I was down in Tipperary town at a funeral with my Dad on Easter Sunday. Boss retired in 1989 after giving more than 42 years of his life to An Garda Síochána (trans. Guardians of the Peace – the Irish cops, polis, rendőrség, policja, whatever your semantic leaning). The death of a former Assistant Commissioner had brought the masses from near and far on what the priest described as the best day of the year to be buried – if you could choose a day and had to be buried!
Going down in the car (Tipp town is about 160 km from home) Boss was bemoaning the pomp and ceremony that is involved in funerals today replacing the simplicity of what he was familiar with. He spoke of being stationed in Tullaroan (Co Kilkenny) many, many years ago. A local seminarian Mick Fitzpatick dropped by the station one day and asked if was free at 11.30. He said he was. Mick asked him to go to a funeral of this ould lad who been away from the village for years. He reckoned that mourners would be thin on the ground and Boss was being asked along to make up the numbers (reminds me of JP Donleavy’s The lady who liked clean restrooms).
Quite different from our neighbours in the UK, we Irish go to funerals of people we’ve never met. We go because we know someone related to them who is still alive. We go to funerals to support the living rather than to mourn the dead. And, according to Boss, the older you are when you die, the smaller the funeral. On reflection, it seemed a little macabre to be talking about death on Easter Sunday and it was a tad surreal when it dawned on me that my dad was, in fact, spelling out all he didn’t want to happen at his. No processions. No lofty speeches. No ‘one man on the altar lying about the man lying in the coffin’. Just a plain, simple, funeral – like they had years go.
In the churchyard afterwards, a chap who had served with him back in the day, came up to say hello. He pulled Boss aside and said: I still remember the last words you said to me about a week before you retired. I took them to heart and tried to do as you said. And I’m going to tell you now what they were because I can see by you that you don’t remember. You said: I gave too much to the job – don’t you do the same. Amazing to think that something he said back in January of 1989 could still ring true some 23 years later. Boss did give a lot to the job – I barely saw him as a child growing up – murder, kidnapping, and mayhem seemed to vanish him in the early mornings before I got up and keep him out well past the time I had to go to bed. Such was the nature of the job.
And yet it’s a lesson we never seem to learn. What is it about us that we spend so much time trying to make enough money to have a better life and all the while that better life is passing us by? Generation after generation make the same mistake. For some, like my dad, the dedication is to the job – not the money. For others, the job is a means to an end and that end is money. When do we adopt the delusion that we are indispensible? Irreplaceable? When do we start thinking about ourselves in terms of our job, our career – when do we become whatever it is we do? And when, when do we finally realise that we got it wrong?