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Monday 16 July 2018

Death often brings out the best in us

Fr Michael Commane - The Way I See It

Have you ever imagined about your own funeral? Who'd be there? What would be said? A Dominican quipped at his mother's funeral how she would love to have been present at it to see who was there and what they said about her.

They say we do funerals well in Ireland. Fadó fadó a wake could take place over a number of days. But I think it's true to say that big funerals, wherever in the world they take place can be spectacular events. I remember the funeral of John F Kennedy. I was 14 at the time and I can still recall the Irish Army cadets at the graveside in Arlington. The funeral of Princess Diana caught the attention of the world.

Funerals can be great events. And when we are personally involved in them, by that I mean the funerals of our family and close friends, we always find support by the attendance of friends, family and colleagues.

The Irish wake played an important role in our society. We even managed to transfer the word and use it as a way of saying goodbye to those who headed to America and Australia before the advent of the plane. We spoke of the 'American wake'.

But there is still a protocol or ritual attached to the Irish funeral. No doubt it happens around the country but across Kerry there is the custom of walking in procession from the church to the place of burial and usually local gardaí are on hand to help direct the traffic.

All the trappings that surround the Irish funeral can prove a great help and support to the bereaved. We might often cast a cold and cynical eye on how some politicians have a remarkable talent at turning up to funerals. But whatever the reason for their attendance, be it genuine or some sort of PR stunt it still gives emphasis to the importance of the funeral in the Irish psyche.

There is something horribly final about death. Christians grapple with the idea of resurrection but even with that, death is still a devastating blow. The manner in which families and friends come together at times of bereavement helps people in their loss and loneliness. It's also interesting to see how children take part in the funeral ritual, yet another pointer as to how we make death an intrinsic part of our lives.

Maybe modern society tries to sanitise death but when death is close and personal there can never be any sanitising or attempting to lessen the pain and suffering. It is worth noting how we are replacing the word death with euphemisms. These days we tend to talk about a person 'passing away', it seems we are less inclined to talk about death and dying.

Death is the only absolute certainty, there are no exceptions, no excuses. It is a remarkable leveller, rich, poor, the good, the bad, we all die. Shakespeare in Henry VI has wise words when he tells us 'To weep is to make less the depth of grief'. The old practice in Ireland of keening, which was a lament said or sung over the corpse emphasised the sorrow experienced by those left behind.

Death surely makes us realise the frailty of our lives and the importance of being kind and supportive to others. Isn't it ironic how death often brings out the best in us.

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