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The funny side of death, dying and funerals

September 28th, 2008 · 4 Comments

As you get older illness, death and funerals become a common event. Let’s get one thing straight there is nothing funny about death itself but sometimes there are absurdly funny moments in the process, well at least in my (disturbed?) mind!

To illustrate this absurdity I have decided to reveal my own recent hypochondriacal experience, much to my partner’s amusement who has now scored at least years worse of good teasing material.

I had come down with a mysterious virus that presented with flu like symptoms and included a fainting spell just for good measure. I scheduled a consultation with “Dr Google” who summarily diagnosed me with a mixture of obscure and life threatening diseases.

“But Julian, how can I have a virus without a fever or a sore throat,” I mumbled, or
“Oh my god maybe its lupus, I have all the symptoms, hmmm but perhaps a thyroid problem, that explains the aching muscles and the thirst.”

To make things worse I had to wait a day before I could get a real doctor’s appointment, you can do a lot of psychological damage in 24 hours. By morning I was convinced that I was dying.

“Julian, I have had the flu before, and my body didn’t feel like this, it was achy in a different way!’ I wailed. ‘I am telling you something is seriously wrong!’

Convinced I was dying I found the energy to find my overnight bag , I must have looked like a crazy old women, hunched over, hair wild I began to pack my bag with the belief the doctor was going to send me straight to hospital.

By the look on Julian’s face I could tell he was thinking about sending me to a different kind of hospital. He watched my neuroticism unfold while I packed my bag with the essentials, pajamas, underwear, ugg boots and of course the all important dental supplies – toothbrush and dental floss.

My blood tests were perfect, with the exception of low vitamin D, which the doctor assured me was quite unrelated to the virus I was apparently battling.

…. hmm I wonder what Dr Google says about low vitamin D?

The funeral

If you have read my baby down pour article, you would know that ritual ceremonies such as weddings, christenings and baby showers are really not my thing. A funeral is no exception; it’s the ritual that bothers me, doing things without really knowing why we do them. Well, I hear you ask isn’t it obvious why we go to funerals? Sure, we go to say goodbye to the departed, which is fine. However it’s the strange proceedings that are ritually bound to occur that I question. A perfect example of this is my grandmother’s funeral.

When my grandmother passed away, I was treated to a series of curious and mysterious Australian-Greek funeral rituals.

The first peculiarity was the refusal to allow me to make a speech for my grandmother in the Greek church. I wont repeat the first thing that came out of my mouth when I was told this, and when I asked why I couldn’t make a speech no one could tell me the reason. Gender, age? No answer was forthcoming. I insisted that my grandmother’s brother ring the priest and ask him to make an exception. I knew from here on end this funeral was going to be a tough gig and I was right.

The day before the funeral, my partner and I were given very strict instructions from my auntie about what to go out and buy for the funeral and the Greek version of the wake after the burial. In no particular order:

1. one purple towel.
2. dry biscuits from the Greek bakery; and
3. solo (this was my grandmother’s favourite soft drink).

When we returned my auntie looked through the goods and told me off for not buying the correct shade of purple towel – apparently it was too bright and not the appropriate shade of purple. Funeral purple had a unique RGB number it seemed. As I found out later, the colour purple is religiously symbolic but the towel itself was for people to dry their hands with. No mystery there.

I was questioned at length by two alternating interrogators regarding the dry biscuits. The ingredients were scrutinized, texture and consistency checked, use by dates validated. One can only imagine what would have happened if I had bought the ones with sugar instead. As for the diet solo, well I had bought 2 litre bottles instead of 1.5 litre bottles; apparently the 2 litre size was too large and not very aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

All this was going on whilst my uncle was rationing serves of olives from a very large tin whilst bringing to my attention that the olives at a funeral have to be black and of a particular variety.

Clearly I was going insane.

Two choices presented my way:

a) bite my tongue and keep silent; or
b) explode and point out that this is a funeral and not a catering function – priorities people, priorities!

Sigh, I kept my mouth shut for the sake of keeping the peace, the day was stressful enough without me making things worse – so I did what all women would do, took it out on Julian instead.

On the day of the funeral, the hearse arrived at my mother’s house with the casket and of course my grandmother inside. The hearse had been around the block, in order to give my grandmother one final tour of her old neighborhood my uncle explained. Ah of course, I thought to myself, makes sense for a dead person to enjoy one last sight seeing trip before they spend eternity 6 feet under.

The boot of the hearse was opened and all the mourners gathered around the car while incense burners offering prayers to my grandmother’s soul wafted thin smoke through the air. There was much wailing. The spell was broken when I heard the sound of gushing water, I looked over my shoulder to find an old Greek women had turned the garden hose on. Thinking this was not the time to tend to the plants and having a thought for the current water restrictions in Melbourne I walked over to investigate. I was assured that flow of water helps to release the soul into heaven. Maybe I have watched too many movies but doesn’t the soul usually float up to heaven in a tunnel of light? I never recalled water being involved in this process.

At the church service the priest swung his jangling string of bells back and forward, back and forward releasing a sweet aromatic smell of burning frankincense and chanted in ancient Greek, I had absolutely no idea what he was saying, he could have been chanting out a recipe for Italian pasta sauce and I would not have known any different. Whispering to mum, I asked her “what is the priest saying, does it mean anything to you?’” Mum stared at me at shrugged. “I guess he is blessing her spirit,” she replied. I wasn’t satisfied with her answer; after all I couldn’t see the priest turning on the garden hose.

After the cemetery, everyone bundled into the hall, of course wiping their hands with the un-approved purple towel before they sat down to eat the biscuits (without sugar), drink diet solo from bottles that were too large for the tables and eat the right type of black olives. A relative muttered about the flowers on my grandmother’s casket, apparently they weren’t quite to her liking. Whoops forgot to consult with the family on the flowers, what was I thinking!

Back at mum’s house, someone had made a little shrine in the corner of the kitchen table with a large photograph of my grandmother next to some flowers and candles. I noticed a cup of water nearby and assumed someone had forgotten it there so I went to tip it out. The old lady who had turned on the garden hose earlier in the day suddenly materialized frantically telling me that she had placed it there so that my grandmother’s spirit could drink. I had thought her spirit had already been released to heaven by the hose? Why would she need a drink back here in the house? But I dutifully refilled the cup and returned it to its rightful place. I certainly wouldn’t want to be responsible for interfering with my grandmother’s thirst.

Why do we care about the right shade of purple or the right sized bottle of solo or placing a cup of water near the photo of our dearly departed when clearly the departed are not going to care?

Maybe the grieving family is under pressure to put on an impressive show? After all we wouldn’t want people talking about how much they dislike the flowers on the casket now would we?

Or is it because people need to have order, structure and predictability in the chaos and unpredictability of death? Maybe it’s easier to follow the well-worn path of funeral traditions and in doing so lessen the pain of the loss.

Should we not feel free to deal with death and grieving in a way that is meaningful to us, so that everything we do is done deliberately and with knowledge of its true meaning? Or would that be too much to bear?

Either way I know that a hose, purple towels, dry biscuits, and the right olives won’t be featuring at my funeral – time to work on my will.’


Tags: musings

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Anonymous // Apr 24, 2009 at 9:47 am

    I have to say I love your stories, really love the funeral one, so funny………keepup the good work you have a real talent for writting……….

  • 2 Anonymous // Apr 24, 2009 at 9:48 am

    Ah Kathy, you tell your tale so well & so accuratley. Some cultures need their traditions to be done to a tee..or they might not go to heaven..(heaven forbid they loose face with God). It’s all greek to me :)

  • 3 Anonymous (seriously, thats my name!) // Mar 29, 2011 at 7:32 am

    Oh WOW!!! that just brightened my day!

  • 4 kimbakat3 // Mar 29, 2011 at 8:53 am

    Well death usually has that effect on people right! Katherine

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