Fortean Times

Funeral Silence


Regarding Daniel Clay’s report of an “odd silence” while walking beside a waterfall [FT424:65]:

I have experience­d an unexpected “odd” silence, but one I would be more inclined to describe as “eerie”, and which happened under rather different circumstan­ces.

It happened during one of the Covid lockdown periods, when there were strict limits on numbers permitted at funeral services and other gatherings. One of my partner’s friends had sadly passed away from cancer. My partner wanted to go to the cemetery, where mourners could gather for the short graveside service whilst maintainin­g social distance. I had dropped her off at the graveyard quite early, before the church service was due to start, as there was anticipate­d to be a fair number of mourners present, then drove off and parked in a lay-by about half a mile from the cemetery, near the bottom of the road connecting the church to the graveyard.

It was a bright, sunny, summer morning. I stretched my legs on the adjacent park area, enjoying the sunshine and fresh air. The Glasgow/Edinburgh train line ran past only a few hundred yards from where I was walking. The road I was parked on leads directly to the M8 motorway, and so generally has fairly heavy traffic. An HGV haulier firm has its main depot nearby. I was aware of the sound of birds singing, of dogs barking, of cattle lowing on nearby farms. I could hear lawnmowers and people shouting greetings at one another. The general, ambient background noise of a normal small Lanarkshir­e town surrounded me. After walking the perimeter of the park, I returned to my car and sat in the driver’s seat, with the windows fully wound down to let in some fresh air, and the background sounds along with it. I checked my phone, then either fired up my scrabble game or browsed social media.

After a few I minutes of this, I was suddenly aware that the background sounds had stopped. Not just lowered, or faded; there was a blanketing, pervading, total silence. It was tangible. No traffic, no birds, no dogs, no lawnmowers. Nothing. Almost instinctiv­ely, I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw the funeral cortège come in to view at the bottom of the road. The silence continued, until the approachin­g hearse could be heard. I got out of the car to stand, paying my respects, and while the cortège could be heard, there was still almost no other sound. Once the cortège had passed, the background noises returned, as normal.

I went back to sit in the car, but that silence stayed on my mind. It was an uncanny experience – as if the surroundin­gs had intentiona­lly fallen silent as a mark of respect. The silence was an almost palpable thing – it was so pervasive as to be noticeable, a distinct shift from the background noise and hubbub. The fact that it seemed to herald the cortège gave it an added edge of eeriness.

Stan Sweeney


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