Being Late for One's Own Funeral

What does the title make you think? Is this going to be a spooky tale or a funny one? Whatever it is, you are sure to enjoy it, because who doesn’t like stories? On a day to day basis, we have learned only to keep track of what is happening around us—in politics, entertainment or sports etc. The essence of stories, real stories that most of us grew up hearing or reading, evades us now. Most people do not even have the time to read a newspaper in its entirety. As a result, developers are creating apps that will reduce a news piece to a mere few sentences.

At a juncture like this, the nearly lost art of storytelling is worth cultivating, as is the practice of reading. Even if you are not terribly inclined towards these activities, there is joy in reading something that has scotch whisky at the bottom of it, isn’t it?

In Scotland, it is customary to drink scotch whisky on almost every social occasion—be it a wedding or a funeral, people tend to consume a fair amount of liquor. This often results in very spirited services, to the extent that there’s a popular saying “a Scottish funeral is merrier than an English wedding.”

This story is dated back to the time when motorized transport was still an idea, so the recently deceased would have to be carried in coffins borne by pallbearers all the way from their homes to local churches. The funeral almost always was about the participation of the entire community. They would drink scotch and pass around drams while remembering and talking about the deceased. This process continued even when the coffin was carried to the cemetery.

The funeral of one Miss Jessy Colquhoun of Angus was no exception. For reasons unknown, Jessy left the world of the mortals and the entire community had gathered to finish the last rites. The men shouldered the coffin to carry her to the churchyard. Now, the distance was not short. Led by Jessy’s brother, Jamie, the community proceeded to make a journey four miles long by foot. The common practice was to stop at every inn, raise a toast to the departed, drink and rest for a while, and then resume walking. So, Jessy’s coffin was laid upon the lecker-stanes, a typically Scottish architecture to suit this practice, every time the crowd stopped at any inn.

Now, the funeral party had set off post noon and had stopped at three inns before reaching the neighbouring church. By the time they reached, the sun had set and it was partially dark. Realizing how late they had got, Jamie apologized to the gravedigger, Auld Tam. Auld Tam, who was sober unlike the nearly hundred drunken men and women who had come to the funeral gathering including Jamie, looked surprised. He asked Jamie where Miss Jessy was because while it was alright they got late, he could not see the coffin anywhere at all.

It was then that Jamie turned behind to realize that they had left Jessy’s coffin behind, in all probability at the third inn. Six of the youngest and comparatively sober men were thus sent to retrieve her. The rest was as usual. But some people still believe that the origin of the phrase “being late for one’s own funeral” was this small incident which occurred years ago in an obscure town in Scotland. We can never know for sure now, can we?