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I went to a family funeral and got to think about loose networks and social connections.
In Ireland the tradition for a funeral is:
- As soon as possible after death, the body goes to the funeral home. A coroner will have had to sign off on it
- The body is put on exhibition in the coffin at the funeral home and family greet visitors from the deceased close and loose network who come and pay tribute to the deceased. The coffin is then closed and taken to the church in a procession, which slows as it passes the deceased’s home
- The following day a funeral mass is held, followed by a procession to the cemetery and then the burial
This all happens really fast; usually three days from time of death to grave. Those of the family that can make it home try to, but there isn’t much time. So those who are a long haul flight away generally are excused from coming back home.
In the rural west of Ireland word goes out through a number of channels
- Local radio – Galway Bay FM lists deaths and funeral information at regular times throughout the day
- Local newspapers – the deaths feature on their web sites and in their print editiions (depending on publications and the timings of the death). The print edition of the Connacht Tribune comes out on a Thursday; which means that you might miss a mid-week funeral. When I was a kid it would be picked up from the local general store on a Thursday afternoon for the Connacht Tribune
- RIP.ie – a web service that people can consult to see what funerals are going on in their vicinity
- Word of mouth then does the rest. Whether its gossip between neighbours, across the counter at a local shop or announced from the pulpit at mass. We would be back in the local general store would on Sunday on the way home from mass for the national Sunday newspaper and a copy of The Irish Farmer’s Journal. But a secondary reason for that visit was to hear of any local deaths in case you’d have to go to pay your respects. Shop owners were perennial gossips and this was a vital role for the community
Local media and traditions have carved out a distinctive niche that doesn’t involve Facebook or other social media platform
The people that come along include a mix of closely connected contacts and threads of loose networks including:
- Relatives (second and third cousins, families who are connected via marriage)
- Close friends
- People who you knew but may have lost touch with like school friends
- People you’ve done business with. In my relatives case it was agricultural contractors and the local hardware store – which has a much wider range of stock than your average ToolStation or Home Depot to deal with the requirements of farms
- Business relatives and friends of the bereaved
For the bereaved, the process does as good a job as you can helping the family deal with grief. In the case of my relative who had a sudden heart attack and died it provided closure. The person was eulogised and then sent on the next part of their journey onward.
For a rural community, made up of small towns and farms it presents an opportunity to reinforce loose networks and business connections. In our family’s case the farm as a business is passed down from generation-to-generation.
It becomes important for for business people to attend these events to cement business relationships. In our family’s case some of the visitors were business connections of one of my Uncle’s (who is still living) rather than the deceased.
Attending these events requires commitment. You had attendees travelling over an hour to pay their respects.
I was a bit surprised by how robust these loose connections were with relatively little reinforcement. It seems the habit of the funeral process plays its part.