Many things can be achieved in five hours. You could paint a wall and watch it dry. You could watch half of The Lord of the Rings trilogy or ten episodes of Friends. If you are anything like my friend Rosie, you can be halfway through getting ready for a night out. You could even fly to Finland or Cyprus in that amount of time. And yet in this fast paced society the fact that an Islamic funeral could be planned and carried out in five hours still managed to surprise me.
A few weeks ago when I found myself faced with this shotgun-funeral my initial reaction was that it was happening too fast and it wouldn't give me time to say goodbye to my Grandad. In hindsight, the timing of the funeral meant that there was no time to sit around and wait. In England the funeral is often a week or two after the death which leaves the family sitting round a lot of the time twiddling their thumbs and wishing they had a wall of paint to watch dry. You may assume that due to the restricted time frame, details can get rushed or over looked but that's not the case. In Algeria, there was a great sense of community as everyone pulled together to make it work. Cousins were ringing friends and family, while an uncle dealt with paperwork, another cousin went to the cemetery where a group of perfect strangers helped to dig the grave. And when my Grandad's body was transported from the house to the cemetery members of the village joined in the funeral procession and took turns to carry the body as they walked the two kilometres.
For me, the hardest part of my Grandad's funeral was that fact that being a woman meant I couldn't go. For most readers this may seem weird. To be perfectly honest I was not initially happy that neither me, my Grandmother nor my Aunties could go to the burial and yet members of the village that didn't really know him could go. But when the time came for the men to leave for the burial I was more at peace with the tradition.
I had seen my Grandad and kissed him one last time. I felt as though I didn't need to attend the burial to say my goodbyes to him. As Mary Elizabeth Frye says 'Do not stand at my grave and weep I am not there. I do not sleep.'
Even mourning itself is an odd idea. While the funeral is the deceased's last goodbye it can also be quite therapeutic to the mourners as a means of getting closure. If anything, at funerals, we should be celebrating the individual's life and what they achieved. Instead, we are overcome with this somewhat selfish emotion by which we want them to stay. We seem to no longer care about the individual, we merely want them back for our own selfish means. We cry because we are never going to see them again not because they are gone. We cry because we miss them.
As my uncle once remarked 'Death is a part of life.' However morbid this statement may seem there is no denying its truth. In a way our funeral is our parting stamp on the world, our 'famous' last words if you will. Recently my Granny was discussing her song choices for her own 'farewell'. 'Anything by Cliff Richard to lead everyone in, Somewhere Over the Rainbow in the middle and to lead everyone out I'd like Tina Turner's Simply the Best.'
Her reasoning behind the song choice: 'everyone will be feeling quite down so I just want them to leave with a smile on their faces.' The words of a truly selfless woman.
Written by Laura Megatli