We live in secular times, and few of us expect to to born skywards when it ends. And so, the ceremony of departure has changed. In the catholic countries of southern Europe funerals used to take place at night, the flickering of the flames of many torches paralleling the uncertainty of life. The ritual of the service was a comfort to the bereaved. Now, more and more, the ceremony after death reflects the character of the missing person, or the family, rather than a formal structure imposed by organised religion. A celebration of a long life lived well now verges on a right good do (clearly not the case in early or tragic deaths). Poems, usually about only being in the next room, music and an upbeat exit, wicker casket creaking slightly, to something entirely inappropriate by Celine Dion or Ol’ Blue Eyes, followed by everyone having a good weep, then back for lots of alcohol.
I yearn for formality, black plumed horses, thundering organs, Purcell, rather too much sherry and some finger sandwiches. Where I live, only South London gangsters depart in such style, which is a shame. You only die once, and, when looking back, it’s important you can distinguish it from Jeremy’s 40th. So, I do like to wander round cemeteries which remain forever in an epoch when things were done properly. The great Victorian graveyards of London ( Nunhead is a favourite) provide beautiful quiet places to walk the dog and hear the birds. Great memorials, the size of small bungalows, loom at you through overgrown shrubbery, and amputee angels, rakishly angled over gnarly roots, bless you still. All around, human vanity and tragedy (there is one grave, from the 1860s, noting the passing of 7 children, all in infancy, followed by their mother).