LAST Monday, Shane MacGowan and I attended a particularly sad funeral, that of Deirdre Drew, late wife of Ronnie Drew. Of course the death of anyone is a sad occasion, but Deirdre's was particularly shocking, because Ronnie had just got the all-clear from cancer, having been lovingly nursed through the illness by Deirdre, when she was diagnosed with it herself,
and six weeks later she
Anyone who knew Deirdre knew what a compassionate, kind, gentle and thoughtful lady she was, a lady in every sense of that word.
For my part, I first met her when I was about three, when I was at school with her daughter Cliona, and my primary memory of that time is of how the Drews would give me sweets, which my mother disapproved of, but which I thoroughly appreciated.
Later on, when Shane began to play with Ronnie occasionally, Deirdre was always kind to me and interested in what I was getting up to. She even came with Ronnie to my book launch in April, and was hugely enthusiastic and supportive, despite the tough time she and her family had been through. It came as an enormous shock then, to get the call that she was dying, and only a day later, dead.
Because Deirdre was much loved, and by many people, the church where the funeral was held was completely packed by the time we arrived, with many people standing outside. Perhaps because of Shane's profession, we were fortunate to be ushered to seats near the musicians, and there were a great many musicians present, including the Dubliners, Louis Stewart and Richie Buckley; the cream of Ireland's talent,
As soon as the service started they played a lament, and as soon as the lament was played I found myself unable to stop the tears. As I looked over at Ronnie and Cliona, the grief for them was overwhelming.
But even though it was unbearably sad to attend this particular funeral there was something tremendously beautiful about it too. The strongest feelings that we humans are capable of are often the saddest ones, and the music that was played was so moving that the hardest heart would have dissolved into tears, as mine did. As part of the service, each of the family members made a speech. Cliona's was succinct and heart-rending, she gave thanks for the privilege of being Deirdre's daughter, and said goodbye to her mother. But Ronnie and his son Phelim, both consummate entertainers, were unable to resist making the audience laugh as well as cry - Phelim by making wisecracks about the mobile phones going off and Ronnie by saying that we would be paying a lot of money to see all these musicians under normal circumstances. And at the graveyard, too, even as his wife had been lowered into the ground and covered up, Ronnie's first thought was to remind us all that refreshments would be served in the hotel afterwards.
Perhaps without being consciously aware of it, the Drews proved that even in the very deepest sorrow there can be room for dignity and grace, for fun, for kindness and consideration, and for genuine gratitude. For the very best of human qualities, in fact.
I left Deirdre's funeral immensely grateful for the experience. Reassured, perhaps, that if one of my own were to die so suddenly, maybe the pain would be tempered with other feelings too. But I also came away with a lot of questions about the way in which we handle death in modern Ireland.
In Deirdre's case, there had been a three-day wake, at the house, during which time people had a chance to say goodbye, to sing, to get drunk, and to reminisce. And because the family were so involved in music, there was plenty of that to help people grieve. But these days it is unusual to have a wake with the body on display in the family home, it is more usual to keep it in a funeral home. And it is unusual to have so much music. At the last funeral I attended, there
was only one song played in the church.
What we are left with then is the service itself, the religious part. And this worries me. None of my family or friends is a practising Catholic, or indeed practising any religion. My mother said to me the other day that if I bring her anywhere near a Catholic church when she dies, she will haunt me for the rest of my life. I promised her faithfully that I won't, when the time comes. But if I don't bring her to a church, where do I bring her? If you don't have a funeral in a church, with people dressed in black standing and sitting and kneeling when they are told to stand, sit or kneel, and mumbling prayers that they know only the start of, then what do you have instead?
You may not be able to choose the manner or timing of your demise, but considering that your death is the very last possible opportunity you have to throw a party, I considered that perhaps you really ought to give due consideration to the planning of the event, while you are still alive. Shane once told me that his father plans to have his own wake while he is still alive, so that he will be able to partake of the drink, along with everyone else. I can see
With all of this in mind, with the desire to have the kind of send-off into the next world that I really want to have, one that will suitably reflect how I am in life, and therefore how I am remembered, I decided to plan my funeral now.
After much consideration, I have decided to opt for a large, seated, theatrical venue, possibly the Albert Hall. My body (dressed in a fabulous Alexander McQueen frock) will be draped on a red chaise longue on the stage, surrounded by red and pink roses. All of my favourite bands (if they are not dead) will play, and they will be backed by an orchestra, and a full gospel choir. The audience will be served pink champagne and lobster tempura.
The finale of the spectacle will involve me being lowered through a trapdoor into the hearse (a glass carriage, with white horses) and galloping off into the night to my tomb. While this is happening, there will be a display of pyrotechnics and 100,000 rose petals will descend from the roof on to the crowd, who will give a standing ovation. There will be goodie bags to take home. Perhaps in the goodie bag, a DVD of me, to remind people of my fabulousness.
As I revelled in my own funeral arrangements, I realised that it will be very, very expensive to produce. This, without taking into consideration the cost of the monument to be erected in my memory. And I realised that if I am to get the funeral I want, one of two things must happen. Either I must make an awful lot of money. Or I must become a really nice person, so that lots of people will love me and I will have a spontaneously beautiful funeral, like Deirdre Drew had, made so just because of all the lovely people who attend it.