When the musical Evita opened in the West End in 1978, it was an overnight sensation, making a star of Elaine Paige and becoming the ‘must-see’ show in London for years.
An acquaintance – then in her late 50s – saw the much-praised show and came back decidedly underwhelmed and a tad depressed.
In her words: “As soon as the curtain went up and they brought the coffin on and there was this chanty funeral music I knew I was in for a grim two hours.”
This was delivered in such a comedic deadpan way it has stayed with me.
Having seen Evita myself, twice, and finding it quite remarkable, I use the story here to illustrate how people have different attitudes to death and all the ceremony, or lack of it if you prefer, that comes with it.
To say there is still a taboo for many people about discussing any aspect of their mortality would probably be putting it mildly.
Everyone, in spite of their reluctance to discuss it, will perhaps have thought about their own funeral – even if it’s just ‘I like this hymn’ or ‘I don’t want any hymns’ when attending someone’s farewell.
Funerals can be epic events.
The most watched seems to have been that of Diana, Princess of Wales – a figure of 2.5 billion worldwide TV audience is attributed to the sad day in 1997.
More than two million attended the funeral of Gandhi and nearly three million that of Eva Peron, Evita.
Many of ours are likely to be on a slightly smaller scale, but no less important to our loved ones and friends.
My family and I had to make the choices for our dad’s funeral as he had not discussed anything with us. So we wrote the eulogy and chose ‘In My Life’ by the Beatles and a Mario Lanza record which he loved.
Afterwards we all went to a local pub by the river and ate and drank on the grassy bank in summer sunshine, asking everyone to put their food and drink on dad’s ‘tab’.
It is understandable many of us do not wish to discuss any such details – particularly when hale and hearty – but there are advantages if a family member feels they can when faced with the end of life, or in anticipation of it.
Trying to think of what someone would want, while at the same time knowing this is the last time you can actually do something for a person so dear to you, can be a real pressure at a time of deep grief, particularly as you want to get it right.
At the hardest of times, having a discussion about funeral arrangements may be a bridge too far for many, but sharing thoughts after a loved one has gone about what they might have wanted is the next best thing and a chance to remember precious moments.
* Mel Hewitt, community fundraiser St John’s Hospice, Balby