My 88 year-old Mum had been worrying herself to death over what I might say in her eulogy. I said, “Mum, you can’t hear me when I’m standing right beside you, so what makes you think you’ll hear anything through a padded coffin six metres away?” But no, Mother wasn’t about to relinquish control of anything… while she was alive… or dead. So what better way to overcome the problem than have her write her own eulogy… an exercise in creative writing that gave her a new lease on life. So, much to the family’s relief, Mother’s eulogy was signed, sealed and only needed to be delivered… well, so we thought.
The Catholic Church had other ideas. Bishop Christopher Prouse, head of Mother’s local Diocese, immaculately conceived a new set of funeral service guidelines, thus burying Mother’s best laid plans. Chris deemed the new guidelines were necessary to stem the influx of modern, secular activities into the funeral mass. No longer would heathen paraphernalia such as loved ones’ video clips or favourite poems be permitted because this was making the ceremony too long, presumably affecting what was once a lucrative churn and burn ritual.
Chris decreed that in future, the ‘Eulogy’ would be referred to as ‘Words of Remembrance’ and should not exceed five minutes. This gave Mother great cause for concern given she had just penned a six volume manuscript detailing her life’s journey. She was also cognisant of the fact that three years earlier I extended my father’s eulogy to the point where mourners demanded an intermission. And to think, all that valuable church time devoted to a chap who spent more time doing his tax than paying homage to God.
The new guidelines stipulated that only appropriate hymns were to be sung during the funeral service. Mother now feared her final two minute anthem, Kamahl’s soulful rendition of ‘Sounds of Goodbye’, might not be acceptable to the ears of The Lord, thus negating her 88 years of religious devotion. My suggested alternative, Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven, failed to gain favour, not just because she was unfamiliar with the tune, but because God hadn’t specified the number of flights. This was not surprising since Mother was a pragmatic soul. Two years prior, I suggested travelling from Byron to Melbourne to see her before a hip replacement, just in case she didn’t pull through. She replied “Don’t worry about it, you saw me last month”.
And Chris’s list of changes didn’t stop there. No longer were we permitted to refer to the upcoming service as a Celebration of Mother’s life, but rather ‘A Requiem Mass for the repose of her soul’. ‘Repose of the soul’ has always been a bit antiquated for me, a bit girt by sea. But in the Church, it seems tradition is sacrosanct… surprisingly it still doesn’t burn spinsters at the stake for promoting Witch Hazel for warts. This constant deferral to the past is incredibly trusting of one’s fellow man to accurately relay the word of God. Who knows who penned what, way back when? Why only fifty years ago as a kid, I forged my Mum’s signature so many times my mates called me Phyllis.
Of course there was no surprise with the Church’s inability to cope with the words ‘Celebration’ and ‘Life’ in the same term. The very idea leaves no room for guilt, the bedrock of the Catholic faith.
And while The Church continues to look backwards while purportedly driving forwards, its Gen Y market share is grinding to a halt. Admittedly it’s a big ask… convincing this faction of the flock that funerals are not always about them, and that Skyping the deceased is not cool. And so, while Mother Malloy continues to outlive us all, The Church continues to write its own Eulogy.