Funeral Thoughts

Yesterday, I watched as a line of funeral cars passed slowly over the bridge on Fakenham Road. I stopped walking across with Ollie, and stood respectfully for the thirty seconds or so it took to pass us. That reminded me of funerals in my youth.

Where I lived in the 1950s, in a working-class area south of the Thames in London, the death of a neighbour was a serious event. Even though you might not have known them that well, a local woman would normally offer to attend the house to wash and lay out the body, ready for collection by the undertaker. The rest of the householders in the street would close their curtains, as a mark of respect for the dead person and any bereaved family members. Children were told not to play outside and make a lot of noise, but to go to the park instead, or to a friend’s house in another street.

On the day of the funeral, curtains would be closed again, and when the hearse arrived at the house with the body, anyone on the street would stand still, heads bowed respectfully. Most men at that time wore a hat of some kind, and any men seeing the funeral cars or horse-drawn hearse would remove their hats immediately, until the procession had passed.

Yesterday, someone who had died locally was being taken to their last resting place, whether grave or cremation. I had no idea who that person was, and nobody else passing stopped walking. The cars on the other side didn’t slow down, and no curtains were closed in any house I walked past.

Times change, we all know that. But some traditions are worth keeping.

59 thoughts on “Funeral Thoughts

  1. Hi Pete, the last person who died that I knew well was my sweet sisters husband. We just gathered at her house. My kids started showing up, cousins, friends, extended family. Food appeared and the refrigerator was always full. This went on for weeks. The funeral was held a month later to accommodate family. I noticed the respect others gave us as past. It’s meaningful. We still hover and gather around her. As death seems more and more realistic my reverence increases. It’s the cycle of life, makes me grateful for every moment. 💕C

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  2. Such a shame when old traditions just fade away here death is celebrated over 3 days we attended our first one last year it was beautiful and respectful and the whole village pay respects x

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      1. I will teach kindness and good behavior till my last dying breath. Last week I taught the children how to curtsy. They already know how to bow, and they love it. What teacher does that? I’m probably the lone soul.

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  3. Interesting observation Pete. I remember the curtains being closed but little is observed now. I’m always reminded of Get Carter where his brother’s body is laid out in the front room….

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      1. It seems to be because we are in a heavily Catholic area. Cremation is allowed, but still rarely used. Open casket is the norm followed by a closed casket at the actual Church funeral.

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  4. I would stop walking too. It’s been a long time since I saw a funeral procession on the road, but my recollection is that cars on side traffic also stop for the duration of the passing.

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  5. I made a comment but I guess it never got through. But I too lived in a time when funerals were respectful and dignified. Today many of them are disgustingly noisy and disrespectful social gatherings with little respect for the deceased at all.

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  6. Pete, I’ve just been talking to a few ‘undertakers’ I know about this and as a result of Covid when funerals couldn’t be done and livestreaming was the way, that is now the new normal. People are not only accepting that now but preferring that option and funeral chapels and churches have now rigged cameras and mikes up. There is a cost factor as well as even close ones can’t afford to attend a funeral. Many indigenous races, including the maoris here in NZ, have 3 day long funerals and even that has been curtailed now.
    It seems many now are getting cremated asap after death and an interment ceremony will be done say at the next birthday or when convenient. I’m also told that with split families, the ashes box will be sent around for several mini funerals.
    The other point you make about ‘community’. That too has changed as young ones have lost the art of conversation and courtesies and it is not the done thing now to talk to others. We don’t respect others as its all about ME not WE.
    I hope it hasn’t changed in London, but in 1980 I was gobsmacked at the way people in a street would genuinely care for someone ill or dead. Scones, a cuppa, flowers, a fiver. It left me in tears of joy at times.

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    1. I don’t know about London anymore, Gavin. But in a quiet country village like Beetley, I am genuinely surprised by how little attention is given to our dead neighbours. Then again, many of those old people are very ‘private’, and quite reserved.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  7. I agree, Pete. I’ve seen a number of practices that differed widely, but I think whatever way people have of handling end of life, the least we can offer is respect. Respect seems lacking in general these days.

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  8. Different times. Even so, like you I show my respect in the same way. Or rather I would if a hearse turned up in this street. But seeing as our street is largely inhabited by OAP’s like myself, chances are we’d be carted off in an ambulance. If one was available! Knowing my luck they will probably put me out for the bin men…

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    1. I am one of the older men in my street, but some locals are almost 20 years older than me, and still going strong. They drive around every day, and some even trim their own hedges and cut the grass. They put me to shame, Jack. 🙂
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  9. Rarely see a funeral where we live, in fact I’ve never seen anyone around here being taken away in a hearse. I am thinking that’s because we are the oldest people on our estate so ours will be the first!

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    1. I usually stop for a moment if I see a cortege go past but few people do. What amuses me is the speed – they used to go very slowly but due to the pace of traffic they’ve had to speed up somewhat and end up looking like a child trying very hard not to run. There are also silver and grey hearses as well as black. I put it down to death being a subject most people don’t want to think about

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      1. Yesterday’s procession was going at walking pace, as one undertaker was walking ahead of the hearse. No doubt they speeded up when they got to the main Holt Road, with its 70 mph speed limit.
        Best wishes, Pete.

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    2. Yes, we had black armbands on our coats when my grandad died in 1965. I don’t really know what I put it down to. Less ‘neighbourhood’, more isolated living, widespread families, divorce. It all adds up to knowing less people, and knowing less about the people you do know, I suspect.
      Best wishes, Pete. x

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  10. Nicely stated, Pete. Having had five years in the funeral business doing it all I’ve oft lamented that people simply do not take it upon themselves to become more inclusive in the memorials and funerals of their friends and family. Here in the States we have this propensity to defer to what I call the “Ewww.. Factor”. Meaning the perception that five minutes after a person dies they get all “ewww…” and want the mortician to simply “get ’em outta here” and to the funeral home. Much myth has been spun about what is legal or not regarding handling the dead (largely from the funeral industry).

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