When it comes to burying our dead, we Irish have moved with the times in some ways but have held fast to tradition in others. That's according to Sligo funeral director David McGowan, who spoke at length to Ray D’Arcy today about his 40-year career as a funeral director.
David says that in Ireland, most families who traditionally waked loved ones at home still like to do that. But he says "green" burials and cremations are also on the rise.
The business of funeral direction requires compassion and a unique grasp of human psychology, to say nothing of the scientific knowledge needed to prepare the deceased. David McGowan studied psychology to enhance his practice and he believes it’s healthy for every member of the family to be included in the funeral, even quite young children:
"Why wouldn’t you bring a kid to a funeral? A four-year-old child has the capacity to learn four languages."
David says families are setting themselves up for years of questions from kids who are old enough to understand that someone has gone from their lives, but have been excluded from the funeral. He says those questions will just keep on coming:
"How did Granny get into the coffin? Is Granny dressed in the coffin? And where is Granny gone? Now, seeing is believing, so do bring them."
David believes the presence of a deceased person lingers for some time after they have passed away (he doesn’t like to use the words died or dead). He says decades of dealing with the deceased and the bereaved has made him more spiritual. As he told Ray:
"I’ve seen things happen during that time that you couldn’t say were co-incidence."
David tells a story about a woman he was preparing for an open casket removal. Unusually, the special make up he always used would not stay on her face, no matter what he did. He tried several times, even getting another pot of foundation, but it just didn’t work.
On presenting the remains to the family, he was worried they would be upset at how she looked. As soon as they saw their mother, the daughters approached David:
"They just ran out the door and started hugging me and kissing me and saying 'How did you know not to put make-up on Mammy? We forgot to tell you.’"
David says this story tallies with his two big takeaways from his 40 years in the business:
"Number one, there’s no point being the richest person in the graveyard. But number two, the spiritual world is much greater than the one down here."
Ray and David had a very in-depth chat about family dynamics in preparation for a funeral, how the embalming process really works and what are the qualities of the ideal funeral director in the full interview here.