When I retired as a humanist celebrant I thought I'd stop writing this blog, but my fascination with all things death-related prompted more posts. They're just written from a slightly different perspective, that's all. Oh, and I still do the odd one, by special request.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Death is nothing at all?

Religionists can sneak up on unwary humanist celebrants like me. The client/s might say that he or she or they don't want any religion at the funeral, but there could be some relative or friend who's determined that Uncle Bob or Aunt Brenda shouldn't be given a send-off that's totally free of superstition. "Stella wants to do a reading," I'll be told. "I'm sure it'll be OK. She knows we're not having a religious funeral." That's precisely why Stella waits until the last minute to tell you what she wants to read, and it'll probably be something about a happy ever after, when we all meet again, in the by and by, or something along those lines.

Canon Henry Scott Holland's a popular one. It's supposed to be "comforting". This is a version I've been sent:

Death is nothing at all
I have only slipped away into the next room
I am I and you are you
Whatever we were to each other
That we are still
Call me by my old familiar name
Speak to me in the easy way you always used
Put no difference into your tone
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow
Laugh as we always laughed
At the little jokes we always enjoyed together
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was
Let it be spoken without effort
Without the ghost of a shadow in it
Life means all that it ever meant
It is the same as it ever was
There is absolute unbroken continuity
What is death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of mind
Because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you for an interval
Somewhere very near
Just around the corner
All is well.
Nothing is past; nothing is lost
One brief moment and all will be as it was before
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting
when we meet again!

Canon Henry Scott-Holland, 1847-1918, Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral

How we shall laugh? Where did Henry get this idea? Did he have any evidence that one's dear departed would be lurking "just around the corner" (spooky) until you catch up with him or her? And would he or she be as we remembered him or her when fit and healthy, or when he or she was old and sick, for example? What about all the other dead people? Which ones would be waiting, and who would diplomatically stay out of your way because you didn't get on in life, so the thought of spending eternity in their company gives you the heeby-jeebies?

Few people have really thought about an afterlife, except in the vaguest terms. If they did, they might find, as I do, that it's a very unattractive prospect. For a start, eternity's a very long time. After the first few hundred years I think you'd be anxious to leave. What will you do? Eating chocolate, reading good books, gardening, all the things you enjoyed in life, are OK for short periods, but could grow tiresome. And then there's the business of who else is there. It's either very crowded, or you have a system that permits you to choose your companions, assuming they want to share with you. How old will you be? Twenty-one forever? You see, it's not straightforward, is it?

Give me oblivion, forever.


Pam said...

After my death, I don't want oblivion, at least I do not want to be forgotten, however I do want to be totally oblivious, to know nothing. This is my idea of bliss or nirvana, the state of nothingness. I'll never understand those who crave for more, to go on somewhere.

Even when a Humanist ceremony is requested there are often ambiguous feeling on the subject of an afterlife. The family I'm dealing with currently are quite sure that Dad is "up there" and sending them guiding messages!

johngowers said...

I have uploaded a musical setting of Death is nothing at all to youtube and thought you might like to see/hear it:


I played this recording at my own father’s funeral last November and found it very comforting.

Margaret said...

Sorry John. I'm glad you liked it, but I don't like it with or without music.