May 16th, 2005


The humanist guy who'll be taking Bran's funeral took the funeral of my sister-in-law's neighbour last week. My bro-in-law didn't think he was solemn enough, but the widow thought he got it right.

What does one want from a funeral?

A reminder that we've all got it coming to us?

A dose of religious uplift?

A celebration of the life of the deceased?

Some combination of the above?

No, this isn't a quiz, but I'd be glad of your thoughts.

When I was a clergyman I prided myself on doing a good funeral. People usually congratulated me afterwards (but they would, wouldn't they?) Here's a (15 year old) poem I wrote looking back on those times..


With time on my hands between two funerals,
Leaving the crematorium chapel,
I made a tour of the old graves.
Their ragged turf was covered with snow.

Blackened stones, the height of a woman,
They had the appearance of cowled figures.
It was a meeting of black robes
As I in my cassock moved down the rows,

Reading the names, the dates, the praise
That could have been uttered of anyone.
These made money in cotton, I thought,
And these kept shop. But try as I might

I couldn't conjure their living presence
For all my thoughts had a coal-face glitter.
I saw them stiff in their gothic houses
With puppet faces and black clothes

And the voices I gave them in my mind
Protested, "You will learn nothing here,
Patronising this underclass.
You deaden us with received ideas.

We were fickle in love, like you,
And insecure in our certainties;
How can you hope to account for us
Until you have thoroughly understood

How you are nothing? Don't bother to ask
The dead for truth. We are even less
Than any makeshift living thing.
As well interrogate drifting smoke

Or melting snow. And as for God..."
Their voices now were the rasp of the wind
On frozen snow; then they were cowls
Lined up as on a river bank

And lastly blackened stone. I turned.
This was before I ditched my love
In love's name, as Augustine did,
Saving myself; I wasn't ready

To hear their sermon. The hearse was coming.
Black tinder fell from the sky.
I wouldn't have noticed it but for the snow.
I had my own brief sermon to say.