I went to a funeral today. The father of a classmate who I shall call Katherine (obituaries are available online) of mine died last week and it came as quite a shock to the entire family. He was in his fifties and in good health. I'd gone to school with Katherine for over nine non-consecutive years so I felt obligated to give her some support.
I went to the rosary last night and then to the funeral today. The only interesting part of the Rosary came when Sister C., a former religion teacher of mine, was speaking. While she was talking about the importance of the Rosary, she turned, looked directly at me and said that the Rosary to non-believers: "appears as just a hypnotic monotony." Only Sister C. would be able to speak with such poise, and elegance at a funeral and yet totally insult the entire Catholic Faith. In some ways she's my hero.
I wasn't sure whether I should be present at the funeral, but I ultimately decided it was the right decision, and that my presence would be a show of support for Katherine. That, and I didn't think it would be right if some people showed up, and I wasn't there. Social pressures in other words forced my attendance.
I dressed in black, and was picked up by Richard who seems to grow closer as the summer progresses. Which is a shock, considering how much time he spends with his girlfriend. They're attached at the hip. Or, more appropriately, the mouth. I'll not soon forget my moms question of why Richard's girlfriend, and then Richard would want to borrow toothpaste in the middle of a going away party I was throwing for a friend. Oh... how soon adults forget.
I wander off topic, perhaps in avoidance of the unpleasantness that comes from my memory of the funeral. Approximately ten of our class showed up including two of Katies closest friends. Of the adults, quite a few teachers showed up. When I first walked into the Church I nearly walked right into the coffin it was so close to the door. The funeral was an interesting experience, it was a variation on the Catholic Mass which I've had the opportunity to witness many times. Too many times. It was heart-wrenching to hear Katherine's mother sobbing continually throughout the funeral as she had done previously at the Rosary.
I have long held the belief that funerals serve no purpose for the dead, but are for us, the living. The ritual nature, the remembrance of happy times, all provide comfort and a format for grief to pass instead of allowing it to pool, grow, and fester. As an outlet of grief religion serves its primary purpose. I think in mourning, religion has its purpose and truly provides comfort. That said, as an atheist, I'd rather avoid the traditional religious funeral. I'd much rather organize the "mourners" into parties and send them out on activities that I enjoyed. They could then meet and discuss it, and get some enjoyment out of the experience. I'd much rather hang out on the teacups in Disneyland then hear hymns. In a way, it's rather enjoyable to plan ones funeral. Or perhaps I'm merely morbid.
Katherine herself is either in shock, or has enviable self-composure. When she came by to talk with those classmates who'd come, she smiled, and played the perfect hostess, as her mother had in times past. She and her brother have had to take the roles of their parents, and it's fascinating to see how capably they've handled the responsibility.
I could continue, but perhaps it's best I end it here.