A friend said to me yesterday that he was gloing to two funerals this week. Coincidently in the past few days I have been involved in two such events, and have been asked by an old school friend, who who has an inoperable illness, to officiate at his funeral when the time comes. It is of course a generational thing – for older people there are more funerals than weddings to go to. And yet although some of us share terminal news like this, death itself is often the hidden truth that however young or old we are, is rarely mentioned. I am guilty of this and have escaped the reality in these blogs, wanting more to reflect on the latter days of our lives rather than contemplate their end.
I watched a superb TV programme last night. It was an interview with the conductor Colin Davies some monhths before he died in April of last year. Described as the pre-eminent British conductor of his generation, he has always been a hero of mine. I have several of his recordings including an album of Berlioz of whom he was a keen advocate.
He was encouraged in the programme to ruminate on his very eventul musical life. At one point he was asked what music he would like to be played as he died. It was not something he had ever thought about, but decided that it would probably be a Mozart quartet. But he did think about dying, he said. It was after all a universal problem and has been going on for along time and an awful lot of people have managed to die quite decently. We should talk about death quite openly, he said.
Interesting that the programme was shown in the week before Easter, when Christians face the reality of one man’s death and its reurrection aftermath. Davies was asked if he was a believer and he gave an ambivlent answer. He was moved by the teaching of Jesus and often read the bible. But for him all that there is after death, is silence, which I thought for a man who for sixty two years made music, is a bleak prospect but which for him was a reality that he accepted.
There is a sort of hush about death. One reason may be that in a secularised age, it’s the silence that bothers us : the totality of it, with no prospect of ‘something’the other side. Another reason may be our dread of being kept alive when life as we have known it has ceased to exist. For some of us that possibility could make death – the reality too often hidden from conversation and thought -the unexpected friend.