Liam Farrell: Saying goodbye with a favourite song

Doctors are like the great novelists, 'in' a situation, but not 'of' it. We can stand back, observe, and enjoy the entertainment.

The relatives were gathered round the death-bed like buzzards on a gut-wagon, swinging from the curtains, hanging from the rafters. Granny had led a long, fulfilling and (very) fruitful life, and was going gently into the good night.

Dylan Thomas would have been most disappointed, but the many fruits of her loins weren’t going to let her go quietly; that’s not the Irish Way, they’d flown in from all corners of the world for the occasion, and were going to get their moneysworth.

One-upmanship is rife at these gatherings. In one corner, arrangements were being made for the funeral, negotiations of Cold War delicacy; who would carry the coffin (and in what order), who would give the readings; the hierarchy of grief had to be observed.

As ever, the more geographically distant relatives were the most demanding, over-compensating for the fact they hadn’t seen the old bird for years; the traditional bitter and divisive family argument, sure to be handed down the generations, was inevitable.

There was a near fatality when Singapore fell off the end of the bed (prime real estate in these circumstances), but as attrition rates go at such volatile conclaves, one casualty wasn’t bad.

‘Let’s all sing Granny’s favourite hymn,’ said Toronto, and he started to croon something about St Patrick and the Good Shepherd sharing a joint. But he was on his own. ‘Does nobody know the words?’ he said, feigning distress, but actually quite smug.

‘We’ll Google it,’ said Silicon Valley, and the group huddled around the laptop, the glow of the screen lending the room a ghostly light.

The lyrics were located and the singing started; but there was disagreement over the melody, so YouTube was searched. Multiple fingers poking clumsily at computer keys, and Bon Jovi’s Slippery when Wet boomed out, closely flowed by Sexual Healing.

Eventually the right song was located; the crowd listened for a while, picking up the tune, then joined in enthusiastically.

‘The teachers always said he was very bright,’ said the proud mum of Silicon Boy.

‘By the way,’ I said. ‘Granny died a few minutes ago.’

  • Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Follow him on Twitter @drlfarrell

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