THE FUNERAL OF A NICE MAN by Barrie Purnell


THE FUNERAL OF A NICE MAN

The low rust red brick buildings crouched down into the grass,
As if apologizing for the melancholic nature of their application
The car park filled up fast. The noiseless black hearse crept in last.
I was there not from choice but to fulfill my sense of obligation.

The participants in this ceremony were born in a village,
Ten green country miles to the west, over seventy years ago.
They stood holding a folded card, on which the dead man’s smiling image
Looked back at them, as if daring them to let him go.

We sat close together. They were playing the theme
From Last of the Summer Wine as we shuffled in. It was full.
The droning eulogy and speeches were shorter than they seemed,
But, from what was audible, the dead man’s life seemed dull

This man, who lay there silently, clad in polished golden oak,
Had lost that fight that none of us can ever hope to win,
A kind and gentle man, according to all those who spoke,
For whom forgiveness was not needed as he never aspired to sin.

I sat, only half listening, as his relatives recounted his uneventful life.
The congregation smiled dutifully at some well-rehearsed bon mot.
The only ones visibly grieving were his daughter and his wife
As for myself I felt no grief, our friendship was just too long ago

He had done nothing for the world to record, or remember,
Just his wife and his child will mark where he has been.
And I got to thinking, on that cold day in September,
If the funerals of the rest of us I had now foreseen.

Did this group, all clad in somber shades of black and gray,
Come to celebrate the life just ended, or to commiserate
With his widow? They had been thinking all week of what to say,
Deciding only that he was good at football and he was never late

These people reluctantly assembled there to mourn,
Had not moved far, except for the occasional Spanish holiday.
They still lived close to the place where they were born,
They had never seen a reason why they should move away.

The careworn, life scored, faces reflected their anxiety,
Not about the uncertainty and inhumanity of world events,
But more likely from concerns of their children’s impropriety,
And how the young are all so devoid of common sense.

Wars in far-flung, foreign places with hundreds dead,
Places they could not even point to on the global map,
Were not reported in the local paper that they read,
Which devoted one full column to this one dead chap.

The rain heavy, gunmetal grey, cloud filled sky reflected our mood,
As we were unavoidably confronted by our own mortality.
It was lifted by the arrival of the urns of tea and post service food,
Helping time separated friends, cut through the funereal formality

Once we had shaken hands, kissed cheeks and reminisced,
There was little else than childhood memories that we shared.
We spoke weasel words to his widow, how he would be sadly missed,
But very soon, immersed in self, had forgotten that we cared

We recalled shared memories of childhood escapades,
Roaming the countryside, optimistic and free from fear.
With packed up lunches and cloudy homemade lemonade,
We were adventurers, with no adults to supervise or interfere.

It’s much too late now to achieve all of our youthful ambitions
All of those brave project plans which all came to naught.
No time left for us to win world-wide fame and recognition
We will only be remembered in a friend’s transient thought.

What little wealth we had struggled to accumulate
Whatever reputation we had managed to build over the years
All those efforts made to cheat time and our old bodies to rejuvenate
Would be forgotten after an indifferent eulogy and a few ephemeral tears

Soon it was time for everyone to say their goodbyes and leave.
We agreed, in life as in football, he always played the game,
And although he had been too sick and old for us to really grieve,
It was sad because, although achieving little, he was a nice man just the same

I was reminded how tenuous my hold on life had now become.
In my delusion I am younger than all those childhood friends I see,
But in reality I am older and closer to the end than some.
A tear formed in my eye, not for him already gone, it was for me.

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