Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Has There Ever Been a More Beautiful Funeral? A Gem from 'Yorkshire Pudding'

Irish Death
Participation in funeral rites is one of the most powerful and healing things we can do and witness when we lose someone we love. Individual participation can take the form of placing a note in the casket, sprinkling ashes on the sea or selecting music for the service. Community participation can take the form of a wake or a public procession. However, as this following excerpt from the 'Yorkshire Pudding' blog shows so eloquently, there is nothing quite like engaging in the hard physical work of digging out a place in the earth and carrying a loved one to their place of rest, or the timeless gift of sharing a word or song with family and friends at the grave. My heartfelt thanks to YP, for allowing me to share the beautiful story of his brother Paul’s burial in County Clare, Ireland.
Irish death memorial

We buried him in an isolated rural cemetery that is known locally as "The Island" - probably because that little hummock of a hill was once surrounded by swampy ground. As is the tradition, only male family members carried the coffin. Feeling his weight on my right shoulder was a wonderful discomfort.
He had known each of the gravediggers. They had prepared a hole some five feet deep, snug against the limestone boundary wall with a huge pile of Clare soil beside it in what has been one of western Ireland's driest years.
Ned Crosby, the priest, who also knew Paul personally, said the customary religious words by the grave. And then everybody applauded my dead brother. By the stunted hawthorn bush where an ancient chapel once stood, musicians played familiar tunes on fiddles, concertinas and pipes with Paul's daughter, Katie, accompanying on her wooden flute.
All was quiet and then an old friend called Michael stood on a rock with his chin raised slightly to the sky and with great passion recited in Irish Gaelic a famous poem called "Pearse's Lament". Roughly translated, it begins:-
Grief on the death, it has blackened my heart:
lt has snatched my love and left me desolate,
Without friend or companion under the roof of my house
But this sorrow in the midst of me, and I keening.
As I walked the mountain in the evening
The birds spoke to me sorrowfully,
The sweet snipe spoke and the voiceful curlew
Relating to me that my darling was dead.
Irish Death
At the end Michael wove in some few Spanish words which connected Ireland's freedom struggle with the battles of Spanish republicans before the second world war - "Viva la quinta brigada! No passaran! Adelante!"
People began to drift away. Some stood amongst the graves exchanging thoughts about Paul. I took a handful of earth from the pile and threw it on top of his coffin. Soon the gravediggers removed the flowers and began their timeless task, quietly filling in the hole where Paul will rest forever - well not really Paul but his human remains - that same wax model I reflected on in "Hands".
It was the best of days and the worst of days. Has there ever been a more beautiful funeral? I doubt it. I was filled with pride for my lost brother who was so loved by the people of Clare - the old and the young, rich and poor, intellectual and moronic, pub landlords and priests. Although he was only sixty two, he lived his life to the full with such goodness in his soul. By far, I am not the only one who will never forget him.
Irish death

All photos and text used by permission. For more wonderful Yorkshire Pudding, visit the blog at http://beefgravy.blogspot.com/


Sister Shirley said...

Beautiful post. Pearse's Lament is very moving.

Love the new logo, by the way!

gloriamundi said...

well, I guess there is no one right way to have a funeral, but if there was, that would be about it! Thanks and thanks again.

Charles Cowling said...

Ah, sure, the Irish know how to lament. It's not a word we Anglo-Saxon English know the emotional meaning of. Pity. We'd do it some much better if we really went for it.

A wonderful account. Nuff said.

Yorkshire Pudding said...

To Mr McNally - I don't know how you discovered my original blogpost but I am humbled and pleased to see it resurfacing on your Wisconsin-based blog. To tell you the truth, my right shoulder is still hurting but Paul's funeral - you couldn't have wished for anything sweeter. The rural Irish have not forgotten how to ensure that funerals are human, raw and emotive. It was the very first time my daughter had ever seen a dead body for in England our funerals have become sanitised - snatched from families and communities by undertakers who no doubt check their profit margins on Excel spreadsheets.
Mr Pudding (Yorkshire)

Patrick McNally said...

My thanks to you, Mr. Pudding for allowing me to share this beautiful story, and for your thoughts.
The work of an undertaker should be to empower a family and facilitate their wishes, not to take it out of their hands. As your account shows, the more a family and community are involved in the physical and symbolic tasks of bringing their dead to rest, the better the service is for them.
Sanitised is an appropriate word for the ready made funeral. I would compare a prepackaged funeral to a home spun one as instant formula to mother's milk.
My best,
Mr. McNally

Brooke Attebury said...

I wish we had been given thw right to personalize my sisters funeral but it was a similar sanitized event...it was done by fuberal home routine rather than celebration of who she was....

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Funeral service faces a crisis of relevance, and I am passionate about keeping the best traditions of service alive while adapting to the changing needs of families. Feel free to contact me with questions, or to share your thoughts on funeral service, ritual, and memorialization. dailyundertaker@gmail.com


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