I am the youngest of three brothers and it was less than a year ago that my middle brother passed away unexpectedly; pre-deceasing both my parents.
This sort of thing is difficult to cope with at the best of times but really there is no best of times and there is no script to follow. Everyone just has to find a way through their own personal grief and dealing with coping with the trappings of death. A further complication with my brother was that he was on holiday in Spain with his wife.
Coincidentally my wife and I were also on holiday at the same time on the South Coast of England. We had just had lunch in a pub by the harbour in Weymouth. The winter sun was glancing off of the water and flickering ballet like on the ceiling. The ceiling was a fresh cream colour and was patterned by short sayings and quotations from the great and the good.
We had even been talking about how we could envisage brother and his wife sitting with us at the same place during a holiday with them to be arranged. Brother would take charge, order our choices for lunch and then peruse the wine list. He never did this to work out how good the wine cellar was based on vintages and vineyards. He was only checking that his stalwart choice of wine was on the list and available.
“A bottle of Pinot Grigio please” would be directed at the waiter followed by “everyone Ok with that?” as he glanced at his table companions.
Strangely enough it was an incident with a bottle or two of wine that proved to be of the greatest help to our family when brother died.
Several years ago, brother and his wife were on holiday in Spain. They were staying with one of his college friends from the 1960’s and his wife on their olive grove and vineyard. After the four of them had watched the sun disappear behind the mountains the two wives went indoors leaving brother and his best friend on the terrace.
The two friends had a couple of bottles of Rioja, some cigars, a couple of candles and some stationery. As they imbibed in the rich red wine to keep them warm and liberate the minds, the smoke from their King Edwards hung around them in the still air keeping the insects away.
Life was good. They both knew it but they both knew it could be taken away in an instant like a candle being snuffed out.
In the half light of the candles on the table they made a promise to each other about what to do if one pre-deceased the other. They promised that who ever was survivor would look after the wife and as many of the affairs of the other. This promise and commitment was never written. Best friends do not have to that. That is what being a best friend is about.
What both of them did do and record on paper was how their respective funerals should be organized. Burial or cremation? Religious or atheist service? What hymns or music to be played? What form should any reception after the funeral take and where?
The two of them sorted all of this out and sealed their plans in envelopes for the other to keep.
I cannot express how much this amount of forethought helped my family. Both my parents are in their 80’s. There was no way that they could have been expected to get involved in helping with, for want of more adequate phrasing, the logistics and stage management of their son’s funeral. As a family we are deeply and forever grateful to ‘best friend’ for the role and commitment with which he fulfilled it.
The lesson to learn is that we all consider ourselves young while our parents are alive. We assume our health is good and that unexpected death always happens to someone else, especially when someone dies before their parents.
We have a best man or maid of honour at weddings. Their role is to make sure everything runs smoothly on the big day. Not only are they there for the groom or the bride, they also are there for the wider family and carry the responsibility of maintaining good order throughout proceedings. So, why not have ‘funeral buddies’ who can do the same type of role at funerals?
The only problem with this is, as with brother’s best friend, there is now no one to be his funeral buddy.