People often say: “That was the moment I lost my innocence.”
Can it happen to entire countries too? Some would say, yes, it can, and that it
happened to both America and Britain in the 1960s. For America, it was the
assassination of John F. Kennedy. For Britain, it was the trial of Ian Brady
and Myra Hindley. The two events overturned the idea that life had returned to
normal after the Second World War.
The world might have looked more and more prosperous, with
shiny material possessions and an end to hunger and want, but the assassination
and the murder trial proved that evil and horror still existed and could still
strike down the innocent. Even with hindsight it’s difficult to see how Kennedy
could have been saved from Lee Harvey Oswald’s bullet. Perhaps that’s why so
many conspiracy theories have grown up around Kennedy’s death. That a
world-famous president could have been killed by a nobody offends our sense
that important things should have important causes.
They don’t. Ian Brady and Myra Hindley are more proof of
that. They were two more nobodies and the biggest motives in their crimes seem
to have been a desire to feel powerful and to escape boredom. That desire to
feel powerful didn’t leave them when they were found guilty and sent to jail.
For a long time they didn’t reveal where some of their victims had been buried
on the moors near Manchester. They had the knowledge and refused to give it up,
continuing the pain of the victims’ families. Even today, Keith Bennett hasn’t
been found and his mother Winnie died without ever being able to give her son a
The word “decent” is very important. Death is often a
horrible and ugly thing, whether it comes unexpectedly to the young or after a
long illness and decline in old age. A funeral and the rituals that surround it
return dignity and calm to the grieving friends and relatives. Funerals give us
back a measure of control, allowing us to feel that purpose and meaning are not
wiped out by the passing of someone who was dear to us.
That’s why Kennedy’s state funeral was such an important
event not just for his family and his widow Jackie but also for the country whose
president he had been. After the randomness and horror of his assassination,
the funeral was a re-assertion of humanity, a symbolic repudiation of evil and
reminder that civilization was not helpless in the face of chaos. It was an
opportunity to honour the dead president and acknowledge the significance and
value of his life, but it was also an opportunity for the mourners to begin the
journey back to some semblance of normality.
The funeral industry provides more than a physical service,
more than a way to take a dead body and place it in the ground or reduce it to
ashes. It also provides a psychological service, bringing comfort to those who
have lost a loved one and are struggling to find a secure footing in a world
that seems to have lost meaning. That’s why the Moors Murderers were so cruel
to deny the families of their victims a chance to bury their dead. Brady and
Hindley also recognized the importance of a funeral, but in a twisted and
corrupt way. Like so many evil people, they could not create, only destroy.
Death destroys and tears down beautiful things, but a funeral is a creative act
and an attempt to return the world to balance. Some of the world’s greatest
art, music and architecture has been created to honour the dead. The funeral
industry is part of that refusal to allow death to have the final word and to
re-assert civilization in the face of chaos.