Virtual condolences

Many years ago, when I showed up at a friend’s mam’s funeral having never met the woman, I had some explaining to do. I was living in the UK at the time and what for me was the most natural thing in the world to do, raised eyebrows over there. After much discussion and consultation with various friends of various persuasions from various backgrounds, we came to the conclusion that in Ireland we go to funerals for the living, not for the dead.

I’ve been to loads of funerals having never met the person in the coffin and thought nothing of it.  I went to support someone close to them – a sister, brother, daughter, husband, wife, cousin, aunt, uncle. It didn’t much matter. And for some, the church was bursting at the seams with hundreds spilling over into the car park. I wonder how long more this will last.

When my parents pick up the paper, they turn to the obituaries first, to see whose dead, to see if there are any funerals they should go to. A few years ago, Ireland’s undertakers went online and now we have – a one-stop shop for those who don’t get the papers any more. Up-to-the-minute funeral details and other ‘end of life matters’. I thought that was pretty progressive. Handy, too, if you missed the 1pm funeral roll-call on the local radio.

Today, a mate of mind pointed me to, as US site that boasts the ‘largest collection of US obituaries and condolences’, presumably in the world. You can find your funeral, send flowers, and sign the book of condolences. So you don’t even have to go to the church.

An excellent repository of life stories and memories that could well be of comfort. Great, admittedly, for those too far away to travel, but I wonder how long it will take for the church numbers to dwindle to the immediately family and will that be better or worse.

Friends of mine who’ve been in the receiving line after a funeral where everyone present goes up and shakes hands with the bereaved, tell me it was comforting to see the support and the genuine love and affection expressed. Me? I can’t imagine anything worse, and thankfully, I’ve yet to experience it.

In between work I’m supposed to be doing today, I keep coming back to this online condolences thing… and wondering …

And while I’m dithering, I’m off to dig out my copy of JP Donleavy’s book – The Lady who Liked Clean Restrooms

The Chronicle of One of the Strangest Stories Ever to Be Rumoured About Around New York. Mrs. Jocelyn Guenevere Marchantiere Jones sweeps onto the scene as the doyenne of an estimable house and fortune in Scarsdale. Although her South Carolinian, socially registered grandmother disapproved of anything above the Mason-Dixon line, Jocelyn still honors her code of behavior: ”Your snobberies are the most preciously valuable asset you will ever have in life, cherish them well. Avoid unbrave men and when you’re away from your own trusted lavatory, only go to the cleanest of places.” But Jocelyn’s certainties are tested when her husband leaves her for a bit of ”fresh flesh.” Ever the lady, Jocelyn proposes modest terms for the divorce and holds her course through financial collapse. What follows is a freewheeling tour of our heroine’s ”unexpurgated thoughts” as fortune bounces her down the peculiar social ladder that separates Scarsdale from Yonkers, Yonkers from the Bronx — and the New World nouveaux riches from the ”dignified homeless indigent.” Donleavy proves himself as much the master of a certain New York social set and train corridor as he is of the psyche of a fresh-mouthed 43-year-old Daughter of the Confederacy. The reader cheers for Jocelyn as she fends off her friends’ husbands, brandishes a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson and lives for her trips to Manhattan’s museums. But her search for the city’s cleanest restrooms becomes increasingly desperate, leading Jocelyn finally to a funeral parlor and a  shocking reversal of fate.

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