Funeral Weather by Caitlin Allen is a story from Periphery 53. It can be found in under the story of the week tab. The Periphery Blog is a blog about writing, narrative, art, and everything in between
Where You are all Invited to my Joint Funeral with Benjamin Becker postulated about a potential funeral, Funeral Weather by Caitlin Allen shows us a very real one. Despite that, Allen’s piece does much of the same work as Joint Funeral to undercut the significance of the event, albeit in a very different way. Where Joint Funeral takes an absurdist, comical view, Funeral Weather focuses on a Post Modern understanding of traditional funeral narratives.
The part of Funeral Weather that first stood out to me were the comments on how a funeral should be. The piece opens with the protagonist saying, “It was a perfect day for a funeral,” and just through that comment, we know what the day looks like. It is cloudy, preferably rainy, cold, and somber. We as readers know what the weather is like, because bad weather is the societal narrative for funerals. From television shows and movies, when a funeral is shown it isn’t on gorgeous summer day. And why aren’t funerals shown on gorgeous summer days? Because they are sad events whose severity needs to be underscored. Funeral Weather from the title and first line reference these understood narratives of funerals.
Comments like, “In the grand scheme of untimely unseasonable deaths, I found a car accident to be very disappointing and very unoriginal,” and “I watched the white linen of his robe dragging across the red carpet before realizing that wasn’t supposed to be what I should be focusing on, and looked up,” all work with the understanding of funeral narratives in mind. Much of the protagonist’s internal struggle is the weight of these narratives. She struggles against the belief that funerals should to be a certain way, and yet that narrative still doesn’t help her family understand their loss. The narratives of funerals don’t help this family grieve, so what is their purpose? In order to push against the significance of funerals, Allen shows us these narratives, and how absurd they are in helping the family grieve.
One of the best examples of Allen’s rejection of funeral narratives is the piano teacher who comes to the funeral:
“One woman who did, a lady in her sixties who I vaguely recognized as my cousins’ old piano teacher, was the last offender I allowed. She walked in sobbing, howled when she saw my cousins, and then tried to redeem herself by moaning something about time healing all wounds. It was a jumbled-up mess, but we all knew what she was getting at. As much as she was crying, it was hard to trust she really believed what she was preaching, but she said it nonetheless.”
What is funny about this passage is how harshly the narrator critiques this woman. She scorns the woman’s advice, and brands her an offender for trying to console the siblings of the deceased. As a reader we know this woman means well. There is no malice in her consolation nor advice. Her grief is genuine. What she stands for however, is a traditional narrative of funerals. This piano teacher follows the funeral narrative to the letter by opening crying, and attempting to make the moment meaningful and didactic. ‘Time heals all wounds’ is a platitude that attempts to understand and normalize the feelings at a funeral. ‘Everything happens for a reason’ directly works to maintain funeral narratives by showing a reason behind the death. By rejecting the piano teacher’s actions and critiquing her so harshly, Allen pushes against finding meaning in funerals, and thereby the meaning of them entirely.
The titular funeral in Allen’s story goes as well as it can. It ascribed to narratives of funerals from the weather, to the grieving visitors, to how the family is going through the stages of grief. What Allen draws attention to here, is that even though those narratives are followed, they don’t do anything to help the family. The protagonist comments on this directly by saying, “It was what you were supposed to say or think, it seemed, and I was frustrated with myself for falling back on such a banality.” The proscribed actions of a funeral become banal and worthless. They have all been done before, and they don’t help anyone understand their loss. Therefore what is the point of the somber weather, the grieving guests and the stages of grief if the family is still shocked and saddened.
What I find so interesting about both Joint Funeral and Funeral Weather is how they both attempt to bring light to an otherwise heavy event. Both Allen and Silva work to understand what happens when that event doesn’t necessary hold the importance that society puts onto it. What does it mean for a funeral if the event doesn’t help a family grieve? What does it mean for a funeral if it is a joke? Both pieces picked up on that same idea and used them in different ways.
The blog is going on break for the holiday, so have a Happy Thanksgiving from all of us here at Periphery, and we will see you in December!