As stock as it is to observe that if it weren’t for funerals and weddings, family and friends might never get together, the ceremonies are nonetheless invariably penetrating and frequently uplifting even in the face of adversity. Not insignificantly both events customarily involve such unvarying routine and regular procedure that the experience is akin to any other event which superimposes regimentation and thereby temporarily suspends the yearning to be productive. For at least an hour or two one is strictly an observer, assured of a welcome and uninterrupted opportunity to reflect idly upon the many meritorious thoughts which are prompted by the heady subjects of death and marriage, beginnings and ends, and the myriad of sentiments which naturally flow from and are accessory to such considerations. There is an intoxicating factor to the heightened emotions and sentiments provoked by funerals and weddings.
One element which is common (though undergoing change) in both funerals and weddings is the religious feature. In many instances I sense that the ecclesiastical backdrop is akin to wallpaper or a television ad and with about as much general appeal (though admittedly for the immediate parties this element is often imperative). I have heard it said of young people in particular that they have considerable difficulty accepting the religious spin on death.
Regrettably in that respect much of what issues from the pulpit is little more than an exhortation to feed or clothe oneself with divine provision without offering the means of doing so, amounting to a potentially empty and somewhat off-putting promise to intellectually thirsty people.
In the context of weddings, much of the standard biblical themes are now overwhelmingly anachronistic and as a result repugnant. In the final analysis, the uncomfortable truth is that if it weren’t for weddings and funerals, most people would not be in a church at all and it appears that an hour’s sojourn is not about to succeed in conversion or temporary persuasion. In some cases the attempt to obtain submission to the clerical process is met with indignant reaction, itself only suppressed by the superior desire to keep one’s own peace.
Clearly the focus of the particular event, whether a funeral or a wedding, assists in distracting us from our habitual preoccupations, which in some instances involve disagreements and hostilities with certain of those in attendance. Funerals and weddings are after all family affairs. Even given the surfeit of dissolving sadness and joy which accompanies these occasions, I am not however so gullible to assume that adverse parties will ultimately be moved to reconciliation. Nonetheless, the opportunity is there to reconsider the merits of long-standing disputes, and it may be that miserly improvement is the eventual product.
During both funerals and weddings, there is much said about the parties at the heart of the proceedings. Regularly the comments about the deceased or the newly weds are highly revealing. It is perhaps unfortunate that a summary review of one’s life is confined to such poignant moments but I suppose that is one of the traits which contributes to the depth of the affair. This reminds me of the adage that everyone worth his mettle should have his obituary written. Such a direction hardly applies to wedded parties, but it is a useful reminder to us all that one’s actions are in the final analysis recorded.
Social congregation following the pivotal service is of course usual. Barring the supremely unique case of total strangers who make a point of attending funerals for the benefit of the luncheon, the repast (whether a tea or a sit-down meal) affords the opportunity for the spectators in attendance to give voice to their prior ruminations. This custom is accompanied by much hand-shaking, embracing and kissing. Once again the opportunity for such conviviality and human contact is infrequent except at funerals and weddings, and increasingly the show of mutual affection is becoming more evident sometimes destabilizing standard myths of macho behaviour.
I suspect that on the whole, apart from the central parties concerned, the experience of a funeral or a wedding is but an ephemeral hiccup in the broader scope of one’s life. Jolted though we may be for the moment, it isn’t long before we set adrift the mesmerizing soliloquies and right ourselves on our determined course. As compelling as any funeral or wedding may be, the universe is ultimately personal and we are bound to travel the suburbs of our own mind. Nonetheless, funerals and weddings foster some of the finer human characteristics and recall at least momentarily some of the expressions which we may one day wish to have bestowed upon us in our own particular hour of sorrow or joy.