Sunday, 11 November 2012

A secular funeral

Attended such ceremony for the first time on Wednesday. In Poland it is customary to stage traditional church funerals even if the deceased were not deeply religious and ceremonies held not in a church and not administered by a priest are still a rarity. This time the deceased, my friend’s father, was a type of a hard-line atheist and had expressed a wish to have a secular funeral.

While a typical Polish funeral consists of a mass in a church and a burial ritual, a secular funeral has a sort of “last farewell” instead of a mass. On Wednesday the farewell was divided into two parts. The first one was a commemorative speech, being a brief biography and characteristics of the deceased, the second was a classical music concert.

I liked the form of the ceremony and part of the content, in terms of concert (the deceased was an opera-goer), but was disgusted by the eulogy… Delivering eulogies during funerals has become a widespread tradition in Poland. I heard it in 2009, 2010and in 2011, so if 2012 is drawing to a close I couldn’t miss the doubtful pleasure of listening to another one.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against speaking highly about dead people, but every time I listened to such speeches, I felt these were description of people other than those being buried. In Poland there is a custom that you either speak highly about the dead, or don’t speak at all, everyone accepts it, the best example is how the picture of late president Lech Kaczyński was distorted afterhis tragic death. Few had guts to tell the truth… I generally detest hypocrisy and maybe wouldn’t be so distasted if such eulogies were only biased. Every man has a bright and a dark side, highlighting only the bright one is forgivable, while telling lies about a deceased is overstepping the boundary of decency. Last year my parents made a blunder at our neighbour’s funeral when they broke out laughing having heard the neighbour, who, truth be told, was a despicable layabout and drunkard, in the eulogy was characterised as ‘exceptionally responsible man and caring father and husband’.

Damn it, if there is little good to say about the dead, conform to the principle and don’t speak at all! I can’t stand it!

During a burial ceremony there was also a moment when I didn’t know how to behave. I stood surrounded probably by former colleagues of the deceased, sturdy men, tall as I, but unlike me, well-built, and while urn was being put into the grave, they all burst into tears and kept on weeping like small children. I felt unnaturally. I saw people crying during funerals many times, but these always were family members or close friends…

Secular funerals are said to grow in popularity in Poland, as Polish society is turning less and less religious. I wouldn’t dare to say the same is true about weddings. Virtually all weddings I attended during last two years were church ones, I’m attending a secular one next month and this will be the odd one. It has to be underlined, however, if someone gets married in a church, if doesn’t mean they are religious. It’s all about the setting. Wedding in a registry office lacks the memorable character the one, traditional, in a church, has. Wedding is in principle a one-in-a-lifetime event which deserves a unique setting, but whether it is justified to spend on it an equivalent of new compact car’s price (alternatively even 10 metres of a new flat might be purchased for that money) to put on a triumph of form over substance is a topic for a separate posting…

And my advice for anyone going to Cmentarz Północny on a business day – set off from home early or check the timetable carefully. I set off from home at 8:45 to turn up for a ceremony starting at 10:30 in time and ended up stuck in a traffic jam beginning at the border or Warsaw, which I detoured through Jeziorki and having covered 25% of the distance within 40% of allotted time on a rainy day (rain snarls up traffic) I decided to forsake my car near underground station and take the public transport. Finding a space to park a car around 9:30 was difficult, yet doable, then I somehow managed to get to my destination by underground (33 minutes ride to the northern end of the line is boring) and from the beautiful Metro Młociny terminus, by 701 bus. Returning home was a bigger nuisance. I had to wait for a bus in a rain for 25 minutes (they run once in half an hour), getting from the cemetery to Ursynów took me an hour and a quarter. Cemeteries, as places visited often by elderly people, should certainly have much better public transport links to city centres…

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