My sting? Oh, that’s right here.

21 November, 2006 at 1:06 pm (dear diary)

Attended my third funeral in the past eighteen months, and the first for a non-family member. Prior to that, after attending two ceremonies for former teachers of mine, I had sworn them off entirely, realizing that the formal service was not personally helpful. The platitudes of faith and togetherness were not providing me with any grace or comfort, and it seemed unlikely, therefore, that my attendance at such things would provide any solace for any other attendants. And if that were the case, well, then it seemed better for all concerned if I simply forswore funerals altogether.

Attending these last few ceremonies have confirmed for me that there’s little the service can do to warm the cockles of my loss, but they have been interesting in clarifying the intended purpose of the event. And I’m beginning to understand that what I’m actually looking for in the post mortem is a good wake. The best funeral I ever attended was for the father of a friend, and it was organized as a remembrance of what the deceased was like in life, a celebration of the man and his works and his foibles. Vienna Teng has a song, “Say Uncle“, where she sings:

I retrieve the memories quickly as I can
add them to the portrait we all draw in our minds
your body gone, we shall keep the man.

That sort of mortal focus is what I need, the attempt at coalescing essence here, on this plane. And more and more I am coming to realize that this isn’t the intent of the service. It is there to provide words of the otherworldly, to prevent people from crying out, “But why?” It promises that, with patience, this will all be made right and that it was not meaningless. The difficulty is that Christianity is an evangelical religion, and in these trying times of flagging attendance, it seems to me that most ceremonial reminders of God’s divine grace tend to become mingled with entreaties for conversion. And, frankly, I find that to be the basest and most degraded of opportunistic shilling.

Charlie Nokes and Ryan McCaughn, 1999In addition to the confusion about the purpose of the funeral — and, admittedly, this could all be my own personal issues created by conflating the roles of the funeral and the memorial service — whether it is to celebrate the life of the deceased, to provide comfort with the belief of a greater beyond, or whether to serve as a cautionary moment to redirect the living towards salvation, this particular funeral had an additional master to whom was required homage: the military. Not only did the church need pulpit time to declare that we could mitigate our sorrows with the knowledge that death leads one to Heaven, the military trotted out its crisp, cornered ceremony to justify its actions on Earth. The military deals in death, it is the penny with which we all buy protection, but death of those on our side is somewhat embarrassing. It makes it look as if God in not with us, it reminds us that that fighting them over there is still guaranteed to hurt us here at home. Bugles, bagpipes, and triangular blue fields all try to say, “We are treating him honorably in death to convince you that we did honorably by him in life.” With particular unspoken emphasis on the circumstances that killed him. Yea, they are all, all honorable men.

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