Today I attended the funeral of someone I've known since I was twelve - when I started secondary school, even though we were at different schools, I inherited her copy of Paterson & MacNaughton's Approach to Latin Book 1. Her parents lived two doors from mine, and as I sat listening to the minister talking about the early life that been contiguous on mine I thought of how little she had changed, really, from the girl in the regulation school hat passing our gate of a morning. The west of Scotland can be a small place, really, so it was only mildly surprising that for several years we should be colleagues in Dunoon Grammar school or that Mr B should even more recently have met her every week at the fish van.
There were several things that struck me this morning. The first was the relief that the organ was being played by a decent organist - for this was not the case the last time I was in that church. The second was that it was warm, and the third to notice what a terrific photo was on the front of the service sheet. So far, so good. But it couldn't last. The last funeral I was at took place in the same church, and the same minister did what she did again today. She announced that we were going to pray. She began all right and I thought 'Maybe someone's told her ...' - but no. Suddenly God was being told where the deceased had lived as a child, what school she had attended, what qualifications she had gained. There was the odd attempt to redeem the situation by thanking God for this and that, but then we were back to the life story. It was so far from what was needed - for me anyway - that I gave up any pretence that I might be praying, and instead thought of the person I had known, the laughs over some absurdity in school, the cleverness, the passion we shared about accuracy in language. I don't know how CofS ministers are trained these days, and I'd love someone to tell me why they should think it's all right to tell all this stuff to a God who knows us from our mother's womb and I'd love to know how they can justify inflicting this on people at a funeral - people who might have no church connection other than funerals must get a very odd picture of God indeed.
We sat there, solidly, in rows. No-one said "Amen" to anything. Oh - I did. There was a strange hiatus at the end of the service. Would we still be sitting there as they processed out? Oh good - a man, on his own on the other side of the church leapt to his feet and we all followed. I whispered the Nunc Dimittis to myself as the coffin was carried out. We all peeled out after it.
And outside, in the sun, it felt suddenly like being back at work. We stood there, surrounded by former colleagues, only one of whom is still teaching. We were all dressed more or less as we did for work - I actually wore the black shoes I used to wear for a day on my feet in school. The woman who was always putting her foot in things at staff meetings was doing it again. We all looked older - we are older, dammit, but not old enough to die, not yet. Maybe that's it. Maybe we're never really old enough to die, to miss the sunshine of the long-awaited Spring, to leave the others and go on this last journey alone.
I've just had a conversation on Facebook about this business of eulogies. Apparently in Nova Scotia (Anglican?) churches Canon Law forbids eulogies at funerals. They are seen as focussing on loss and grief and negating Easter hope. I can't help wondering if disguising the eulogy as a prayer would slip past the net, but take the point. However, I have attended funerals that did indeed celebrate both the person and the hope of resurrection, funerals that made no compromises in the face of a largely faithless society, funerals that had mystery and joy and were in no way an ordeal. If anyone's listening, that's what I want.
But I do want one thing, and it's not necessarily a eulogy. I want the Kontakion for the departed, in English, well sung. I doubt there will be live singers around to sing it for me, but get a decent recording and play it at a decent volume. Don't be timid. It says it all - the weeping and the Alleluias. And that's what it's all about, for me. Weeping and alleluias.