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Opinion: The Irish way of dealing with death is a true constant in changing times


Rituals around death remain reassuringly strong.. File picture

Rituals around death remain reassuringly strong.. File picture

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Rituals around death remain reassuringly strong.. File picture

I've attended three funerals in the past few weeks.

Trust in so many of our traditional institutions has waned but the rituals around death remain reassuringly strong.

As soon as news of a death breaks, neighbours and friends drop what they are doing and rally around. Especially in rural areas.

First it's the women, with sandwiches. They always come first, followed by scones, buns, cakes, etc, accompanied with cups of tea and sympathy. Good people are always good people, no matter what.

Then the men row in. Depending on the funeral arrangements and the time of year, they might put up floodlights for the wake, throw down a bit of gravel, tidy things up, open a gateway that hasn't been used for years.

All these things are a practical necessity but what people are really showing is that they care for, and support, the bereaved.

Regardless of the circumstances, a funeral has to be organised. Hard though it may seem to be dealing with such a practical matter, it's something to focus on other than grief.

Even when the deceased's religious faith has lapsed, their funeral will commonly follow the format used by the family's prevailing religion. The religious aspect marks the transition from one state to another.

It also marks their physical passing, which helps the living to begin to accept the changed reality.

Is there ever an easy time to die?

When a loved one dies suddenly, the uppermost feelings are often the simple ones associated with grief and loss but, when dying is an extended process, the feelings may be more complex, perhaps including guilty relief that the demands of care are no more.

As word of a death spreads, everybody who knows the departed will think about them, remembering the last time they met. Then back to previous encounters.

Death seems to dilute the negative memories and highlight the positive.

The other aspect of a funeral is the celebration of a life. When a person has lived a long, full life and died painlessly and peacefully, it's easier to find things to celebrate than when a younger person dies or the circumstances are more difficult.

It's amazing the effort that people make to attend a funeral, often travelling long distances to show their respect for the deceased, or support for a family member.

The bereaved will meet people they'd never met. Especially if it's a parent, you hear stories you've never heard, learn things that make you see them in a different light.

People cry, laugh, pray, sing, drink, talking about the departed but soon exchanging other news. Someone will inevitably say, "We must meet up at a happier time." You probably won't. But it's a nice thought.

The hands of the bereaved will be sore from all the shaking. Every little detail and incident, even the strange ones, contribute to the narrative of the occasion. They're all gratefully stored away, for future comfort and sustenance.

We are a sound, warm-hearted, people.

Long may it last.

Indo Farming