What did my father’s funeral teach me? Shared mourning is absurd - but essential

My dad’s funeral generated a gushing stream of anecdotes. I don’t remember any feelings at all, just event after event, most of which involved my brother or my dog. The one about my dad’s best friend is probably the best, but it is too salacious and actionable to tell here. The second-best featured my brother the dog – he left the wake with my sister’s friend on the pretext of taking Spot for a walk. Whatever they did on this “walk” held insufficient interest for the dog, who brought himself neatly back home, carrying his own lead, like a cartoon. Realising they’d lost him, and mindful of what a terrible day that would be to lose a person’s dog, the frantic couple spent two hours wandering round Ramsgate, calling his name.

The day wasn’t funny because it was un-sad; my father was 64, and we felt absolutely bilked by the universe – robbed blind of two decades of matchless bonhomie. It’s just that the closer you are to a person, the more absurd you find those rituals that directly follow their deaths. When my uncle died a couple of years later, I read at his funeral, in place of my mother, who didn’t want to. In a hurry, I just Googled, “What to read at funerals.” When I stood up to solemnly intone the Song from Cymbeline – “Fear no more the frown o’ the great / Thou art past the tyrant’s stroke” – it was the first time I’d ever set eyes on the words. I almost had to stop halfway through, since my uncle was, memorably, a bit of a tyrant, never not frowning, so it sounded as if I was addressing the congregation with a poetic: “Everybody relax, he’s died.” The family all found that hilarious, his colleagues, maybe not so much.

It seems to be that it’s only when you’re outer circle, and insulated against pain, that you really have anything like a mature suite of emotions – mostly compassion, for all the people whose loss is greater, whom you can see are really destroyed, even if they won’t stop laughing for five straight minutes. That’s the point of the scant acquaintance at a funeral: they bring the solemnity. Probably the most important relaxation of the Covid rules is the one people mention the least: not nightclubs, but collective mourning for every man and his dog.