The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 5 October

Dear Thomas

People often say they want a funeral to be a celebration of a person’s life. But how far should you go? Some people positively ban black and insist on showing old home movies and making hilarious speeches. Am I alone in not feeling entirely comfortable with this approach? There’s something artificial about it.

Diana Khan, London

Dear Diana 

Everybody has their own way of grieving, and we have to avoid being judgemental. Equally, every age has its own cult of death. The Victorians loved extravagant gloom and monumental funerary ware, amply on display if you visit Brompton or Highgate cemeteries in London. In our time, as you say, we appear to make light of death, sweeping sadness and loss out of the way and instead giving the departed a joyful send-off.

But Sky News presenter Colin Brazier is against all of this. In the Spectator, he asked mourners to wear black at the funeral of his wife Jo (she died in July), and confirmed he would not be delivering a eulogy. ‘The old stuff – the black and the solemn – works because it distils the wisdom of the ages,’ he said, emphasising the ‘necessary catharsis of the grieving process,’ which is obstructed if a funeral is treated ‘like Ascot Ladies’ Day’.

It is impossible to argue with a man who has lost his wife. There has been a similar backlash against other attempts to make death ‘fun’. Transport for London recently banned a series of funeral comparison adverts showing beaming young women shopping for pink coffins in what looked like a gloriously frilly, floral cup-cake shop.

Even so, I’m wondering if we can possibly make rules for funerals. Every death is different, just as every life is. The Victorian way of mourning could be morbid and even neurotic. You only have to think of Queen Victoria herself, plunged forever into black after the death of Prince Albert. Conventions could be stifling: Queen Mary, as a young woman, with endless German and British Royal relations stretching as far as the eye could see, complained that no sooner had one period of mourning ended than another began and she was required once again to wear only black.

In our more secular and fast- moving age, we are preoccupied more with individuals and less with the religious meaning of death: hence the eulogy, which has only recently become more or less obligatory at funerals. But perhaps I am being judgemental in my turn. All that can be said is: can families please do their best to indicate in advance what kind of funeral it’s going to be? And speeches – short is best and not too many. Also, if you’re one of the bereaved, don’t feel you have to speak or read if asked. You never know how you’re going to feel on the day.


 WHAT TO DO ABOUT...Cricket 

I know the season is over, but we need uplift after the above. I heard a talk by Mihir Bose, former BBC sports editor, on Radio 4 (from our own correspondent, 23 September) complaining of ‘football-style tribalism’ being much in evidence this summer during the test series against India. Traditionally, spectators would cry ‘shot’ when the batsmen struck the ball with brilliance – whichever side they were on. But no more. Now spectators gloat at the mistakes of the opposition and cheer wildly when their side gets an easy run, through a ‘bye’, for instance. Even the players have taken to mocking each other and making bruising displays of triumphalism whenever the opportunity arises. In essence, cricket is just not cricket these days. While I was listening to this, I was thinking of something else I’d heard but could not properly recall. Finally, it came back to me. During an Asia Cup Match on 19 September in Dubai, the Indian bowler, Yuzvendra Chahal, knelt to tie the shoelace of the Pakistani batsman, Usman Khan. Politically, India and Pakistan, as you know, don’t like each other. So cricket is cricket after all.

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