Where there’s smoke, there’s a cremation

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Photo: PretentiousFringe

An obituary is described as a notice of a death, especially in a newspaper, typically including a brief biography of the deceased person. If one can believe Google, the accepted synonyms for obituary are “death notice, eulogy, obit (informal) and also necrology (rare)”.

I’ve just finished one of the most touching, heartwrenching and hilarious books I’ve ever read. The title is The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83¼ Years Old. Hendrik is an octogenarian in an Amsterdam care home, and has no intention of doing what he’s told, or dying quietly.

He is fascinated by obituaries, especially those of famous people. He wonders how many obits the newspapers keep in reserve, just in case. Could Nelson Mandela, for example, request to see his own obituary ahead of time, and be allowed to make some changes? (The diary was written before Madiba’s demise.)

Hendrik has to attend many funerals in the old-age home. “There’s a constantly revolving door of the living and the dead.” He estimates that when people arrive there, they have on average about 5 years left to live. That works out to some 50 deaths a year. “If you grow to a very old age in here and remain on your feet, you may have to attend as many as 500 burials or cremations in the last 10 years of your life. A lovely prospect.”

He tells the story of the “crematorium crisis” when a coffin got stuck halfway in, so the oven door couldn’t close properly and the coffin caught fire. The smoke seeped into the chapel and the place had to be evacuated. “Anyone who hadn’t been weeping emerged teary-eyed.“

Hendrik contemplates the idea of having a small CD player hidden inside his own coffin equipped with a remote control that will pipe out his voice shouting: “Hello, hello… Let me out! I’m still alive… Oh, don’t worry, just joking. I’m dead as a doornail.” And then he remembers: “Such a pity I won’t be there to enjoy it.”

Penguin Books. Don’t miss this gem!

Albé Grobbelaar