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LAST week I attended a funeral in my community. Naturally, I have attended many over the years as people in my close-knit former mining village pass on. Some funerals I can recall vividly, for one reason or another.
My pal Kev’s mum’s was the first funeral I can really remember going to, a woman we thought of as old — I don’t think she was yet 40, we were only about 13 (mind you, 30 seems ancient when you‘re 13). I will recall her funeral service until the day I die.
Others I remember for the huge turnout of local people, where seemingly every family in the village was represented by someone paying their respects. I recall others for the funny, poignant or moving eulogies delivered brilliantly by a grieving family member, friend or workmate.
My own da’s funeral is something I think back on with a sense of happiness, pride and celebration. A packed chapel with many standing outside — all religions, all ages there to celebrate a life cut too short by cancer, but lived to the full — and then back to the miner’s welfare for steak pie, whisky and fond memories before a karaoke (aye, a karaoke) in his favourite boozer. That’s what you call a send-off.
But last week’s funeral was different.
It too was to mark the end of a life cut short by cancer — way, way too short. Marc was only 20. I didn’t know him well personally but I know his family and many of his relatives and friends. His relations on both sides are well liked, well known and respected across the community they were born and brought up in. After 2 years of treatment, care, hope, optimism, setback, support, friendship, love and solidarity, cancer took Marc’s young life.
What made his funeral stand out wasn’t just the astonishing numbers that came to the service (800 people stood outside the chapel), nor the tragic circumstances of his young life being taken, or even the hugely impressive and dignified way his family said farewell to their eldest son.
No, what made such an impact on me was the numbers of young people, and in particular the young men, who openly and without fear of embarrassment or reticence showed their emotions and comforted each other with a warm embrace, a cuddle, a group hug and floods of tears.
In years gone by, in an industrial, working-class community like mine, for men to show emotion like that would have been frowned upon, seen as a weakness, even ridiculed. Thank god those days appear to have gone.
We know that the last 6 months have been awful, that lockdown and all its consequences have taken a toll on our mental health, and we know that young people have been disproportionately affected.
At a time when they needed their peers, their pals and their support networks, those haven’t been available. It will take time for all of us to recover from the impact of Covid-19, but please make a special effort for our young people. At key times in their young lives, whether it be with their schooling, college, university, job or relationships, their mental & emotional growth and development has been severely impacted.
It is vital that we as parents, carers, friends, relatives, class and workmates all play our part in showing each other the same care, hope, optimism, support, friendship, love and solidarity that Marc was shown by so many in his time of need.
Let’s all learn a lesson from those young men at Marc’s funeral and reach out to each other physically, mentally and emotionally.
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