We found the Crematorium at last, tucked away in a hidden valley
in the outer suburbs, an unsuspected Oasis of Peace
surrounded by Freeways and Arterial Roads.
It was a lovely morning amongst the tombstones.
Gee-gaws glittered and glistened, wet with dew on children’s graves.
Butcher birds and magpies filled the air with song,
oblivious to human preoccupations like Death and Progress.
I crumbled some of the red dirt between my fingers. Good volcanic soil, and well mulched with human blood and bone. It would make good farming land, but land prices being what they are, if the cemetery wasn’t here they’d probably put up a housing estate.
The Chapel itself, as is always the case these days
with such secular civic shrines,
was a monument to Modernism.
Untouched by Classicism, every architectural device/feature or conceit associated with religion or spirituality had been banished, there were no naves, no arches or architraves, no stained glass, no columns,
no statue or altar,
no Medieval Gothic taint remained.
The building was essentially anonymous. It could have been anything, a car show-room or a lawyer’s office or a Holiday Villa.
The best feature of these sort of structures is that typically they have a large glass feature wall, allowing them to replace the usual religious iconography with “the cheap showiness of nature”. And indeed, being able to stare at the trees at such times is a definite plus
and you can ignore the buildings lack of personality.
The female Funeral Attendants from “Valkyrie Funeral Service“, dressed like dour Russian flight attendants from the Eighties,
monitor the proceedings thru the latest video-surveillance equipment.
Strategically placed cameras cover every angle of the chapel
with KGB-like efficiency.
The Head Valkyrie draws the attention of one of her colleagues to something on the screen and they zoom in to Quadrant 3. She whispers instructions thru her head-set’s microphone
to some unseen Agent. Have they moved to seal some gap in the perimeter, I wonder? The Security aspects seem a bit disturbing. What are they expecting? Gatecrashers?
An Display of unseemly Weeping in Sector 7?
Swiftly an Operative is despatched with a box of tissues
to contain the Outbreak..
The Cut-and-Paste Celebrant, pirating somebody else’s unacknowledged Intellectual Property, tells us to let the Deceased’s
death inspire us to make the World a better place,
or words to that effect. I can’t help but feel that they’re expecting too much. I mean, the Deceased was ok and will be remembered fondly, but it’s not like they were Gandhi or Spartacus or something.
But I suppose the State Certified Celebrant must say something
to justify their fee and the time annexed
by the droning of their bland platitudes
at least gives people a chance to compose themselves
for the real Ordeal; the harrowing Speeches
delivered by those closest to the Deceased.
Grief-wracked words wrenched from the Heart, desperate strugglings to explain, to encompass, to acknowledge the sum of someone’s Existence. Sincerity and Diplomacy battle to find a balance
in the scales and do it in 5 minutes
because Valkyrie’s clock is ticking.
(Lest a feather-weight of bitterness find tongue to tip the scales.
Now not the time for old rancours. Wait for the Wake!)
Fortunately for me at least, this time I am not down in the front row,
my grieving shoulders on public show,
nor am I speaking on the Departed’s behalf.
Instead I merely join the Rabble standing down the back, the Outer Circle of well-wishers and fellow-travllers who have come as much
to support the Living as to bear witness to the Passing.
Not Family perhaps, but Tribe at least.
Community is a boring word that’s used these days a lot, but I still prefer to call it Tribe.
The word seems more Primal somehow,
more archtypal, closer to the Essence
of why we were all there.
The Speakers bravely battle thru to the end of their Herculean task.
The Celebrant slides smoothly back into the spotlight,
like a snake into a warm patch of sun
and brings the show to a close
with a well practised line of glib patter.
The curtains come together and hide the coffin, but strangely without any sense of closure accompanying the act. An anti-climactic gesture.
Why is that, I wonder?
I don’t know. Music plays. We wait respectfully for the Family to pass, uncertain whether to make eye-contact or to look at the ground.
Outside, as is always the case at these events, the crowd relaxes and there is a minor explosion of conviviality. The Weight of the Ceremony has been lifted from them, the smokers light up and for a moment the Deceased is forgotten and the crowd socialises and catches up with old Faces.
It reminds me of a Primary School playground when the kids have just been let out of class. All that repressed emotional energy and behavioural etiquette in class is for the moment put aside and briefly they escape to be just kids again.
So also for adults when escaping the ritual solemnities of the funeral ceremony. They have been reminded that it is good to be alive. We chat and smoke amongst the gravestones in the morning sun.
Too soon though it seems the dour Russian flight attendants and part-time KGB operatives are telling us to move along, there’s another funeral scheduled and we are taking too long.
As always I am offended by the brutally efficient haste with which these Establishments move you off the premises so the next paying customer can be processed. It gives a bit of a conveyor belt feel to the whole operation. Simple human decency, I would have thought,
would have them schedule the funerals at decent intervals.
But Time is Money, and so Valkyrie run their operations
on the same principles as the McDonalds drive-thru.
We’re talking Volume. Order served in three minutes or your money back..Want Fries with that?
*Authors note: This is a composite funeral experience drawn from a number of occasions & exposure to a variety of “Celebrants”
and their ilk.
The Reverend Hellfire is a practised Performance Poet
President of the Kurilpa Institute of Creativity
and an ordained Minister of the Church of Spiritual Humanists
AND the Church of the Universe.
He’d go to your Funeral.