Sitting in church as a colleague took a funeral service, there was a moment to contemplate the proceedings.
In college, thirty years ago, we were told, “Each funeral should be a preparation for your own death”. It was a noble aspiration. Of course, it’s not like that; well, not like that for me, anyway.
What do I think about at funerals? Not about death There’s too much other stuff to think about dying. Have the people doing the readings arrived? Why hasn’t the person doing the prayers got a piece of paper in their hand? Who is that in the second pew, has someone been left out of the proceedings? Does the undertaker realize that he will need to clear the crowd at the back if we are going to get out of the church? The most anxious question of all is the seating arrangements for the various members of the family of the deceased who are not speaking to each other.
Even in the graveyard, there is often hardly more opportunity to think about death. There is the lengthy pause while the missing mourner arrives. There is the navigation around the gravestones to find a secure place to stand for the interment. (Country graveyards with graves with stone surrounds are hazardous when trying to walk with dignity ahead of a funeral procession). There is a nod to the pall bearers to lower the coffin. There is the moment of realization when you become aware that neither the undertaker nor the gravedigger has left dry soil for the committal and you have to pick up pick clods of wet earth which land on the polished oak with a series of loud thuds. There is a pause at the end as you try to remember whether roses were going to be thrown into the grave, or the Masons were going to file past, or whether an old soldier was going to give an oration. There is a moment of uncertainty as the diggers catch your eye, waiting for the signal that they can cover the grave.
Not really much preparation for anything, except trying to get mud off your shoes, and wondering who was the person in the second row who has not come to the graveyard. At tea afterwards, people will laugh about the awkward moments and explain who was the mysterious person.
None of it is a preparation for one’s own death, but what does that matter? Once dead, there is nothing about which to worry.