Generous Orthodoxy  

Saturday, December 22, 2012

An example of what a funeral can be

A few months ago I posted a blog about funerals which got some attention. This must be a subject of genuine interest, because the most mail I ever got concerning something I wrote was an article I wrote about the fiasco that was the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. The responses were overwhelmingly affirmative.

A friend in Scotland has written me about the funeral of his father. I was very moved by his account and I append it here. I have left in all the details because it makes the context come alive. (This is Western Scotland, centered on Glasgow, where there are a lot of Roman Catholics of Irish origin--quite different from the eastern part of the country centered on Edinburgh.)

Of course this is a very different sort of funeral than those we are seeing in Connecticut right now, and it should be obvious that this is suitable for an older person whose life was well lived. 

My dad was a very old 78. His job as an electric-arc welder in the Clydeside shipyardsaw him work for many years in confined and dingy spaces. This paid very slightly more money than the miserly base-rate shipyard welders earned, but it had a serious downside. This, of course, was in the days before health and safety regulations, protective equipment, and progressive employment law. His lungs were damaged early on and as he got older he suffered badly from other associated health problems - and, it has to be said, the cigarettes didn't help! But, it was the way of life at the time and it is perhaps testimony to his strength of character that he lasted as long as he did. He went peacefully in the end and that was a blessing. It did come as a shock though. We're keeping an eye on mum now. Her health is not great, but she seems to have the constitution of a horse. She's Clyde built, as we say!!
The funeral was a fabulous affair, if that doesn't sound daft! The priest knows the family and is familiar with my dad's dedication to the trade union and labour movement in and around Glasgow. He spoke about dad's lifelong commitment to old fashioned socialist principles (Socialism and the Christian faith, particularly the RC faith, are completely compatible here, as you probably know, and Irish Catholics across industrial Scotland have been particularly well represented in the socialist movement) and with the church packed with family and old comrades, he played my dad's tune by talking at great length about social justice, equality, and the continuing need to fight for a fair days pay, à-la Woody Guthrie! He referred to dad as a "man for others", which touched us all deeply. He used St Paul to ground his homily- not so common in the Catholic Church -  and this was really good given the man!
Afterwards, the family and some of dad's old friends gathered for a 'few drinks' to see him off in good traditional Irish fashion. We sent him off on his new journey with family stories, songs, shipyard anecdotes and fond memories in his portmanteau!. It was a great day!