Funeral thoughts — a poem

Hillside with grey creepers smothering trees

Ghosty weeds smothering trees and a hillside in Gisborne.

Never mind that my last words
were “Bloody hell!”
Bloody hell
was not the grand summation
of my time on earth.
Bloody hell was not a message
nor a doomy destination.

Something took me by surprise
(maybe death) and popped my eyes.
Never mind I shucked my super power.
Never mind I spent my final hour
watching Grace and Frankie.
It wasn’t wasted. It wasn’t all
I ever did.

And while I’m on the subject
I would like to think that no one
says, “It’s good that Rachel died
doing what she loved” because
I was dying when I died
and maybe I did love dying
but maybe it was rather trying.

On second thoughts, say
whatever works for you.
You can’t upset me. I’ll be dead
and I won’t know I’m dead because
the brain that could create, contain
and comprehend that fact
has fled.


This seems frivolous, I know, and yet I’m kind of serious. We all say some strange things at funerals as we try to feel better and make others feel better about this enormous event. And try as I may, and I do, I cannot get my head around the fact that one day “I” won’t be any more. I cannot imagine a world without me in it. Every attempt to do so just mystifies “me” further: the “me” who won’t be here to care.

Please share with others! Poem and photo cc by 2.0 Rachel McAlpine as usual.

38 thoughts on “Funeral thoughts — a poem

  1. talebender says:

    I love what your poem is speaking here, the dilemma of ‘de-centering’ to try to comprehend the finite nature of our sentient being…..almost as if we would have to be immortal to understand our mortality.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      You got it! Yep, it does my head in.

  2. Katrina says:

    Brilliant poem – love it!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      👍

  3. When you really think about “s/he died doing what s/he loved”, it is utter nonsense isn’t it. Thank you for planting that thought, I’m sure it will prove useful in some future idle thought!
    Love this poem, but really, wouldn’t it be interesting to be a fly on the wall at your own funeral!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Glad you share this notion, Peter! And wow, that would be interesting… or maybe annoying… but would we care?

  4. When you really think about “s/he died doing what s/he loved”, it is utter nonsense isn’t it. Thank you for planting that thought, I’m sure it will prove useful in some future idle thought!
    Love this poem, but really, wouldn’t it be interesting to be a fly on the wall at your own funeral!

  5. rhinophile says:

    I love your poetry, Rachel. And this piece is no exception. I love the way it invites us to ponder that strange experience of being human where we really do feel like we are the centre of the universe, and how could it possibly be that life would go on without us? I like talebender’s comment, ‘the dilemma of de-centering’, and it is a dilemma. I have recently returned to finishing the book my late husband and I started writing halfway through his diagnosis. Yesterday I wrote about the last two weeks of his life, up until his final day. I wondered how he would feel about the way I portray those days, and I wonder how others would portray my own, when those days come. Then I remember that what others say about who we are or who we were, is only their perception, and not the truth. Part of me wouldn’t mind being a fly on the wall, I might have a few laughs, but another part of me is happy to just be dead!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Ruth, I’m honoured by your comments. We do, we do feel like the centre of the universe and it’s not narcissism, it’s a biological necessity. I imagine you may feel torn at times while doing such a difficult task. On the other hand, you have to press on and enjoy yourself, because that is how you respect Peter’s words and spirit. My big sister had to do something similar and I well remember the difficulties, starting with certain eccentric computer choices.

      1. rhinophile says:

        That centre of the universe feeling is both a blessing and a curse. It’s true we need it for our survival, I think the next step might be to be able to put it aside for our collective good. It could happen! ☺️

      2. Rachel McAlpine says:

        We’d better be quick!

  6. Sadje says:

    You are so right, when we are no more it won’t matter what is said about us. But my aim is to go in a state of grace. I don’t want people to be relieved that I am dead!😎

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Well said. I totally agree.

      1. Sadje says:

        Thanks 🙏

  7. Gallivanta says:

    Feb 7th was the first anniversary of my father’s funeral, so I enjoyed your poem. It brought back the challenges of trying to find appropriate words to acknowledge my father’s long life. I think he made it to 97 because of his and our refusal to accept that there could be a world without his physical presence!
    I have semi-planned my funeral, which, hopefully, will be revised many times before it is needed.
    You may have some fun with this post of mine about legacies and epitaphs……

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      That was a strange coincidence of timing. I totally sympathise with the struggle to find words that work both for the speaker and the hearer, the sympathiser and the bereaved person. As for your father’s long life, you may be literally and scientifically correct, according to current research on longevity: what a good thought! I too hope that you have the opportunity to revise your funeral arrangments many times. I enjoyed your custard, thank you.

      1. Gallivanta says:

        Just had another funny thought about custard. My father loved it. He was brought up on it and ate it almost every day. That could account for longevity, too. It was real custard, ‘not that packet stuff”. 🙂

      2. Rachel McAlpine says:

        Perfect.

  8. cindy knoke says:

    Well, I loved this brilliant, thinking, post!
    My 92 year old mother cannot contemplate a world without her in it.
    I can, but I don’t tell her, as it would be both rude and unkind.
    Maybe, when you and I are both dead (hopefully later, rather than sooner, because no one likes uncertainty), our brains will join up with so many other infinite brains, and we will become so incomprehensibly smarter, that we will be embarrassed by our mortal brains, and what we actually thought we knew, before we were dead.
    Maybe people get smarter when they’re dead, it is hard for me to comprehend how we could get any dumber.
    I look forward to reading more of your posts, they are thought provoking.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Nice thought. What you describe may be the noosphere as imagined by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Please do stay tuned and share your insights!

  9. huguetta says:

    It’s a great post! Loved the video as well 🙂 “All are equal in Death”
    What I would love to believe that after my body dies, my soul will rise instantly 🙂 I would love to haunt some people 😀

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Heh heh. Better do it now then?

      1. huguetta says:

        If I can manage without being arrested, then I’ll be glad to 😊

  10. A lovely, thought provoking poem to read first thing on a Saturday morning. I’m not sure if you knew Barbara Murison who was a beloved member of the Wellington writing community, in particular, children’s writing, and on the Writers Walk Committee. At her funeral, she spoke. She had recorded a message to us all. It began along the lines, if you’re listening to this, I must be dead. She also spoke about some of her regrets which I found the most personal and poignant… and we all knew she wasn’t ready to go. And we miss her. ‘Ready to go’…. that’s an interesting phrase we often use. If we knew for sure ‘where’… but for sure, to be ready, you would have to ‘let go’… which I guess is that de-centering. I’m not so afraid of that but more afraid of the idea of infinity (growing up Catholic) and that does my head in completely…. death seems far less frightening somehow.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Thanks, Maggie, and for the story of Barbara’s last words. Her funeral must have been painful and possibly healing. Yes, “ready to go” is another cliche with hidden depths. I’m thinking about it… If your individuality was lost, infinity would be neutral, wouldn’t it??

      1. Julian Barnes wrote about this in his book ‘Nothing to be Frightened Of’… exploring this topic and in particular the fear of infinity. It even has a name…apierophobia… I was just glad to know there is a name for such a thing, as my family has always found it odd that I have this phobia. Although I can admit, just the fact that I’m writing about it, means I am a lot less phobic than I once was. Perhaps this is the gift of growing older. I think it’s the concept that is so impossible to get my head around – perhaps the way you are exploring a world without ‘you’ in it. I find the idea of ‘no end to anything’ utterly terrifying.

      2. Rachel McAlpine says:

        Of all the things that provoke unreasonable fear, surely the concept of infinity must be one of the more understandable. I’m glad your fear is fading and surely age is a factor. So let us continue getting older.

  11. srbottch says:

    Rachael, I enjoyed your poem and it’s so true what we say to peeps to comfort them. I recently told a friend on the occasion of his wife’s passing, ‘I share your grief’. There was no way in bloody Hell that I could share that awful moment but it sounded nice. Oh, well… and I loved watching you recite it. You must have experience before a camera.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      We all do our best and even stock phrases are usually appreciated, probably. (Thanks but no, my experience is mainly with live performances. I sometimes look at a photo of my granddaughter to keep it real!)

      1. srbottch says:

        You did an excellent job. I memorized some long poems, then recited them on YouTube for my kids and anyone to see. The poems are great poems but I didn’t help them at all. It was still fun to do. If you want a laugh, check them out under ‘srbottch’ on YT. My sister liked them, but, she’s my sister😂.

      2. Rachel McAlpine says:

        Steve, you made a terrific recording and clearly heaps of people like what you do. I know memorisation is a powerful skill that is good for fifty reasons, but here’s a confession: I was looking at the poem on a monitor. I always feel safer when reading my poems if the script is within reach, even when I do know them by heart. Thank you for that tip!

      3. srbottch says:

        Thank you, Rachel. You must know my sister…😂. I’m not sure which of those 5 I like best, they all paint such colorful pictures of the mind. But you can never go wrong with The Night Before Christmas. Except, this time of year and our weather always reminds me of Sam McGee. Have a wonderful day! And…happy memorizing!😉

      4. Rachel McAlpine says:

        They are stories and you tell them well 🙂

  12. joared says:

    Interesting thoughts, but what if there are few, if any, left to remember which I, coincidentally, just wrote about? Live long enough and some experience that happening — which they never imagined possible when their life had been overflowing with family and friends.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Mm, that is a different scene. I’m going to think about it. I can only speak for myself.

    2. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I tried to comment on your blogspotblog without success, but these losses are profound. Shared memories are part of our identity, our humanity. Perhaps this pain is the price of friendship.

  13. Erica/Erika says:

    Interesting perspective, Rachel. Whimsical, yet serious poem. I happen to love Grace and Frankie and it’s not a wasted hour for me. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Nice to know! Now if it was MAFS I … still could not be embarrassed. In the circumstances.

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