The thing about the funerals of the widely-loved is that you hear everyone say things that they should have said much, much earlier. You hope that the mother/brother/friend/ mother-of-friend was a mind reader and moved on from this world knowing just how much they meant to us all.
There is of course a very small category of more or less well-known people who have had the (sometimes questionable) privilege of accidentally getting to see their own obituaries when a newspaper office junior has jumped the gun and published early. Mark Twain of course, Marcus Garvey, Hemingway, Coleridge. They say Joe DiMaggio was livid at seeing the CNN report of his death during a televised baseball game, but softened when he and his game-viewing buddy noted that they must be in heaven already.
Is there a name for that category? There should be. Obit zombie? Living dead? No. Doesn’t quite sound right. Well, this one’s for you. Hope you don’t take it the wrong way, but I’m pretty sure your many friends have never got around to telling you how they feel about you. And that’s despite the fact that we all literally depend on you: always have done and always will. So in the spirit of saying it all while we’re both still here – me to speak and you to listen - here is my funeral oration to you – my old friend Jules.
I’ve had a few light-bulb moments recently that have allowed me to see all the things you’ve done for me a little more clearly. You’ve been with me right from the start of course. Holbrook maternity hospital, Derbyshire, March ‘67. I’m told you really lit up the room, and warmed our hearts that March afternoon. I don’t remember a thing of course, but there’s the odd photo. You’re shy as ever, skulking in the background, as difficult to capture on film as ectoplasm! But we all know you’re there.
You always gave the best presents of anyone when I was growing up. Me and my brother listened to that radio through the night every night through school. So into the bargain you gave us the gift of great general knowledge and a shipping forecast party trick. Scalextric: endless circuits of the track. Slot car racing kept us out of trouble, and kept us together. That brought the friends round too, though they barely gave you a nod I realise now.
You don’t need telling that my thank you notes were few and far between – but I loved the fact that you never expected or needed acknowledgement. You taught me what generosity means, and I’m grateful at last! I do recall that time in the ‘seventies when you left the country for months on end. All the lights were out and you sent emergency candles. It was fun in its way, but I’ve never been more glad to see you back.
Your generous gifts powered me through the extraordinary journeys of adolescence and young adulthood: mother Canada, all corners of Europe; first time alone behind a wheel; first time accompanied behind a wheel; a honeymoon train journey; first time driving a baby and wife back from hospital. And I wouldn’t have been on the train years later delivering that same son to university without your unstinting support.
It’s in the nature of a life long bond of friendship that neither of us really wants to think about the end. I’ve got a strong instinct that, I hope quite a few years hence, I’ll go first. Is that morbid? No. Realistic. You just seem to spring up every day fresh as the dawn. But when my day comes the one single thing I most hope for you is that others will take the time to appreciate all that you do for them, show a little more love and respect, treasure your company more, and say all the things they want to say about you while you’re in the room.
Goodbye sunshine. Joe
– Joe Smith