The rise of so-called happy funerals is no laughing matter

An article by Giles Fraser of the Guardian – as always your thoughts and response is encouraged.

It’s time to put the fun back into funeral. Yes, it’s going to be the party of your life. After all, you only die once. It’s your special day. Why not make it a themed occasion? Perhaps the coffin-bearers could be dressed up as superheroes? Or maybe a MasterChef theme? Do you think Gregg Wallace might be available to take the ceremony? I was once asked by a group of mourners if they could put a snow machine on the roof of St Paul’s Cathedral, because the deceased “loved the snow”, they explained.

Funerals have become the new weddings. For just as weddings have gorged themselves on inflated self-promotion, so funerals are now doing the same. They are becoming extravagant forms of self-expression, designed to articulate our individuality.

And yet, of course, there is something very obviously odd about all of this. For self-expression and individuality are not characteristics of the dead. Funeral orations may sound more and more like a best man’s speech, with the inevitable weak jocularity. But there is nothing more incongruous than “because I’m worth it” consumerism when practised by – or even on behalf of – those who no longer exist. The funeral is not just one more occasion for us to be centre stage or party hosts, in absentia. It is precisely our permanent absence that is being acknowledged. It is non-being that gives the gathering its very point.

Or am I just being a snob? After all, I want a themed funeral of sorts: with great clouds of incense and black-veiled Sophia Loren look-a-likes blubbing into their lacy hankies. One might call it a Fellini-themed funeral, with all the high drama of the Mass.

But this is not an argument about religion. It’s the basic lack of seriousness of the so-called happy funeral that bothers me the most – and I have been to many a religious funeral that also strains at a chirpy matter-of-factness in the presence of the dead. This is a problem in part because the happy funeral, in refusing to allow a life’s end to impact us in all its darkness, is no longer helping us through the grieving process. But also because there is a fundamental form of denial going on in a society that cannot cry or get upset or just sit with its own grief without having to distract itself with a bit of a laugh – Monty Python’s Always Look on the Bright Side of Life is one of the most popular songs at funerals. OK, maybe I’m not getting the joke. But then again, why is this a time for jokes?

There is surely something deeply emotionally brittle about the refusal to allow ourselves to be overcome with grief. Like a child that needs the light on all night, we seem increasingly terrified to spend periods of time without consolation, without levity. And I suspect that, surprisingly, the erosion of public religion has made things worse. For although it is commonly argued that religion offers cheap doctrinal consolation in the form of the belief in life after death, and thus is a classic form of avoidance, in practice the opposite is the case, for the liturgical side of religion presses the bereaved up against the reality of their loss.

There is no hiding from death in the structured silences and, yes, even the extended boredom, of church services. In contrast, however, more and more crematoria are being fitted with equipment that can live-stream the send off. So you don’t even have to get out of bed to say goodbye to your gran. If the service gets a bit dull, or too distressing, you can just flick between the channels for a bit.

Welcome to the 23rd century, proclaimed the poster for the great science fiction film, Logan’s Run. The film depicts the world as a paradise of youth where no one asks about how people die. People are too busy having fun. Well, forget the 23rd century, we are almost there already. Few millennials have ever seen or touched a dead body. Dying has become private, hidden. And now even our funerals are being managed so as not to make us sad. It feels like some big game of let’s pretend.

Thursday 11 May 2017 The Guardian

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