It’s gettin’ late

by Rick Johansen

Billy Connolly likes funerals. He says so in his very funny book, Rambling Man: My Life On The Road, which I recently read in double quick time. He likes graveyards and funerals, too, “I just like to see people off,” he says. He rarely declines a funeral invitation either. Indeed his manager once said this: “Billy – even if you haven’t seen someone for 25 years and they die in another country you’ll jump on a plane.” He’s not alone, is he?

It is a fact of life that we will die one day and there is nothing we can do to avoid it. Some comfort themselves with faith and the belief, without evidence, that they will survive their own death and ascend to heaven (or descend to hell).  That’s their reality and I have mine. As we grow older, if we are lucky enough to grow older, the number of funerals we attend increase exponentially. As time begins to run out, we spend more time mourning than we did when it wasn’t running out. If you think that sounds pretty grim, then you’re right.

Connolly’s comments did make me think, though. Do I, like him, like funerals? Do I like to “see people off?” And do I rush to a funeral when I haven’t seen someone for 25 years? Only the third question is easy to answer, with a big fat yes. The first two, probably not, although there is an element of nuance to it.

I cannot “like” a funeral, as in the traditional definition of the word like. Like doesn’t include a qualification, a but, if you will. Yet I do understand the need to say farewell and preferably to take part in a celebration of someone’s life.  Sometimes, a funeral is a genuine celebration, but part of me will always feel a degree of sadness, too much sadness to fully join in with the celebration.

Instinctively, not by design, I have made more of an effort to see and be with people who are still alive, not because of some kind of guilty need on my part, but because I remember what it was that brought us together in the first place. And it was inevitably something good; a connection of some sort, a mutual love of something, often music, travel, sport or even something indefinable. I am always, without exception, glad I made the effort, even though it really wasn’t an effort, to be in touch and stay in touch, no matter what. So what brought about this change?

A recognition that I had been attending funerals of people I had, for one reason or another, lost contact with. It was not necessarily solely my fault, but nonetheless I knew I could do better. I am not someone who believes you can have a connection with someone who is dead – that would make me no better than a fake medium and psychic (spoiler alert: they’re all fake) – so it’s better for me to make connections with people who are alive.

I am a great fan of the author Richard Bach and particularly his book There’s No Such Place As Far Away. Bach is, in my view, more than a bit bonkers, yet I love his work which I regard as wholly fiction (he doesn’t) and I love his allegedly inspirational quote: “Can miles truly separate you from friends … If you want to be with someone you love, aren’t you already there?” I believe and I don’t believe it. If there is no physical way you can be with someone, “if we think and wish and and hope and pray” (a line stolen from Brian Wilson’s Wouldn’t It Be Nice?) we can convince ourselves that’s true. Zoom and Facetime can help, too. If we simply choose not to bother to be with someone we love, or even just like, I’m not sure the same rule applies.

Like Billy, I’ll carry on going to the funerals of people I love and like, including those I haven’t seen for a long time, but I am also going to celebrate our lives while we are still here. “It’s gettin’ late,” sang the Beach Boys (another reference), “time waits for no one.” Exactly.

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