Bluffing the Condolence Line

In Ireland, when a very popular member of your family dies, a lot of people will probably want to come along and express their condolences to you.  To accommodate them, you generally arrange yourself and your family in a line at some preordained place – usually the funeral home – then wait for all the good people to turn up.

As you may-or-may not know, my Dad passed away this week.  I’ve written about him now and again here, here and here.  He was a great man and will be sorely missed by many, not least myself.

Anyway the best way I can honour him now is by continuing to share my little stories with you here and elsewhere.  So, on that note, back to that condolence line.

Those aforementioned good people started to flow into the funeral home at about five o’clock and they were still coming at seven thirty when we had to depart for the church.  In that time, hundreds of people filed past to shake hands and say, among other things, how very sorry they were.  I had one of my brothers on one side of me and one of my sisters on the other and we backed each other up as best we could.  If I evidently didn’t know who someone was (a regular occurrence) then I might get a nudge or just a blatant name-drop from my sibling neighbour to help me along.  I was glad to do the same whenever I could.

Of course there were lapses in helpfulness.  Once, I was accosted with the line, “surely you know who this is?” as some nice lady stood before me.  I didn’t.  Another time, after introducing some great friends of mine as, literally, ‘great friends of mine’ somebody from my family said aloud, “you sure do have a lot of great friends.”  It was all good-natured stuff.

As the hours went on, and the good people continued to come, so the temptation to ‘riff’ a little on the commonly accepted condolence script increased.  This was perhaps a little cruel because offering condolences can be a hard thing to do and if the person who is receiving them is intent on talking about the decor or your shoes then that can be a tad off-putting.   Mostly, though, the good people liked my lightly off-beat approach to the condolence line and responded warmly in kind.

Near the end, a lady appeared in front of me and offered her hand in sympathy.  There had been a drought of familiar faces in the previous few minutes so I was somewhat excessively glad to see her.

“Hello!” I gushed, “I haven’t seen you in the longest time.”

The lady peered at me, she was a peerer.  “Do you know me?” she asked.

Somewhere over her right shoulder, Doubt came riding towards me on a pale Pinto, waving a red bandanna and whooping to get my attention.

“Of course I know you, how could I not?”

The lady peered some more.  Doubt drew closer and I could see now that he looked deeply concerned.

“But how do you know me?” This lady asked.

Of course, I didn’t know her.  I had mistaken her for somebody else.  In a deeply ironic analogy, I had dug a little hole for myself and climbed right in.

“Tell me, how do you know me?” she asked again.

Basil Fawlty would have been proud of me and not for the first time in my life either.  I acted without conscious thought and I like to think that what I did was just a tiny bit daring and cool.  Not knowing who she was, having no way to escape, I proudly slapped myself on the chest and grinned broadly.

“How do I know you?” I said, with revived gusto,” I’m Ken Armstrong, that’s who I am.  So go away and think about that and then you will know how I know you.”

The lady looked deeply unimpressed but she moved on up the line and I quickly turned to greet my next sympathiser.  I could still feel her quizzical stare on the back of my next until she was safely gone out of the room.

Ah, Sod Basil Fawlty, Dad Himself would have been proud of me.

RIP, Dad, I’m going to miss you more than I yet know.


Mairead said...

I always end up reading your posts to the end Ken. Doesn't happen with all blogs.
Everyone forgets how emotionally draining and tiring these funeral days can be. I hope you get some rest.

Rachel Fox said...

Makes me wonder who your Dad was and what he did to draw such a crowd. I wrote a little book (booklet really) about my Mum for her funeral... I think I'd like to read the one for your Dad!

Paul Carroll said...

At my grandmother's funeral a few years back, a huge crowd lined up at the front of the church giving their condolences to my mum's family; she's one of ten children, with the congregation present consisting of their friends and respective families and the friends and remaining family of my grandmother. To this day, I still don't know how any of them managed to stay until the end, until the last person in the long line of people had come to say how sorry they were.

Hope you're okay, Ken. Take care, and keep bluffing. Something tells me it makes you feel better when you lighten the mood a bit.

And on the other hand, thank you for giving us all something to think about today.

Stay strong, and DFTBA.

hope said...

Life has some weird traditions when it comes to death...and facing those sweet, caring folks in an unending condolence line is one of them. How many ways can you say, "Thank you"?

Personally, I think your Dad probably would've gotten a kick out of your bold move. Big hug and know I'm thinking of you.

Karen Redman said...

I send my condolences, Ken. I haven't been on Twitter as frequently as usual & didn't know about you Pa.

Ken Armstrong said...

Mairead: Thanks. I keep falling asleep! Getting better though.

Rachel: The booklet is a nice idea. Dad was a great guy and people, thankfully, respond to that.

Paul: You are, as ever, very astute.

Hope: Thanks. x

Karen: Thanks. x

Anonymous said...

Ah Ken... it's been a long time since I dropped by and said 'G'day' and I find you've got a piece of yourself now missing! I hope you get to fill that place with fond memories and warm feelings. I now have my own father in the 'line of fire' so to speak due to a well hidden illness and for the first time in my entire life - I'm wondering what life will look like without him. I'm feeling things I had no idea existed inside of myself... and I wait and hope. You take care mate... ;-)

Elisabeth said...

Condolences are the hearest things to offer and to receive. But you have mine here. I have been away from your blog, occasionally lurking but not so often to offer a comment. It's about time I did so again. And continue to. Your writing is so evocative.