A neighbour was bereaved. Instead of going to the funeral director where my friend worked, she walked past and went to another firm, a few streets away. The funeral arranger there was curious, and asked her why she hadn't gone to the nearest business.
"Well," she said, "I've walked past there many times and heard them laughing around the back. I don't think that's very respectful."
"Mrs Brown," said the funeral arranger, "if you walk around the back of our premises and listen at the door you'll often hear the staff laughing and joking. They deal with sadness and tragedy every day. If they were constantly gloomy and miserable and didn't laugh together, it wouldn't be good for them."
Mrs Brown admitted she hadn't thought of that.
In my experience, the popular perception of people in the funeral business being straight-faced and gloomy is false. Funeral firms' staff, crematorium and cemetery staff, all have to be serious when they're on duty. When they're not on duty, they're often very funny. I just wish that some of them wouldn't make me laugh before I do a funeral, so I have to go into the vestry and compose myself, but I'll enjoy a laugh with them afterwards.
The photograph, taken in 1901 by Sir Benjamin Stone, is of two funeral mutes. Mutes were hired to lead funeral processions, looking suitably gloomy. I suppose that if you had a naturally lugubrious expression, you might have been in demand. I bet they enjoyed a laugh when the funeral was over.
Sample joke from one of my friends from the Co-op:
A man walked through a cemetery late one night and heard tapping. He went to see where the noise was coming from and found a man on his knees in front of a headstone with a hammer and chisel, chipping away at the stone. "It's a bit late to be working mate, isn't it?" he asked. The man with the chisel carried on carving for a bit, then said, "They got my name wrong."
It's the way you tell them.