Do funerals warrant attendance after a lapse in friendship?

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In Mrs. Brixton’s Household Guide to Bereavement the author writes, “Anyone who attends too many funerals will develop a reputation as a layabout looking for free cheese”. She’s so right. Can’t we all mention a mystery dude wearing a sports coat that terriers have recently thrown in that show up at our dad’s wake and claim a shared boyhood with him before gobble up the lion’s share of sushi and single malt? There was this guy at my dad’s funeral who kept telling me, with what seemed like real sadness, “Robbo will be missed.” Maybe. But my father’s name was Graeme.

Ms Brixton suggests four funerals a year is about the right number to attend, ‘unless the Germans have started another war, in which case needs must. But you have to be careful not to give the impression of being unemployed and surviving on couches when you wake up,” she advises.

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On another page she instructs, “A funeral may be a suitable occasion for a family truce. Differences are more easily brushed aside in an atmosphere of common sorrow than in times of joy. Thus, death can be a gateway for the black sheep to infiltrate the grieving herd. An untimely death, accompanied, of course, by the most powerful grief, is more effective in this matter than the death of a confused aunt whose hearing has long been muffled by the beating of angel wings.

I get it, Ms. B. If a train-surfing cousin gets loose, I can use his funeral to smear the icy sister. But if a seventy-year-old croaks, peace will not necessarily spread like midday lard at the memorial feast.

When my dad was dying and we were planning his funeral, it started to sound fun, and he said, “I wish I could be there.” I replied, “Oh… you will be”. He liked that. But funerals are tricky territory. Private invitations will not be sent. You have to judge whether or not you should go.

This week I’ve been trying to figure out if I should attend a friend’s funeral. You go to a funeral to exchange memories with the departed, to toast and toast them, to wish them luck on their journey to nothingness. And unless you’re some medieval freak, this is all done for the family, the parents, the surviving spouse, the children. But what if a rotten apple shows up at a funeral? How about the relatives? What will my presence say to his children?

We were friends. Sporadic. Will his daughter find my presence an intrusion? In the middle of reciting the sad ode she wrote in her father’s honor, will she stare across the crowded room and see me and ask, “What in the name of all decency are you doing here?” If it’s the canapes, take a handful and fuck off. The newly bereaved can be sod with a few comforting shandies on board. As protective of the dead as a bulldog is of a bone.

There is often hypocrisy in attending a funeral. I imagine apologizing to my old buddy, who sits wrapped in roses and smiles an undertaker. “Look, Baz, sorry I didn’t bother to keep in touch with you while you were alive, and it was possible. But here I am now in happy rags, dripping with cologne and performative regrets and laden with ’70s anecdotes.”

You have to ask yourself if you’re coming along just to see that you’re doing the right thing. So that you’re not considered a heartless bastard who went bowling while your once-on-a-besty sat in an open box and was fondly mocked by neighbors and other thugs.

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