The Weekend Australian - Review - - Rear View - E

VERY­ONE you meet or know sees you in a dif­fer­ent light. A year or so ago my elder brother vis­ited me from South Africa and a few months af­ter­wards he saw my other brother, who asked af­ter me. ‘‘ Jane is Jane,’’ was his re­ply, and I have been pon­der­ing this in­for­ma­tion since. What did he mean? When he said it, did he have his palms spread in de­spair, were his shoul­ders shrug­ging, did his eye­balls ex­tend and did a wry ex­pres­sion cross his face and keep cross­ing? I’ll never know.

We don’t even re­ally know our­selves, or even if we do we don’t re­ally want any­one to know about the nasty parts. We man­age quite care­fully to hide our mingy char­ac­ter­is­tics and bluff ev­ery­one that we’re sin­less, whereas in re­al­ity we’re crawl­ing with faults.

If — or should I pes­simisti­cally say when — I die, I don’t want any­thing to do with the eu­logy. I’ve been to far too many fu­ner­als where some­one has stood up and, with­out so much as a sin­gle qualm, turned a sin­ner into a mod­ern- day saint, a sales­woman into an ex­am­ple to us all, a wily lawyer into a model of jus­tice, a bank rob­ber into a wor­thy cit­i­zen sadly smit­ten by bipo­lar­ism.

Noth­ing hor­rid is spo­ken about, and pretty or­di­nary peo­ple are made out to have changed the world for the bet­ter.

No one has told the ab­so­lute truth. ‘‘ was a silly old cow’’, for ex­am­ple, or ‘‘ he was a com­plete rot­ter and should go straight to hell’’. Some­times the ex­ag­ger­a­tions have been such com­pre­hen­sive tam­per­ing with the truth that there have been gasps of hor­ror, the ex­chang­ing of mean­ing­ful looks and mut­tered four- let­ter words among the so­called mourn­ers.

The other creepy thing about funeral ser­vices is the drap­ing of the cof­fin with foot­ball jer­seys, pho­to­graphs, pet rocks or bot­tles of the corpse’s favourite wine. Even gov­ern­ments have lost the plot in terms of who is of­fered a state funeral and who isn’t. If you’re a croc­o­dile hunter, for ex­am­ple, you have a huge chance, so we can no doubt ex­pect more and more peo­ple to make a liveli­hood out of danc­ing with am­phib­ians.

I’ve got a bit of a fetish about peo­ple cark­ing it, and I read the death no­tices in the lo­cal news­pa­per ev­ery day. So, at the end of ev­ery year, I am able to tell you how many peo­ple are no longer with us, the av­er­age age of the de­parted and whether more women or men have fallen off their perches. There are some, ac­cord­ing to the no­tices, who are in the arms of their maker or sim­ply at peace, but rather an alarm­ing num­ber — of men, es­pe­cially — who have ‘‘ gone fish­ing’’.

I’ve been to quite a few fu­ner­als this year but only two stand out. Both women were of a vast age. One, the mother of a friend and col­league, was a wo­man of great char­ac­ter and spirit who fled the Nazis, and the other was my sis­ter- in- law’s mother, who had hun­dreds of chil­dren and lived an ex­em­plary life. They both got the won­der­ful send- off they de­served.

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