I was in a graveyard or cemetery this week attending a funeral.

According to Wikipedia, cemetery means sleeping place. How’s that for optimism?

On the way home from the funeral, my son asked me how many funerals did I reckon I’d attended.

I’ve been to three in the last twelve months but I started going to funerals as an altar boy, more than fifty years ago. It was one way of skipping a half day of school. So the first funerals I attended were of people I didn’t know.

The first family funeral I remember attending was my grandmother’s. I was thirteen. I went with my father. In fact, we had driven all day to get to the hospital before it was too late. She died twenty minutes after we arrived at her bedside. It was as if she had held on until her favourite son arrived. That ended up being a week away from home – a holiday with my cousins. Don’t know why my father took only me and not any of my brothers. Can’t ask him, because I’ve been to his funeral as well.

To be honest, I’ve been to so many funerals over the last forty or fifty years that I have lost count. Some have been harder to attend than others. I think one of the more difficult was that of my namesake cousin. I can tell you, it’s a strange feeling standing next to a casket with your name on it.

I’ve witnessed a range of emotions on display at the graveside – from stoic acceptance right up to hysterical wailing as the casket is lowered. It’s just as well we are understanding of expressions of grief, even if we feel uncomfortable when someone totally loses it.

I’ve been to some good family wakes over the years. Something Irish families in the diaspora do pretty well. I’ve been to a lot of somber Italian funerals too – they seem to have a different take on death and dying.

On reflection, I’ve noticed something else. I don’t visit graves. I go to the funeral but I never go back, unless we are slipping another casket into the same grave. As far as I’m concerned, it’s over when I leave the cemetery.

Why do some people visit the grave every week? Why do some spend a fortune on tombstones?

If you wander around a cemetery and look at tombstones, it’s like there is a competition to see who can erect the biggest memorial. Personally, I think there are better things you can do with the money.

From my perspective, cemeteries are places we use to dispose of bodies that are no longer required. We are returning the components to the earth. For the process to be completely natural you’d think we would bury bodies in caskets that break down easily once in the ground or rely on cremation and simply scatter or bury the ashes.

I’ve been to funerals where the body was buried in a stainless steel, fibreglass covered, vacuum sealed casket in a cement lined grave. How quickly do you think a body buried like that would be reabsorbed back into the natural cycle? And we thought the Egyptians were crazy with their pyramids and mummies.

It’s all a matter of perspective. What’s yours?

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