Monday, March 22, 2004

Truly miserable weather this weekend. One would think that spring means better weather, but "the thaw" can be hellish. The temperature is just above freezing, the snow cover of the last four months where packed down is now a solid icy layer covered in an inch or so of water, elsewhere just piles of dirty slush. The ground is treacherous. Where there isn't deathtrap ice, there are deep pools of murky water. All weekend it was grey. It was windy. It was raining. This was the scene for a friend's funeral on Saturday. He was 38 and died in his sleep of a heart infection. He had been on a cycling holiday in sunnier climes than the Finnish winter and had been clocking up at least 150 kms a day for the week running up to his death. The guy was fit. It's a strange world.

I'm lucky in that I haven't been to many funerals in my life, and this was the first that concluded with a burial. From the church we walked some distance through the huge cemetery, our sad little parade trying to skip around the bigger puddles whilst not slipping on the water-covered ice covering the paths. The wind hurled sleet and rain at us. At the graveside I realised my expectations had been formed by watching American movies where all the dirt is neatly covered in astro-turf, perhaps with a honour-guard of marines standing ready to fire a volley of shots over the hero's coffin. My friend's grave looked like a building site or some road works where a pipe needed fixing. The edge of the hole was surrounded by a mix of wooden and metal planks, the freshly dug dirt piled in the snow next to it. Looking into the hole you could see the protuding ends of roots ripped out by the digger. The coffin was lowered in whilst the mourners huddled under a tree and tried to avoid having to stand in the deepest icy puddle. A temporary cover of yew boughs was put over the grave. We laid our flowers and wreaths on it. Some people took photos and home-video which struck me as completely bizarre. One more hymn was sang and then the mourners hurried back to the car park and the shelter of their cars, leaving the grave to the wind and rain.

Perhaps one shouldn't generalise from funeral of young single quiet man who had achieved a great deal in his relatively short time but was difficult to get to know well, but there was an air of real stoicism about the whole proceedings. Perhaps I've been reading too much Finnish history recently, but I was left thinking that it is only a couple of generations between the comfortable lives of today and a hard, poor, predominantly-agricultural Finland where burying people was a common occurrence requiring little ceremony or displays of emotion. There were a few with tears in their eyes, but the leaden sky and driving sleet ensured none of us there had dry cheeks as my friend was laid to rest.

RIP Vesa. I'm glad to have known you.