Tuesday, 24 August 2010

A Painful Funeral

A crem funeral followed a few days later by the burial of the ashes in a little wooden casket.The crem was no worse - and certainly no better - than most of them, and the burial site was in a de-consecrated churchyard in a very beautiful position, mountains behind, salt marsh in front, huge skies. Ancient beautiful little church. A favourite place of he who had died, since childhood.

Why do I single it out? Because the young man who'd died was in his late thirties, and his partner was also a young man in his late thirties. Hardly unique, but I had seldom seen such raw grief. The family of he who had died were neither rich nor sophisticated, not particularly eloquent, and united in their grief with the surviving partner.

The funeral was a "good" one, insofar as the big and important things were said, the death was faced and directly addressed, the life was, as we like to say, celebrated.

I remember one critic of the life of the composer Benjamin Britten saying that homosexual men were in fact would-be pederasts who sublimated their desires by accepting as second-best a relationship with an adult male (the arrested development/neurosis view, one might say.) Others not entirely sympathetic to a tolerant view of homosexuality have written of it as though it were simply a matter of promiscuity and easy satisfaction. (Underneath this view may lie a prejudice that homosexuality is not the "real" thing.) And it might be natural to think that a tolerant view of sexuality and gender is more likely amongst city-dwelling middle-class well-educated people than amongst working-class small-town not especially well-educated people.

All this crew, on the evidence of this funeral, were talking nonsense.

I have seldom seen such pain, from the partner every bit as much as the family.

I'm straight, as it happens and for what that's worth, so this isn't a heart-felt personal appeal, based on my own sense of identity, for enlightened views of gay sexuality.

Except - perhaps it is. I speak as I find.

I have seldom seen such raw grief at a funeral.


  1. Wow.

    I found a Christian website the other day which had a very glossy pdf pamphlet offering chapter-and-verse evidence that homosexuality is both unnatural and readily susceptible to remediation. I was so angry I forget to bookmark it. I hope I never come across it again.

    Is it peculiar that so many people define others by their sexuality? I've always been a believer that we hate in others what we most fear in ourselves. I always invite gay-haters to consider this.

    On a brighter note, isn't it good to see how acceptance of homosexuality is penetrating our 'unsophisticated' rural hinterlands?

    Back to your funeral - death comes in many guises, sometimes as release, sometimes as catastrophe. Terribly painful to witness. You have my respect. I simply can't do it any more.

  2. Thanks, Charles. You raise an important person question for me - for how long am I going to do this strange job? No-one is indispensible, but it's a difficult and needed role, and if one does it tolerably well...on the other hand, I can't deny a lightening of the step when the week ahead had no family visits or funerals in it - such as this week.

    Maybe I'll stop when the weight exceeds the pay-back (purely selfish equation) or when I'm not doing it was well as I used to (more altruistic) Probably a bit of both.

    As for you, Charles - you've done it, you understand it, and you are now doing a unique job, a service, which I can't imagine anyone else being so well-equipped to do. Your equation works out nicely, I'd have thought! Your work has certainly enlightened and challenged me.

  3. Thanks for the post, Gloria.

    I guess, ultimately, love is love, and however people feel it, that's what it is to them.

    I'm glad that this funeral went well - It comes across as a very "honest" funeral - with no attempts made to change the story of the man's life (as some gay folks may feel they have to do) and the "direct facing of death". There is enormous power in that honesty, but it's also what makes the grief so raw.

    Well done on doing the funeral with the same honesty and integrity. It sounds as though you were the perfect choice for them.

  4. Thanks XP, your comments are generous and encouraging.I'm still idealistic enough to think that raw grief at some stage, (and funeral as good a stage as any,) = better grieving and adjustment in the longer term. But uncommunicative families (how's it going with that crew?) or those who don't really care too much make it hard to do a lot in that line - still, they must all have the funeral they want!