Religion is at it again.
This time, a church in England has stopped a grieving family from putting what they want on a relative’s gravestone. It seems Charles Clapham was a Rolling Stones fan (which means he had good taste in music, so he couldn’t have been all bad). But when they wanted to put “It was only rock and roll” on his gravestone the All Saint’s Church in Standon, England, decided that was not suitable for an epitaph.
Did they fear it was music of the devil? Is there a certain standard of subject matter that even the dead are supposed to conform to? Were they afraid visitors to the graveyard would be offended by a reference to Mick and Keith and Ronnie and Charlie? I can’t think of any other reasons they might have against it.
How dare the church forbid a grieving family’s wishes to farewell a relative in what they see as an appropriate manner. Sure, if they wanted to erect a giant statue of Mick Jagger over the man’s grave lit up in neon, or have “Sympathy for the Devil” pumping out night and day over loudspeakers, probably that would be a good call to ban it. But a few words written in what I suppose was to be a tasteful manner, as a dead man’s last tribute to a band that gave him untold joy during his life? I don’t think so.
This is particularly resonant with me because something a bit like it happened with my own father’s funeral back in 2007. Dad liked Louis Armstrong (again, proves his good taste in music) and we wanted to play some Satchmo at his funeral. But the Anglican Minister who was going to officiate at the ceremony refused to allow it because “rock and roll” (that’s what he called Armstrong’s music – I know, I know…) was not suitable for such a ritual. Besides, he said, he didn’t have a “ghetto blaster” (again, his words – shows how in-touch he is) to allow a “record” to be played.
Yes, this is 2007 we are talking about here. Playing records over ghetto blasters. This guy was really in touch with the modern world.
My mother was too upset about Dad’s death in the first place to argue. Besides, she had great emotional ties with this particular church in relation to her own parents. I was there and quietly seethed, not wanting to create a scene in front of my distressed mother. So we didn’t get Satchmo. We did manage to get “For those in peril on the sea” sung, which Dad would have enjoyed and which made a relevant reference to his love of boats. But that’s a hymn, so that’s all right. God’s mentioned in it. That must be the clincher.
How dare the church dictate ritual to this extent. What a family wants at a funeral is their affair. Of course, there are limits to this, but I’m sure the vast majority of people are aware of this and do not ask for outrageous, or racist, or obscene things. But modern music (or not so modern?) That’s a bit rich.
I’m not going to have a funeral. Not at a church. And not just because I’m an atheist. Funerals are more for the living left behind than the dead person. “She would have wanted it this way” doesn’t cut it with most funerals. I’m not going to have a church funeral because I don’t like their attitude, and since it’s been years since I stepped inside a church anyway, I’m not going to start after I’m dead.
It’s an old joke, of course. A man is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s but his doctor tells him to go home and forget about it.
My father had Alzheimer’s. He died in 2007 having forgotten his family and himself and just about everything else. It was tragic, given that he had had such a marvellous mind throughout his life. He was a psychiatrist and a good man who helped a lot of people.
My mother has now been diagnosed with the same disease.
In case you don’t know, Alzheimer’s Disease is a form of dementia. The victim forgets who they are and who everyone else is and can’t properly look after themselves. There is no cure.
I remember what my mother went through when Dad was diagnosed and slipped away from us. I was living in another town at the time, 600 kilometres away, but I visited them as often as I could. Dad became increasingly needy, eventually unable to care for himself and even, on occasion, wandering off. Mum found it enormously difficult and eventually Dad had to be put in a nursing home.
One time I visited him and he had forgotten who I was. His speech became increasingly difficult to understand. We knew he was desperately trying to communicate with us but at the end we couldn’t understand a word he said. That was frustrating for him as much as us. He even asked me on one occasion if Mum was angry with him, because she had sent him away to live apart from her. He had the idea there had been a disaster and he and “these other people” (his fellow patients in the nursing home) were trapped in a cave. Did I know the way out?
I believe that my father died twice. Once when he lost his mind, and once when he lost his life. He died from septicaemia. We thought it was best to just let him go, so asked the doctors to fill him full of morphine so he could die in peace. At his funeral, my brother gave a eulogy in which he documented my father’s life and achievements but refused to deal with the last few years when he no longer in charge of himself. “That,” said my brother, “was not who Dad was.” My own eulogy avoided the subject, too. I focused on Dad’s wonderful sense of humour and how loving he had been to his family. That’s the father we want to remember.
I now live with Mum. And she is going to go through the same process, apparently. She is ok so far, but the first signs are there. I am trying my best to look after her, but I am gaining a vivid picture of what she went through with Dad.
As I said, there is no cure. It is a terrible disease without hope at the moment. I fully intend to leave everything I have to Alzheimer’s research in my will. There has to be something done about this.
Of course, I should also be worried for myself and my brothers. Are we likely to suffer the same thing because both our parents have had it? I don’t know. Having witnessed (and now witnessing again) the effects of this disease makes me feel uneasy for my own future.
If you know someone, or have a family member with Alzheimer’s, I know how you feel. I know what you are going through. It is a shit of an illness. My heart goes out to you. Maybe there will be a cure for this horror someday. But it isn’t here yet.
Be strong. Be loving. The person needs you more than anything.