I went to the funeral of a friend, who died far too young. She knew she only had a few months left but she didn’t plan the event (somehow “plan” seems too cold a word) but simply said that she wanted a celebration, not a wake. In fact, she wanted a full on party.
She did say that she wanted a cardboard coffin so we could write messages on it, and she wanted to be cremated. The rooms were decorated with bunting and the steps marked by bright banners, with a sign saying “Candy’s Celebration.” There was Prosecco (her favourite drink) and friends and family brought photos of her as well as poems and messages which they stuck on the coffin for everybody to read. There were posies of flowers, and trinkets too; all the things she would have loved. More and more of them until her casket looked like the most beautiful present, a gift to a life.
Nobody wore black. We dressed up, in the brightest of colours. There was no vicar, stumbling over her name, or echoing banal sentiments about somebody he never knew. Poems were read and stories told, some funny, some heartbreakingly sad. We cried, of course, particularly when the whole room sang “You’ve got a Friend” and then we followed her through the garden, where children were playing, to the hearse, decorated with flowers and ribbons and waved her goodbye.
“Good bye, Candy, goodbye. Love you.”
Even the funeral director shed a tear. He said it was the most touching and beautiful farewell he had ever seen.
Her friends cooked the food. There were no sad sandwiches, entombed in cling film and curling at the edges from too early a preparation and, once she had left us, there were no more tears. We danced and we drank and partied until dawn. We hugged and we kissed, and then we went home; not happy but filled with gratitude for a day so wonderfully celebrated and a life so full and happily lived.
She would have loved it.
It was in that room and those gardens that death lost its sting. No darkness cast a shadow over her, no bleak sermons hid her brightness. I am not, in any sense, against showing love and respect for a faith, of any sort but there is a magic to fairy lights and fun and sadness so openly and willingly shared.
Too often, I think, we treat death with too fearful a solemnity – or hushed silence, as if we do not dare speak its name. We grieve secretly, and hold it so close, it eats into our hearts. There is nowhere for it to go, except into our suffering.
As Candy said, it is always worse for those who are left behind. We miss her, terribly. I am always excepting to see her walk around a corner or find her knocking at my door and that sadness will not go, although it will fade with time but being given the chance to wish her goodbye, amid such lightness, does help.
We also talked a lot about death (and life) before she was gone. That also helped. I know some people find it terribly difficult to talk about death with somebody who is dying, but she needed and wanted to talk. People who avoided her because they were at a loss for words, or frightened of saying the wrong thing, made her terribly sad – although she understood. Then there were those who sat with her, resolutely ignoring the subject until it became a giant elephant in the room. She couldn’t see past it, and nor could they, so all connection was lost. And she did so long to connect and say goodbye.
As death is so much part of life, it seems so sad that, in our present culture, we avoid discussing it as if, by not talking about it, it will simply go away or will never happen. It is our one constant. For every story there is an ending. It may not make us happy, but we can’t simply wish it away.
We can, however, share in our grief, we can listen and we can talk, and by reaching out to each other, we can find relief.
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