tow. It was hardly Four Weddings And A Funeral.
I’m getting my share of funerals though. This will be the seventh in two years. Pat was a long time friend to my in-laws and was for many years a lefty ally to my mother-in-law on the Parish Council. She had a long and full life, a “good innings” as they say. It won’t make the funeral less sad, but at least it makes some sort of sense.
Two of the funerals this year have been for people of my age. Both died of cancer. These funerals are much harder.
I lost a friend to cancer twenty years ago and it really shook me. I decided the only way to look at it was that it was completely random and didn’t mean anything. I decided that some things in life are unfair, but you have to get on with it.
My brother-in-law was a lovely man. He had a dry sense of humour and was bit of a foodie. When he got his final diagnosis that the stomach cancer was terminal he clarified with the consultant that he wouldn’t be able eat food again. “That’s a shame.” he said, understated to the last.
If you followed me on Twitter when I curated the People Of Leeds account, you will already know that I went to a Trotskyist funeral a couple of weeks ago. Julie Waterson was a prominent member of the Socialist Workers Party and particularly active in various anti racist campaigns.
Being a Marxist meant this was not a religious funeral, but it had just as much ritual. The thousand-odd mourners marched to the crematorium. There were a series of speeches (eulogies) from family, friends and colleagues that touched on different aspects of her life. We then all sang “The Internationale”.
I firmly believe that rituals are important. They give people a structure in which to celebrate or mourn. If you’re religious, it’s all sorted for you. There are marriage, naming and funeral services in every religion. If you’re an atheist like me it’s a bit harder. The onus is on you. Whenever me or my other half hear an appropriate song or piece of music we turn to each other and say “I’ll have that at my funeral please.” Unfortunately neither of us has been taking notes.
Well this column has been a barrel of laughs hasn’t it? Talking about death and funerals always brings up memories, so if you have been affected by reading this, please do find someone to talk to about how you feel. I’ll be back next week with more views from South of the River. In the meantime you can follow me on Twitter @BeestonJeremy.