Saturday, January 06, 2007

Paul Murphy

We went up to Liverpool yesterday to attend a Requiem Mass for Paul Murphy. Paul was married to Cathy, who is Clare’s cousin. He died on Boxing Day from a brain tumour.

I was surprised: there were hundreds of people at the Mass. I had met Paul only a few times - he seemed smart and energetic, but hopelessly at sea with small talk.

Clare’s family, who mostly still live in Merseyside, are Catholics from working-class stock and many would say that they operate as an extended kin-group; ‘Tribal’ is another word. It’s hard for the in-laws to deal with this, especially the male in-laws, when five of the Youells are men. I think Paul found it the hardest.

I had him typologically flagged as ENTJ. He was clearly extravert: ‘He could talk for England on any subject, whether he knew anything about it or not,’ was quoted at the Mass. He ran clubs, enjoyed multiple sports and was a stalwart of something called the Warrington Catenian Association. He utterly lacked a common touch and I sometimes winced at his attempts at chit-chat at family parties. I personally found him amiable enough, although we had little in common.

Paul went to his death with full knowledge, courage and faith. I must say the Catholic Church does death awfully well. 2,000 years of practice have led to an hour-long ritual which carefully orchestrates both the feelings of the bereaved as well as the Catholic meaning of death for the broader community of the faithful.

Those of us who don’t even want to be atheists because the word contains a concept of God lack the corresponding, purely humanist ritual, let alone a hall where the community can gather round and collectively come to terms with terminal absence. I was talking to Clare as we drove back down south. Does the Catholic Church do a form of Requiem Mass for confirmed unbelievers? I will have to check.

Postscript: Paul organised all the aspects of the Mass before he died. As the priests and congregation departed the church at the end of the Mass, they did so to the strains of Abba’s “Thank You for the Music” played from a ghetto blaster parked on a bench behind the pews. Naff to the end? I like to think he did it on purpose.

[See also this].