Wednesday, 12 May 2010

In the midst of life we are in death, et cetera

I went to a funeral last week. It was not of someone to whom I was particularly close but of the father of my one of my oldest friends, someone I had a great deal of respect for. And insofar as a funeral can be good, it was a good funeral: the cemetery's little chapel was full; the eulogy was fulsome in its praise of an honest, decent man; and fond smiles were raised by reminiscences of a true character.

Later, as I stood on the hillside, my body confused by the weather dichotomy of brilliant sunshine and biting wind, I watched as my friend's father was lowered into the ground. Further along his row were another half a dozen graves so fresh that their little earthen pyramids had yet to settle or grass over. And the cemetery itself was a sprawling place, containing hundreds of years worth of headstones and memories - indeed, it was so massive that we drove from the chapel to the burial plot. Standing there with the wind tugging at the collar of my suit jacket, it struck me more than ever that in the midst of life we really are in death... it's just that, until death is at one's elbow, we don't notice it most of the time.

It also struck me, later on, that we can measure our lives by the parties we attend. Okay, perhaps "party" is the wrong word, no-one would call a wake a party - "social gathering" would be better. But as we assembled at my friend's house for drinks and food after the funeral, and I caught up with old friends that I hadn't seen (in some cases) for probably ten years or more, the whole life in parties thought occurred. First the early landmark birthdays - the 16ths, the 18ths, the 21sts. Then engagement parties, then weddings. Christenings or naming parties follow. Then more landmarks - the 40ths, 50ths and 60ths. Retirement parties. And funerals.

My friend's father was only eight years older than my own dad when he died, and it's fair to say I made the long journey home after the funeral thinking about mortality, and the inevitability of the end. It's not a cheery subject - sorry - and there are no conclusions or messages hidden in this post - again, you have my apologies, hope I haven't wasted your blog-reading time. As Bruce Hornsby once said, "that's just the way it is."

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