The city of Liverpool has long been associated with
wisecracking comics, from Ken Dodd to Stan Boardman. In April this year it hit
the headlines because of a different kind of comic: the colourful kind printed
on paper. A twenty-five-year-old woman called Erin Roberts lost her battle with
brain cancer at the beginning of the month. As the month ended, her family and
friends brought her dying wishes to life when they held a comic-themed funeral.
Erin had three great passions during her life: superheroes,
science fiction and animals. She wanted those passions to be reflected in the
event that marked the end of her life – her funeral. She made careful plans for
the event. She wanted her coffin to be carried in a horse-drawn cart and
escorted by her father, who would be dressed as Darth Vader, the black-clad
super-villain from the Star Wars series. And he would be accompanied by
an honour guard of imperial stormtroopers.
Meanwhile, her friends would appear as famous characters
from comics and the movies based on them. They would be dressed as Superman,
Spiderman, Catwoman, Iron Man and many more, including Chewbacca, the giant
wookie from Star Wars. In this way, the funeral procession would be full
of bright colours and eye-catching costumes, something that would never be
forgotten by those who attended – or so she hoped. But a funeral like that
would cost a lot of money. Her family and friends aren’t really superheroes and
they couldn’t use any superpowers to to realize her dreams.
But they could draw on another special source of energy: the
power of the crowd. They set up a donation page on the internet and raised
extra money to pay for things like hire of the costumes. Erin got exactly the
send-off she wanted and her funeral left her family and friends with just the
memories she wanted them to have: colourful and quirky ones that would help
them face their grief and remember her in the right way.
“Quirky” was her favourite word. She even applied it to the
illness that cut her life tragically short, saying that she had brain tumours
because “I am quirky.” She wanted to face her situation with humour, not
sadness or self-pity, and her funeral was another way of expressing her
positive personality. But there was something else unusual in her funeral plan:
she wanted presents to be sent to everyone who attended, as another way of
making her passing a positive occasion, not a sad and gloomy one.
That wish has also come true: the gifts she chose for the
people she loved were still arriving in the post when the funeral was over. It
was a clever and caring idea by a young woman who obviously knew how to make
the most of life. Inevitably, of course, her early passing raises difficult
questions. Why do good people sometimes pass away so young? Is there a deeper
meaning and purpose behind the pain and suffering we see in stories like that
of Erin Roberts? Is there life beyond the grave?
There are many answers to those questions, but it’s
sometimes hard to accept them and it’s impossible for them all to be true.
However, one thing is certain. Erin Roberts and her loved ones couldn’t control
the way she left the world, but they could control what happened at her
funeral. It was a chance to defy the tragedy of her passing and to re-assert
what was important to her during her short life. That is part of why funerals
are so important to so many people, whatever they happen to believe about death
and the afterlife. Erin Robert’s life was cut short, but her funeral will help
her memory to stay bright for many years to come.