Funereal thoughts

On Friday I went to the funeral of EN, my year 12 English teacher, who died suddenly on Monday having been taken ill the previous Friday leading to a triple quadruple heart bypass and then a stroke.  A little surprisingly, it was a requiem mass.  I never knew EN to be particularly religious, and I suppose it was the choice of his family – that is, his brothers and sisters who came over from New Zealand.  He was the second of seven children of (sociologically speaking) humble Irish stock.

I learnt of his death by email.  “EN” in this case is not simply a pseudonym: it was the name used in the message, being his designated abbreviation in the school’s timetable system.  This is Mr Chips territory of a sort.

He was a charismatic teacher, though not in any glamorous way.  His teaching style was a rigorously sustained piece of performance art mixed with loads of irony and a degree of teasing.  Later, when I knew him as an adult, I formed the view that some of the qualities which made him such an attractive and effective teacher were otherwise not necessarily so admirable in adult social intercourse.  We had a bit of a falling out, possibly just a growing away on my part.

His age had always been a very closely guarded secret.  We learnt now that he was 67, which means that he was 37 when he taught me, and about my age now at the time we last had much to do with each other, though I have seen him occasionally since then.

It was not an enormous funeral, though the numbers were bigger than I expect ever to command.  Thankfully, there were not too many of the great and the good who make it their business to go to funerals of those who they see to be their fellow great and good.  EN was never respectable enough to be recognized by such people as one of their own.  As well as EN’s former colleagues (he retired about a year ago) there was a significant representation from amongst denizens of the Ashfield Hotel, where he held court for many years – dispensing help with tax returns and brushes with officialdom, including, it seems, a line in golden testimonials which, typed on the school letterhead and perhaps somewhat liberal with their compliments,  apparently proved favourably determinative on more occasion than one.  “You should have seen what he wrote about me!” said one fellow mourner, who said that Immigration had told him back in 1980 that it was EN’s letter which had swung things in his favour.  On another occasion which EN liked to relate, a magistrate had sombrely recounted that the character reference from EN was of great assistance, without knowing that this was in fact the somewhat unruly shouter from the gallery in protest at some particularly outrageous piece of police testimony whom he had threatened to eject from the court.

My year 7 French teacher, at whose retirement farewell EN had spoken on the Thursday before he was taken ill, gave one of the eulogies.  EN’s elder brother gave the other.

I was interested to see just which other former students turned up.  It wasn’t many but it must have been about 10.  I was the oldest, because he taught me in the first year after he came to Australia from New Zealand.  EN tended to teach either the very top students or the very bottom ones (academically speaking).  Those of us who came to the funeral were all, I think, in the former category.  I wondered if there was some other factor in common to us (that is, apart from having had him as a teacher) which drew us to attend – that is, was I looking at my fellow souls, and if so, how were we so?  (Category: narcissism).  I don’t think it was simply a question of being on the end of a still live line of communication, though that is probably part of it.   I wonder if a partial answer is that some of us had become teachers, including me for a while.  Most of the others were still in their 20s – was this because the influence or recollection of teachers fades quite naturally over time?

A relatively recent student teacher was also in attendance.  One former student (not a teacher) had taken the 4.30 am bus up from Canberra to be there. 

I had to knock back a paying gig at the Supreme Court this morning to go, but I’m glad I made the effort (and it wasn’t paying that much).  There have been a few funerals I have stayed away from in the past which I have since regretted missing.  This sort of thing is really the church’s core business and they do know how to do it.

Afterword – Saturday afternoon

I went to the funeral because I wanted to, and at that stage I still didn’t really feel particularly sad or bereaved. I only stayed at the gathering at the Ashfield for an hour or two, and things never really became unbuttoned.  Perhaps I should have stayed longer, because the unresolved sense of loss only began to catch up with me afterwards, including in my dreams overnight. 

8 Responses to “Funereal thoughts”

  1. Oscarandre Says:

    Good teachers – special in the world, aren’t they?

  2. The Long Boom comes to an end « Stumbling on melons Says:

    […] it was really the Schumann I had come to hear, and I was not disappointed. I remember EN once offering the opinion to me that Schumann was really rather a minor or second-rank composer. At […]

  3. marcellous Says:

    See also:

    http://www.keanutok.com/feb_07/2008/03/a-tribute-to-ma.html

    for a moving tribute.

  4. kNu Says:

    are you the suited baldish (for descriptive purpose) gentlemen whom I chatted with at the wake?

    Thank you for the comment.

    He meant the world to me and it was not triple but quad bypass. I was with him before and after.

  5. marcellous Says:

    Yes, I must own up to that description, even if only for descriptive purpose! And we did chat. I have made the correction above re the bypass.

  6. Two very different but very moving posts « Floating Life Says:

    […] Funereal thoughts by Marcellous on “the funeral of EN, my year 12 English teacher.” […]

  7. English Boys « Stumbling on melons Says:

    […] have written before about En, our […]

  8. Best address in the world « Stumbling on melons Says:

    […] last saw Chris at EN’s funeral, and he looked terrible. He was off the drink by then, and I don’t even know if that was what […]

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