Two friends of mine once put the body of their deceased elder brother into the back of their van and drove across most of northern France to his ‘home’ commune where they went straight to the funeral parlour and declared that he was – well, deceased. The funeral parlour didn’t bat an eyelid, they called in the local Doctor who duly confirmed that he was indeed deceased, and the funeral went ahead.
Everyone was well aware of the horrendous cost of ‘repatriating’ your body if you have the misfortune to die away from home, and most wise French people have insurance to cover the cost. Those who don’t take the ‘self-help’ route.
The thought of being buried in land that didn’t also contain the bones of your ancestors would be unthinkable.
So the story of the two elderly German women who wrapped 91 year old Willi Jarant up in a warm coat, sunglasses, and a thick scarf, gathered up the grandchildren, and headed out by taxi to Liverpool airport to take Willi home to Berlin didn’t raise as many eyebrows here as it has in England.
It has raised eyebrows in England because Doctors – called in by alarmed airport staff – now say that Willi was not only ‘dead on arrival’, but had been so for some days.
The English have a horror of death; it negates everything the Government have been telling them that if they eat five veg a day, don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t laugh and religiously vote Labour, that they will live for ever.
I was very close to a Dutch couple, and was staying in their house in England when the wife died. I stayed on to look after the children. Every day for, four, maybe five days, the husband changed his wife’s clothing, re-did her make-up, helped by the children, determined that Mama was going to her grave looking her best. Finally I managed to impress on him the importance of calling the Doctor to certify death.
The Doctor went ballistic, offensively so, and called in Social Services. They threatened to take the children away, and I spent many hours arguing with them. The crux of their unhappiness was that the ‘children had been in the presence of a dead body and this could scar them for life’.
My friend was duly taken away in a discrete box in best sanitised fashion – and at that point the children were distressed – they knew their Mother had been claustrophobic.
Was I wrong not to have interfered with their way of dealing with death? I didn’t think so.
The Continentals are somewhat more phlegmatic. For heavens sake, in France if you are pregnant and your fiancée dies prematurely, you can still conduct a perfectly legal and pragmatic wedding ceremony in the local Notary’s office to ensure the children have their legal rights.
Death isn’t treated as some sort of disgrace that should be avoided at all costs.
They know perfectly well that they won’t live for ever, so not only do they enjoy themselves in life, they are eminently practical when it comes to death.
Not for them the unseemly rush to have the body removed under cover by discrete men working in silence. Not for them all evidence of the ‘five a day’s’ failure by concealing the body in a wooden box.
The entire family and all the friends that can be mustered will gather to say a final good-bye and kiss the departed. The entire village will attend the funeral. No one will be under any misconception that five veg a day, or whatever the current fashion for living for ever is, hadn’t worked for Pierre.
Anyone doubt the airport staff at John Lennon airport are all being treated for post traumatic stress? They’ve just witnessed a real dead body. Gosh.