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.