A story about a drive-thru funeral made the news here last week. . While completely American and just as completely inconceivable here in Kerry; it made me laugh thinking of the reaction of the many serial funeral goers trekking to and from funerals nightly.
“Jesus, what will those Yanks think of next? Might as well give them a bucket of fried chicken to eat while they sit in their big yokes guzzling chicken and gas. Can you imagine not having the decency to shake a man’s hand after him losing a loved one?” Or something a little less polite?!
Logistically it would never work of course. There is no room outside any funeral home in small towns and villages to accommodate the drive-thru process and since a good portion of Irish people can’t or don’t drive, they would be looking for lifts or borrowing cars just to drive-thru. The whole drive thru concept is a bit vague too here. There are parking spots outside for McDonald’s that you frequently have to pull up to and park in after going through the drive-thru and wait for someone to bring your food over to you.
There aren’t even parking lots for any funeral home aside from room for the hearse to pull in front of the door so every wake which is inevitable held between 5 or 6 onwards creates absolute gridlock as people cruise by looking for somewhere to abandon their car and clog up traffic. The removal and burial are another traffic nightmare as processions of mourners follow the casket on foot from the funeral home to the church (removal) or from the church to the cemetery (funeral mass). I am sure you think I am exaggerating but this could add an hour onto you drive home depending on the size and location of the wake and if you run into one mid-day while racing to a meeting, forget it. Thankfully it’s such a common and accepted obstacle around town that “Sorry I got stuck behind a funeral” pretty much covers any tardiness.
Imagine saying that in the US?!
Funerals are a strange combination of sacrosanct and mundane here.
People talk about funerals in hushed tones and relay details of very tragic funerals with a quiet zealous enthusiasm. At the same time there is little emotion at or around funerals. They are fairly practical and orchestrated affairs. I have been to a few wakes in houses where the casket and body is in a sitting room and the family receives people next to the casket for a few hours and then accompanies the body to the church in the evening or morning. These are really horrible for amateur funeral goers but still won’t see many tears – sometimes the grievers are not clearly set out if it’s been going for a while and if you don’t know everyone its awkward trying to figure out whom to shake hands with without shaking 30 people’s hands and possibly giving your condolences to someone not related at all.
They are mundane because they are such a frequent event for most people. The Irish love funerals and attend as many as humanly possible out of respect, nosiness, boredom, obligation, political & business interests and to guarantee a good turnout for family members and eventually their own funeral. The Irish also love talking about death, funerals and tragedy so when not attending they are discussing funerals. There are death notices on the local radio station a few times a day which are basically a somber woman reciting funeral arrangements for people who have died recently.
I know people who attend 2-3 funerals per week! They go to co-worker’s father-in-laws funerals even if it requires driving four hours roundtrip after work. They tell you about acquaintances cousins that are being waked thirty miles away with the expectation you want to know so you can attend. We had a manager at work that everyone hated. No one was friendly with her; no one knew her family or socialised with her aside from work. She retired and two years later her mother died and the entire office (but me) went to the funeral. When I asked one woman incredulously why she was going since she hated her and didn’t know her mother, she replied, “She could be on an interview panel one day.” Another common response is “I’d be embarrassed if I met her in County Hall and hadn’t gone.” People are frequently sent to deputize for their parents if they can’t make a funeral because they are away or sick. I asked a friend what he was going to do since he didn’t know any of the family and he said run in, look around and figure out who the most important mourners were, go up to them and say I am Tom & Margaret Murphy’s son. They are in Dublin and asked me to pass on their condolences, then leave. You have to make sure they get the name so they are officially represented – totally pointless if no one knows you’re there and they need to know exactly where you live, to the house usually so you give some specific information.
My Irish American grandmother and family in Boston have a lot of interest in funerals too and I always just thought they were particularly morbid but since the obituaries in Boston are referred to as the Irish sports pages I guess this is a cultural hold over from Ireland.
Are there are any interesting funeral traditions where you are? I would love to hear if Catholic’s are just particularly into funerals or are there other funeral cultures similar to the Irish.