Life, Death, Grief and Mourning (oh, and the clothes)

Published 23, Jan, 2012

Funerals can be funny. Or at least NotDownNotOut thinks so. Here’s what he wants for his own.

Life, Death, Grief and Mourning (oh, and the clothes)

I attended a funeral recently. I am of an age where I have had the luxury of not needing to attend a great many funerals in my short life – this is deemed a good thing, but I am still intrigued by these mysterious occasions and they continue to fascinate me. Catholic, Protestant, Jewish or non-denominational – whatever the faith (or not) I don’t discriminate, they all follow traditions which are socially understood within their respective communities and there is no instruction manual of what is acceptable and what is not, it is just known to those on the inside. Maybe I’m just weird or have a fetish for pomp and ceremony.

This particular recent event (and I call it such in the truest sense of the word) was an occasion to mark the life of an old friend of my Father’s. No occasion is better marked by an Irish immigrant community, of the “old faith”, than the loss of one of their own – first, second, third and even fourth generation all gathering alike in epic displays of grief.

There is one tradition, however, within this community for which I have a membership card somewhere that still utterly fascinates me. It is not the drink (for it flows freely with little excuse), it is not the music (always rousing and uplifting with a dash of tear jerking for good measure), its not the fighting (a game of fisticuffs is likely a mourning event chaser) – it’s the damn clothes. The oldest traditions die hardest. I imagine somewhere like Italy is similar, only with better cut garments.

As a gay man, I pride myself on my understated classical elegance – that’s my description anyway. Look – it’s just easier for me to buy basic colours in decent cuts, everything matches and therefore I do not have to think about it. I don’t tend to do “trendy” and I regularly wonder at times if I am actually a gay man. My own get-up, inspired by Bond, was as simple as highly polished brogues, suit with light pin stripe (NOT banker style), crisp white shirt previously unworn (decent sized collar), wool tie (looks better than it sounds) and Trench coat.

However, nothing raises an eyebrow faster and with a higher arch at these type of funerals (by those on the outside) than a widow in her wedding dress (say nothing); a congregation containing a pair of leather thigh high boots, of the Louboutin variety, ideally worn by immediate family; faux fur, fox fur, mink fur; hair extensions as long as three quarter length coats, with the coats never being removed until after the first drink and certainly never during the service; tote bags, clutch bags, under shoulder bags; high heels, Cuban hells, no heels and on and on and on.

There is only one rule. It’s as simple as this – it has to be new and it has to out-do everyone else. The pressure rises the closer you are to the deceased. If you can’t afford new, get a loan. If you can’t get a loan, sell something. If you can’t finance it, don’t turn up. Never borrow it. This is the unspoken tradition and of course this is what the deceased “would have wanted”. I’m not sure, in my case, whether my septuagenarian Father would know or care what is in vogue at any time of his life, but this is “what they want”. Wedding parties are regularly less well dressed. Woe betide anyone who dares to enter a wake in anything less than finery as nothing is scorned more than a mourning party infiltrated by bargain basement chic.

Therefore, I write this article with a mind to add a codicil to my own last will and testament – a bit like a rider to ensure I maintain the old style; it is to state as follows:

Some Minimum Requirements for Funeral Service: 

- A minimum of three sets of false eyelashes. Must be present and worn on one set of eyes, preferably on someone over 50.

- Non-waterproof mascara. Nothing demonstrates your grief harder.

- Dental implants (look better the darker you glasses are). Veneers are permitted on non-family. Gold is gauche – everyone has their standards.

- A street drunk in a suit bought from a charity shop clearly donated by a man significantly larger than the wearer (just to keep everything “real”).

- A donation plate with a special clip for paper money. Coinage not accepted.

- Gloved hands.

- More wild flowers than a summer meadow.

- Gritted smiles. Suspicion, envy and jealousy.

- Experimental hairdos. Colour may be used.

- Fainting.

- And last but not least, someone must be trotting down the aisle behind my box in a pair of those god damn Louboutin leather thigh-highs. I do wonder whether my Mother has the legs……..

I must also remember to copy this list and pass it to the health professional who advised me to place me affairs in order when I was diagnosed with HIV. She works with us gays daily – this is what she meant, of that I am certain.

NotDownNotOut is a late twenties (sigh, not for much longer) Brit who was found by HIV in 2010. He currently works in the corporate sector by day and is starting to write by night. An HIV diagnosis swiftly followed by an adult Aspergers diagnosis, made his head spin but determined to make sense of it all; he decided to try and make the room around him spin as well.

Regularly blogging on his experiences of HIV care in the UK, NotDownNotOut looks forward to the day when he has no more questions for the world or himself and can stop trying to take it all apart only to put it back together again just to find out how it works.

Secretly he knows this day will never come but we can all dream.