Sometimes you’ll see stories in the media asking for strangers to attend the funeral of a homeless person or war-veteran who has died in unhappy circumstances. Otherwise there would be no no-one at the funeral except for those conducting it. That’s a sad way to end a life. But George Michael’s funeral was the complete opposite: his family didn’t publicize it in advance. Instead, they kept the time and place a close secret, because too many of his fans would have tried to attend if the details had got out. Some of them have followed him faithfully since his days in the 1980s pop duo Wham! right through his solo career.
Now that the funeral is over, we know where and when it took place: in Highgate Cemetery, London, on Wednesday 29th March 2017. The philosopher and social theorist Karl Marx is famously buried in that cemetery too, which makes an interesting contrast. As the founder and inspirer of communism, Marx brought misery to millions. George Michael did the exact opposite. He brought happiness to millions with his music.
That was why his funeral had to kept secret: his music meant so much to so many people that his loyal fans would have attended in their hundreds or thousands, turning what his family wanted to be an intimate and sombre event into something quite different. His passing has been a difficult time for those who knew him best. That’s because he died at the age of fifty-three. That was far too soon. George Michael should have lived for thirty or forty years more. Or even longer. But he was a heavy user of drugs and that is not a route to good health and long life.
It isn’t a route to happiness either: the buzz of a drug wears off quickly and the more often someone takes a drug, the less the brain is able to respond. So the dose has to go up and the inevitable lows after the diminishing highs get worse and worse. That’s the vicious circle George Michael found himself in. At first he may have taken drugs to feel good, but in the end he was taking them to stop feeling bad. And perhaps he had a death-wish too, a desire to hasten his departure from a world in which he couldn’t find happiness or fulfilment. Whatever his motives, by the end of 2016 his body had had enough and he passed away at that far-too-early age.
The authorities seem to have found it suspiciously early, which is probably why there has been such a gap between the news of his passing and the news of his funeral. Tests were being carried out and enquiries conducted. That must have been very hard on his family, because funerals are such a vital stage in the process of coming to terms with the death of a loved one. Funerals are a dignified and calm response to the often ugly and distressing circumstances of death. They tell us that someone’s life is truly over and that our loved is now at rest, beyond harm and hurt.
George Michael’s family had to wait several months before they could hold his funeral and achieve the comfort of knowing that they had said goodbye to him in the best and most loving way they could. But the delay was necessary: it’s important for any suspicious death to be properly investigated. In the end, there was a “confirmed natural cause of death” in George Michael’s case: his heart and liver were diseased. After decades of drug abuse, they had simply stopped working. That was a sad end to the life of someone who rose to fame with some of the sunniest and happiest music ever to hit the charts. But now he is resting in peace and his family can complete their mourning. After that long delay, his funeral is over.