Amidst this sombre Holy Week, it feels appropriate to smile at death. For a seasoned celebrant of funerals, this is a close enough to truth to be oddly comforting.
Some precepts of postmodern mourning
There must be a body, but there needn’t be.
The body must be remembered with some fondness:
there must be at least two eulogists, and a third
must have been detained by traffic or a death
and the service must proceed. Sex
must be mentioned, but preferably not, except at the wake
or the séance when most words are permissible again.
On second thought, this precept needn’t apply.
But at least one text must be read from,
preferably composed by the body and significant; it
must include expletives, but needn’t do so.
Everyone must look dignified and important, or at least
significant; move deliberately but not heavily; smile
but laugh only once. Black must be avoided,
except in socks and sunglasses, which must be worn
during the service as well as outside afterwards.
There must be at least a reference to Celtic poetry
or Jewish ancestry, and both Testaments must be drawn upon.
Someone must remark ‘I still can’t believe it’
then ‘Yes I can’, and someone must respond
with a philosophical but solicitous lift of an eyebrow.
One of the mourners must be overheard to whisper,
‘I’m surprised she didn’t come, though it doesn’t
surprise me.’ It must be noted that the body
could never suffer fools gladly, and someone
must observe how much he or she is only now learning
about the body. Someone must say at least one Italian thing
either to mourners or to the body, but a French
or German or Latin or Spanish or Sanskrit thing
will do, or a thing in any other accredited language,
provided the expression is significant. There must be
no public mysticism, though there may be, and coffee
or white wine must be served afterwards. Someone
needs to be squinting tears, preferably a large man
in a double-breasted suit with a crimson kerchief
protruding rudely, coupled with a pallid pusillanimous
niece with a weak chin and beatific smile
nodding with significance. Reincarnation must be accepted
by at least half the mourners, but not mentioned,
though strange omens and premonitions over recent weeks
must be seen as significant in retrospect.
The body must be understood to be pleased with the service,
the simple dignity and grace of the occasion,
the Baroque cantata, the words, the weather. Everything
must be just so. Everything must be significant.
Though in the end it needn’t be. Later, this in itself
must be acknowledged as most significant of all,
or at least put down to the quintessential irony of death.