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Lessons from a funeral

/ 04:05 AM April 21, 2021

I thought of watching a BBC recording of Prince Philip’s funeral on YouTube because national rituals—whether celebratory, commemorative, or of collective grieving — can tell us a lot about the people and their culture.

Reflecting the pandemic, the government was on the alert for COVID-safe observances. There was no wake, and the funeral was limited to 30 people; the same rule applied to everyone else.

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The COVID-19 rules meant an austere funeral but Prince Philip also expressed his preference for a simple one.

How very different it is from the Philippines, where prolonged wakes, with lots of people dropping in, are the norm. Our funerals, even for the most humble of our citizens, are grand parades, entire towns turning out for a combination of “paalam” (goodbye) and “hatid” (sending someone home, often to the doorstep).

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Prince Philip’s funeral did start out with a touch of pageantry, with over 700 service men (and a few women, I counted only two) from various branches of the British Armed Forces, mostly ceremonial guards and four bands marching to Windsor Castle, the official royal residence.

There was theater too, quite moving, in the way the uniformed men dipped their heads while waiting for the coffin to be brought out of the castle. I don’t mean a slight bow out of reverence but one where the chin touched the chest, conveying poignant mourning.

The outdoor ceremonies played on sights and sounds, with lots of wind instruments. There was the usual cannon salute, and in the distance, church bells.

The final funeral ceremonies inside St. George’s Chapel, which is a short distance away from Windsor Castle, were the epitome of minimalism. There was only one funeral wreath, with flowers chosen by Queen Elizabeth. The choir only had four singers, performing from a nave and not in St. George’s, but their singing still resonated through the chapel.

Most striking, at least from the perspective of an Asian, was the Queen stepping out of her vehicle in front of the chapel, greeting the Archbishop of Canterbury (the head of the Anglican Church) and then moving on into the chapel, all throughout walking without anyone assisting her. The Queen took her seat, isolated from the other mourners. Stoicism has always been a hallmark of the Queen, if not the Brits (the expression “maintaining a stiff upper lip”).

The service unfolded, somber and dignified until it was time for the coffin to be lowered from the chapel’s main hall, underground into the royal vault — what an engineering marvel. As that happened, you could hear a bagpiper’s rendition of “Flowers of the Forest,” often played at funerals for soldiers, the music fading in the distance as the piper slowly walked out of the chapel.

When the outdoor memorial started, I noticed almost everyone had no masks on, which was to continue throughout. Prince Philip’s children and relatives who joined in the procession did not have masks either. Only the pallbearers, who were shoulder to shoulder as they brought the coffin out of the castle, had masks on.

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This was to be the norm throughout the procession, although some younger members of the royal family who were standing on the road did have masks.

As Prince Philip’s children entered St. George’s, they all put on their masks almost on cue, and kept these on throughout the funeral, as did all the other members of the royal family. The men who spoke at the funeral — Prince Philip was said to have preferred sermons not longer than four minutes, something we should adopt in the Philippines — did not have masks when they spoke from the lectern but they were a distance away from the congregation. The four choir members also sang without masks, but with physical distancing, I would estimate at least two meters apart.

I researched and found out the United Kingdom requires masks only indoors (including public transport) and, take note, a mask alone is considered sufficient. No one had shields on during the funeral, outdoors or indoors.

Also interesting is that Queen Elizabeth is fully vaccinated, and that the servicemen and women did go through COVID-19 tests.

It all conforms to current scientific knowledge. Masks indoors, and outdoors, only if there is close physical contact. Vaccinated people still need masks because the vaccines do not necessarily protect against infections. The vaccines are 100-percent effective though for preventing severe infections.

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TAGS: coronavirus pandemic, funeral lesson, Michael L. Tan column, Prince Philip's burial, UK health protocols
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