It is safe to say that I know a good funeral when I go to one. I have been to some memorials in club houses that were better than most of my family’s weddings. I’ve fallen asleep in a Greek Orthodox funeral after the priest kept singing strangely haunting songs. I have sat through some real horrors when there was an ‘open mic’ opportunity that ended in a fist fight. Some Afrikaans funerals are way too long and the singing is bad, but they make up for it with excellent koeksisters and sausage rolls. I’m not a fan of the Jewish funeral which includes no snacks and way too much walking for those of us that did not traipse around the desert for 40 years. I love a good wake, and wonder if the “dronk verdriet” is intentional so that the stiff-upper-lips can feel their feelings. I think no funeral can have enough egg mayo sarmies. Really. They are always the first to go.


I will never again show up to a Muslim goodbye without covering my head. I felt like a full on cheap Hillbrow hooker when I was once the only woman not wearing a black hijab. Funerals in Catholic churches with lovely organ music are divine, but I get super annoyed when I’m told I cannot partake in the communion because I’m a protestant. I kinda feel they are missing the whole point of communion if there are exclusions. I cannot say that I’ve been to one of the speedy Jehovah’s Witness funerals in a Kingdom hall, but I recently learned that they believe that only 144 people will go to Heaven and that the others will just be recreated and live life on earth again. A hundred and forty four is not a huge number of people, so I am interested to see how those funerals go down and how they handle the competition. I’ve strangely not attended a Hindu funeral despite many a Naidoo, a Patel and a Singh spending their last days with us. They are often held in the Mayfair cultural centre, and I know I’ll get so lost that I’ll reach Deli before I get there. I am puzzled by the strange tension when a staunch atheist’s family choose to bury him in a church, and my pet hate is when people show up for the funeral after never actually showing up for the deceased.


But I digress. Because I attend so many memorials and funerals, by default I have also heard my fair share of eulogies. Last week I sat at a memorial, not for a patient but for a dear, dear friend. He was a wonderful kind man I’ve known for thirty years who was ripped out of our lives with no warning whatsoever. The funeral  was held on a glorious golf course, one of his favourite places. Ironically, a golf course is also where he had the awful heart attacks which robbed us of him, but that was in Dublin and this was his send-off in SA. His memorial was the kind of party he would have loved: all his favourite people, especially the love of his life, a great view, sunset, good food, pizza and excellent wine. There was crying, laughing and a deep desire from all to honour the man he was. Many of his friends spoke and all managed to capture his essence, but what resonated with me most was when my friend Dave said: “He was unimpressed by pretense.” I realised that that was one of the many reasons I had so much respect for him. People’s status, bank accounts and education seriously did not impress him. He treated everyone the same, and had no desire to impress people either.


Of all the things about the memorial, this is what stayed with me. It got me thinking about how our friend had managed to get it right to be unimpressed by pretense? He grew up in Joburg and went to one of its fanciest schools. Maybe he learnt early on that the people driving the smart cars and wearing the well-cut suits don’t make the best dads, and that the boys with the latest toys never shared. The moms might have been more interested in making the social pages than packing lunch for their sons. I’ve learnt the lesson myself repeatedly. It is very often the daughter with the high flying job that never comes to see her mom during her last days, or the dude with the Bentley that parks in our ambulance parking, or the granddaughter who has not seen her gran in months who has the strongest opinion about how treatment should continue. I think we somehow subconsciously celebrate the qualities in people that we actually despise. I hate patriarchism, yet I always assume men will sit in the front seat when we drive. Narcissism riles me up something terrible, but I don’t necessarily take offense when an old white guy thinks he deserves airtime in meetings about things he does not understand and has not lived through. I keep quiet when I know my acquaintances underpay their domestic workers who dutifully clean their mansions. I think of Epstein who got away with horrendous sexual abuse of minors for years and years,and I wonder if that is because we somehow think that if you are rich and well-connected different rules apply to you.


Apparently, people have a fascination with and admiration for the wealth of others which comes from a complex mix of social, societal, psychological and cultural factors. Material success is closely associated with personal achievements, status and the pursuit of happiness. The media continually tells us we are not enough and need more. It is human nature to seek validation and status and people tend to be impressed by outward displays of affluence. I know some desperately miserable rich people but I also know lots of grateful, humble fabulous ones. We can’t seem to avoid the comparison trap no matter how hard we try, and so, in our own minds, we shape perceptions that success and material wealth makes one happy even though we know it really doesn’t.  


We glorify opulence and prosperity. Even some of the mega-churches have cottoned onto this and sell a transactional faith guaranteeing health, wealth and eternity. When we see the pretenses others put forward, rather than being unimpressed, or even offended by it, it somehow locks us into competition mode and fuels us to acquire more riches, status or arrogance to “keep up”. It’s a vicious and endless cycle that feeds jealousy and anger, fuels low self-esteem and mental health issues, and untold other horrors. In our Insta-perfect lives we celebrate the individual. As we scroll through the non-stop selfies on our feeds, we surely have to ask: where is real connection, callings, passion and purpose that can only come outside of self?


This is a long blog that I needed to write basically just to admit that I am impressed by what others have. In fact, I am often impacted. I really think that having the odd holiday home here and there seriously must feel fantastic. I am dazzled when I meet people who are much better qualified than me and can put fancy titles in front of their names. I am bright lumo-green jealous when people have flat stomachs and perky bottoms. Maybe I secretly feel I deserve a glamorous five-star holiday overseas because I also work hard?


I am not sure what to do with all these feelings, but I am going to be courageous enough to commit to not being impressed by a few aspects of people. I won’t be impressed by titles and egos and homes and degrees. I will look for kindness, gentleness, service, sacrifice and deep meaningful connection.


I will miss my friend and am so grateful for his life, his wisdom and even after he has died, his ability to make me think and question.


Here’s to choosing to be unimpressed by pageantry and pretense, but rather by character, by substance and by sacrifice.