Tag Archives: funeral

1992. Things that quickly fade

Annette loved flowers. She always had several vases of flowers in her living room and a little retro corkless medicine bottle on the window sill of the kitchen with a sprig of rosemary and a twiglet of this and that.

When her husband died the undertaker quietly asked Annette in the cemetery if she wished to have the flowers sitting on the coffin when it was lowered or would she prefer that the flowers were placed on top of the grave once it was filled in.

“Oh God no!” exclaimed Annette, speaking slightly louder than the undertaker. “I’m taking all the flowers home!” And she did! It’s not that she didn’t love her husband. But what use are flowers dying on a grave? Flowers from the funeral arranged in her living room were a much better reminder of her sad loss and a heart-felt tribute to her husband. That way too she could appreciate in full the kindness of the people who had sent condoling flowers.

Great-aunt Matilde paid a sympathy visit, mainly because Annette always served with a mug of coffee some homemade chocolate chip cookies that used ground oatmeal, nuts, and lots and lots of extra chocolate. In fact, Annette grated into the mixture several chocolate bars more than the recipe called for.

“I think flowers at funerals are a complete waste of money,” declared great-aunt Matilde surveying the living room bouquets. “When I die I don’t want people spending money on things that quickly fade.”

As occasionally happens, great-aunt Matilde was 88. She went home and sadly passed away shortly after. Annette arranged the surviving living room flowers and took them to place on great-aunt Matilde’s filled-in flowerless grave.

Not a dime was spent on things that quickly fade.

1986. Pulling a few strings

Today is the Feast of All Hallows or All Saints; hence yesterday’s Halloween (All Hallows’ Evening). It is my favourite day of the year to remember the dead. It is the feast day of all who have gone before us. It’s a pity that the first two days of November, which used to be reserved to recall everyone who has died, has been smothered in candy and reduced to a previous evening of pretend ghouls. I want to commemorate the real first of November by telling you a personal story – simply because it’s a coincidence that happened in my life that I’ve always marvelled at. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence at all. I hope you don’t find it too long and boring!

I’m not sure how most university systems work overseas, but in New Zealand it goes Bachelor’s degree, Bachelor’s Honours, Master’s, Master’s Honours, Doctorate. I had long finished my Bachelor’s degree in English and Music. As many of you know, I was a monk at the time and after ten years of teaching I was sent back to university in Wellington, New Zealand, to get an Honours degree in Music. That went very well, and not simply because the mother of the Professor of Music had been my piano teacher when I was a kid at school!

During that year my father had died and in between assignments and the like I had an hour’s drive every day to visit him at home. My father had been an Anglican and was from a very VERY anti-Catholic family. He was also a plumber and among his plumbing clients was the local convent of nuns (known as the Leper Sisters for their work throughout the Pacific). Dad got on especially well with the Mother Superior, Mother Camilla, who was an American. This is long before I was even thought of. Anyway, Dad died and I did the funeral.

At the end of the academic year I was visited by “the head monk” who asked if I had anything to say. I said two things: The community’s fridge is broken and we need another one, and secondly if I got an extra year at university I could complete a Master’s degree. The next day a new fridge arrived! I thought, Aha! he did listen after all. Some weeks later I got a message: we think you should go ahead and complete your Masters, BUT you should do it in Boston, USA!!!! Boston America!!!! Me? In Boston America!!! Little me from the backblocks of New Zealand?!!

The first thing to do after being accepted at the university was to find somewhere to live. I wrote to a number of catholic parishes in Boston asking if I could live there in exchange for weekend services. St Joseph’s Parish in Waltham in Boston answered. They were a French-speaking parish but that didn’t matter. I was very welcome to stay and help out! Off I went!

After a couple of weeks there was a phone call one evening. It was the local convent. The visiting priest’s car had broken down and could someone come around and take the church service. I said I would go. When I walked into the room an old nun said “Goodman from New Zealand? Do you know a Frank Goodman?” I said he was my father. The nun, called Sister Basil, had been in charge of the convent buildings in New Zealand. She said, “I have spent more time in the toilet with your father than I have with any other man!” Mother Camilla (Dad’s friend) had died around the same time as Dad. She had donated her body to Harvard Medical School. When the bones come back, could I do the burial?

A few weeks later I did the burial. Her name before becoming a nun had been Mary Borke. I told the pastor of St Joseph’s. He said that the rectory was the old Borke Family homestead. Mother Camilla would have been born in this house, possibly in the very room I was sleeping in.

Anyway, on this Feast Day of All Saints, I cannot help but think that perhaps Dad and Mother Camilla had been pulling a few strings.

1846. A sometimes over-sombre occasion

This, declared great grandmother Thelma at her husband’s burial, this family is now matriarchal. I am now the person at the top; not grandfather. He did a grand job holding this family together, and now it’s my turn.

I didn’t at all like the way he favoured some over others. From now on we shall all be equal. None of this privileged nonsense of boys over girls when it comes to handouts. Yes, I know there is some Chinese blood crept into the tree, but they are children of grandchildren, and therefore they don’t count. I can’t be responsible for everyone in the human race. After all, we’re all descended from Eve – and Adam.

To help out those in the family less fortunate I would ask those families well-off, and let’s face it that’s most of you, to make a generous donation to the memorial fund for Dennis. You would have seen a box for donations at the church door. Or you can mail it.

I reiterate, this is now a matriarchal family, and…

Come along now Thelma, said Nurse Sherry. Nurse Sherry was in charge at the retirement home just across from the cemetery. Thelma was forever dashing out when there was a burial, standing on the artificial grass mound, and making her regular speech. In fact, some mourners grew to be a little disappointed if Thelma failed to turn up. She cast a certain insobriety to a sometimes over-sombre occasion.

1842. A garden makeover

It was possibly the most exciting thing that had happened to Clarence in a long time. It had been a terrible year; a terrible, terrible year. And now this happened! How wonderful!

In January his wife had died after a long and painful illness. He had nursed her over the weeks. It had brought him to the edge of life. The only thing that kept him going was the thought that if he went there would be no one left to care for his wife. Their only child, a daughter, had long disappeared overseas in pursuit of an alternative lifestyle.

It’s amazing how sometimes lifelong friends abandon you in times of need. Only a few came to her funeral. Friends over the years had drifted away during his wife’s illness and proved themselves no friends at all. That hurt Clarence more than anything. In fact he had trouble drumming up enough pallbearers to carry the coffin.

Clarence thought that the only solace would be in his garden, but that had gone to wilderness during his wife’s illness. Somehow, after the funeral, the heart had gone out of the garden. Clarence tried to tidy it up a bit but he didn’t make much progress. And then he entered a competition for a free garden makeover. There were a number of conditions; the garden had to be substantial in size; the owner had to go away (all expenses paid) for a whole week while the garden got its makeover; the owner had to trust the garden designer’s ability to come up with a creative concept. Clarence thought he fulfilled all the conditions.

The phone went. It was the television company. They were to record the makeover. Clarence’s garden was on the shortlist. Would he mind the television cameras coming to film the garden before anything was done?

Next, a garden designer visited in person. She interviewed Clarence. What would Clarence like to see in the garden? Did he want a water feature? A patio/barbecue area? Trees to block out not the sun but the neighbour’s prying eyes?

Clarence said he’d like to be surprised. They could do with the garden whatever was creative, whatever would make it lovely. He had just the one request; his late wife’s name was Iris. Would it be possible to have a garden bed of irises in her memory? Of course it was! What a fantastic idea!

Anyway, Clarence’s garden wasn’t selected in the final choice, so none of the above mattered.

1797. Funeral demands

(Please note that this story and subsequent stories for the next number of weeks were composed and scheduled before Covid-19 reared its ugly head. So my apologies if aspects offend certain sensibilities. Thanks)

Neralie was adamant; when she died she was not to be buried but cremated. Sure, waking up in a coffin in the middle of a cremation would be a horrifying experience, but to wake up in the coffin and be in a hole six feet down and covered in dirt… oh the panic! The fear! The claustrophobia! Cremation did it quickly and once and for all; if you hadn’t died but had simply entered into some temporal comatose state, then cremation was the way to.

Not to be buried was simply one of the many stipulations Neralie made about the post-demise behaviour of her relatives and friends. Everyone was welcome to bring flowers, but nothing purchased. Only cut flowers from the garden. And they had to be either deep red or pure white or a mixture of both. Red would stand for the suffering she had experienced throughout her life; white would stand for light and relief and the promise of an eternal future freed from all her suffering. Oh! All the suffering! “You’ve no idea how I’ve suffered” was one of Neralie’s catch phrases.

Then there was the music to be played at her funeral. None of this namby-pamby pop stuff – she demanded the Kyrie from Mozart’s Requiem. And if some people found it too long, then bully for them. They should show some respect.

The six pallbearers should dress as befits a funeral. None of this open-neck shirt stuff; no coloured garments; black with a bit of white – perhaps a white shirt. Well ironed.

Neralie’s list of demands went on and on. It was gigantic – like she didn’t have anything better to do in the last five years of her life. And sing! Sing the chosen hymn full throttle. None of this singing into ones beard like a wimp.

And then she died.

No one came to the funeral of the lonely imperious decrepit martinet. They stayed away in droves.

The undertaker had Neralie buried.

1606. Why be morbid?

The plan was to dress eccentrically. That’s what the invitation said. It read, well in advance of the event, that on the last day of the coming month, Shane’s funeral would be held after he had been put down humanely by Elaine and the rest of the family. Dress eccentrically.

Well! What a conundrum it caused! What a hubbub! Shane, who hadn’t been at all ill but was generally tired of life, was to be put down. There was nothing unusual in that. Elaine had done it twice before to previous husbands. In fact the joke went around that being married to Elaine was the main cause why her (now third) husband had requested a humane demise. But that was not what the hubbub was about. That was not the conundrum.

The bother that sent all into a tizzy was what to wear. What comprises eccentric? Is it colour? Is it design? Is it a combination of both? Shona and her two inseparable “friends” were in a quandary. In the end, on the morning of the funeral, they dressed conservatively in cut, but with fabric that Nigel had found on the cheap at the second hand store. It was partly floral, and excessively loud. If they turned up to the funeral with a brightly coloured cocktail and a handful of sticky spaghetti it would possibly steal the show.

And steal the show they did! Elaine said afterwards that it was well worth putting Shane down just to wring out of her three best friends such a display of bizarre vibrancy. She particular liked the spaghetti touch and Jock promised that when it happened again he would bring some meatballs!

What a worthy lesson for us all! How much nicer is it to have a happy funeral, rather than mooch around like it’s the end of the world? All agreed. It was such fun! They couldn’t wait to do it again!

Now who’s next?

1541. Things happen in threes

What an extraordinary day it had been! First, Nola’s husband had checked the lottery ticket numbers and Nola and her husband, Cresswell, had won thirty-three million three hundred and thirty-three thousand dollars. While they were dancing around the living room, whooping and hollering, Cresswell suffered a heart attack and died.

That took the edge off the excitement. Nola had to organize and go through the funeral. After twenty-two years of marriage, she was sad. Of course she was sad. But it was also a relief. Their relationship had been strained over the last few years, and Nola had frequently dreamed of freedom. Now with the sudden death of her husband and the winning of the lottery, that freedom could become a reality. Of course his death was a shock. It was devastating. It always is. But at least she had security for the future. She genuinely sobbed as the undertaker carted Cresswell’s body from the house to the funeral parlour.

At last the funeral was over. Things began to settle. Nola, who hadn’t wanted to appear too excited at winning thirty-three million, knew that the time had come to claim the money! But where was the ticket? Oh! It was in Cresswell’s back pocket when she had him cremated.

1526: A fairly sad funeral

Amelia and her late husband, George, may have shared the same address but over the last ten years or so they had shared little else. Even their circles of friends were different. Amelia turned up to her husband’s funeral wearing a bright floral frock. Apparently George had requested that people wear something bright to his funeral. As she moved up to sit alone in the front pew she noticed she was practically the only one who had bothered to wear something bright. It showed you how people cared. Even her friends hadn’t bothered to turn up.

Amelia sat throughout the service barely listening. The panegyrics and prayers droned on and on. All she could think was how little a mark she had made in her life: a futile marriage, no children, friends who had deserted her when needed. Those who saw her dab her eyes thought it was grief, but it was remorse. It was remorse for having lived such a trite life. From now on things would be different.

Amelia followed the casket out of the church as if she was in a trance. It was dreamlike, surreal, bizarre – whatever word you wish to use. As she descended the church steps she overheard a little boy say:

“Mummy, who was the funny lady up the front in the dress with flowers on?”

“She a bit strange,” said the mother. “She thinks she was Hector’s wife, but Hector’s wife died last year.”

It was then that Amelia realized she had gone to the wrong church.

1525: A lucky strike

When Constantia murdered her husband she had no idea how expensive the funeral would be. Mondale’s departure was meant to be liberating for her. She would be free of the shackles of “the man of restriction” (as she liked to call him when she had had a wine or two). Now she was lumbered with an unnecessary expense because of the extravagant cost of the funeral. Not to give him a lavish funeral might well caste suspicion on the method of his demise. After all, they were rather rich.

It had been a well-planned murder. Constantia hadn’t personally murdered her husband; she had paid a hitman to do it for her. The hitman was a helicopter pilot. That too had cost the earth. However, Constantia, and her friend Barbara, had made a major contribution to the murderous methodology. Mondale had been decapitated by a helicopter rotary blade, slap bang on the back lawn. The most difficult part of the murder was trying not to sound excited when calling the emergency centre. Having starred in a high school musical many years earlier was certainly reaping dividends when it came to acting.

All that the hitman had done was to grab Mondale from behind as he was boarding his helicopter and hoist him high enough for his head to be chopped off. It was a bit messy, but was a simple idea simply executed. Why the hitman charged so much for doing practically nothing was beyond Constantia’s comprehension. Constantia referred to the incident as “a lucky strike”. She had watched and seen how simple the operation was.

And now the hurdle was to cope with the wretched expense of the funeral. Life was so unfair. Barbara, Constantia’s friend who knew everything, was willing to post online a Give-a-little-to-the-poor-widow-whose-husband-was-decapitated Fund. Constantia got thousands of dollars.

The next thing Barbara was demanding ten percent. It was such a relief when Barbara was accidentally decapitated by a rotating helicopter blade, slap bang on the back lawn.

1524: Funeral arrangements

The cold, hard reality was that Amelia had nothing to wear. Now was hardly the appropriate time to go shopping for clothes. It was her own fault. She had been given a good six months to think ahead, during her husband’s final illness, and now that George had passed on she still had nothing fitting to wear to his funeral.

It’s not exactly true that she had been remiss in looking ahead. She had purchased a beautiful outfit. Black. The matching hat had black lace to hide her reddened mourning eyes. The dress looked fabulous once the jade and diamond brooch had been brought out of its bank vault to see the light of day; a green and dazzling piece of jewellery that was unspeakably beautiful against the black fabric.

Unfortunately Amelia had worn that ensemble to Fiona’s husband’s funeral three weeks earlier. Amelia wouldn’t be seen dead in the same outfit twice. It was most inconsiderate of Fiona’s husband to drop off just a few weeks prior to her George.

There was only one thing for it; in the closet, Amelia had a stunning floral frock. It verged on the outrageous; it was brash, garish, loud. She had bought it to upstage everyone at her daughter’s wedding but the wedding had most fortunately been cancelled. A despicable man; and not at all good-looking.

Yes! The floral dress was the answer. Amelia hastily penned a note for the newspaper’s funeral announcement: For his funeral George requested that we wear something bright.