The Last Good Funeral of the Year by Ed O’Loughlin is published with riverrun and is described as a book that ‘takes the reader on a circular journey from present to past and back to the present…moving, funny, and searingly honest’.
Reading a memoir always feels like one is sneaking around inside the mind of a random stranger, rifling through their memories and tip-toeing around their thoughts and dreams. It is a very personal space to enter and, in the case of Ed O’Loughlin, it feels like he is exposing his perceived weaknesses and fears to us all in this very honest and brave account of his life, and the moment, just before March 2020, when he had an epiphany of sorts, he was getting old.
On hearing of the death of Charlotte, a woman he had had a brief relationship with in the past, he was suddenly overcome with a feeling of melancholy . He experienced terrible guilt for not knowing she was sick, about the fact that he had not made contact with her. He was struck down by feelings of remorse and was out of sorts with the world. But then he had a moment, a realisation…
‘He told himself this from the start: this wasn’t just about Charlotte. It was about him suddenly being faced with facts he’d been ignoring – that he was getting old, that he wasn’t what he used to be, that his imagination, always overactive, had at some point reversed its direction, switching production from dreams to regrets.’
His wife suggested he was perhaps being a little ‘self-indulgent’ and he was inclined to agree. He attended Charlotte’s funeral but what he, and every other mourner attending, hadn’t known then was that it would be ‘the last good funeral of the year’. As the Pandemic took hold, everything changed.
In his memoir Ed O’Loughlin thinks back to his earlier years, his time spent with Charlotte, his years overseas in far-flung places as a journalist, he remembers his brother Simon, who sadly took his own life, he recalls meeting his wife. He talks about his experiences and how he compartmentalised and dealt with some of the horrors he witnessed.
‘He decided that if he was going to have adventures in places like this, he would distance himself from the scene of the crime. He would never write news in the first-person singular…he told himself then that he had no right to climb onstage for someone else’s death scene. Nor would he complain about how these scenes made him feel. He was, at best, a paid witness. Earn your pay honestly and go on to the next one. For years, he prided himself on this old-school detachment, as if playing by the old rules would somehow indemnify him for all the adventures he would have on the back of other people’s suffering, the mortgage it would pay.’
Throughout this book there are numerous sentences, paragraphs and chapters that will resonate with so many of us for different reasons. Any parent will see themselves as they watch their children outgrow the protective bubble that has been there from birth, when the school run no longer involves you walking your child to the front door, when they start to venture on their own out into the big bad world.
I especially love one particular description where Ed O’Loughlin is writing about the marks we put on our doors/walls when measuring our kids as they grow up. This really is beautifully phrased and poignantly described.
‘We are haunted, most of us all, by ourselves. Those marks on the wall don’t show stages of growth but reinventions, newer versions of the child, another Russian doll to shut in all the others. Strangers still live in this house, inside the teen and the pre-teen, and inside the adults, who are trying so hard to ignore them. The big kids are in charge now, and don’t want to remember their old games, but younger selves watch the world through borrowed old eyes, passing their own judgements, still dreaming former lives.’
The Last Good Funeral of the Year is a reappraisal of a life well-lived, yet I expect one that is shadowed with an interminable guilt. Ed O’Loughlin exposes his vulnerability for us all to analyse and pick apart, which is a very courageous and admirable thing to do. A very honest and, at times, haunting read The Last Good Funeral of the Year is the introspective journey of a man who is mourning for his past and who is very unsure of the road ahead. A philosophical and potent memoir.
(c) Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)
Order your copy online here.