Richard Smith on living funerals

Richard SmithAs we begin to assimilate the reality of assisted suicide we should also take the next step to living funerals. I’ve never been to one, but a living funeral is exactly as the name implies: the “funeral” is held while the star turn is still alive – but close to death. If the person is still far from death (although all of us all of the time are only a moment away) then it’s a party.

Although I’ve never been to a living funeral, I’ve a friend whose husband had one. They seem not to be rare in America. The living funeral happened about a week before his death. He was weak but fully conscious. Everybody came. People made the speeches they would have made at his dead funeral (as we’ll call it). His favourite music was played. Emotion ran even higher than at a dead funeral, but at the end there was joy: he was still alive, still there, could still be kissed and hugged.

His dead funeral was something of an anticlimax – shorter and with much less emotion.

My friend and her family and friends thought the living funeral a triumph. She’d been to others, but I don’t know if it’s catching on.
A living funeral would solve the problem of whether or not to go the funeral of distant friends, and in these days of global networks we have more and more distant friends. I’m thinking of x, who lives 6000 miles away. He mayn’t have long to go, although he’s not actually dying at the moment. I don’t have any immediate plans to visit him, but with my wholly positive preoccupation with death I’ve wondered if I’d go to his funeral. Would it make sense to travel 12 000 miles with all the inevitable carbon emissions to stand around his box with his wife, relatives, and friends none of whom I know well and most of whom I don’t know at all? Probably not.

But a living funeral would be different. It would justify the time, expense, and carbon emissions.
And then there are all those uncles and aunts. I think about going to see them, particularly the one in the madhouse, but I never quite make it. I do, however, tend to pitch up to their funerals, and that’s where I catch up with the remaining uncles and aunts – and the cousins who are themselves heading towards funerals (in fact several have already made it). It seems silly to put off visiting people until they are dead, and surely a living funeral would provide a greater spur than a dead funeral.

My brother [Arthur Smith, the comedian], still alive and only 54, has actually, it suddenly occurs to me, had two funerals already – so I have been to sort of living funerals. And both were tremendous fun, way better than the average party.

The first was held in a comedy club in Paris on his 50th birthday – and it was a “funeral” because he’d almost died of necrotising pancreatitis a little while before. Everybody was there, including lots of comedians and musicians, and we all did a turn. My wife was bemoaning the fact that my middle son couldn’t be there, turned round and saw he was there as a surprise, and burst into uncontrollable tears. I danced with Linda Smith, and Ronnie Golden played some rip roaring rock and roll classics.

The second funeral was the launch of his autobiography, when I met my English teacher of 40 years ago and the legendary MiniPud (the younger brother of Pud). Another wonderful night, and it occurs to me that book launches are a form of living funeral, although too often of the dreary kind.
I’ve convinced myself that living funerals are a good idea. Are you convinced?