Naked Grief

The nudist funeral procession made its slow way through town, with most folk proceeding on foot. The leading sixty-three mourners, (six of them serving as pallbearers) and the deceased himself were all naked. A few mourners wore discreet transparent black veils. Some of the ladies wore hats. Some men carried hats. Some had shoes on from fear of standing on sharp stones or litter on the pavements, roads and the graveyard pathways, but most stayed as bare of foot as they were of breast and buttock.

Aside from the occasional black armband, the only other item of clothing was the priest’s dog collar. Finding a man of the cloth willing to conduct the service without full cassock and regalia was tricky, and Father Daneshaw would face severe rebuke from the Catholic Church for taking part in the ceremony at Manchester’s Southern Cemetery. He was acting in defiance of the Bishop’s advice on the matter. The Pope had allegedly been consulted on the matter, but his views were not made known to Daneshaw, though the priest doubted if the Pontiff would have given his approval. He told the mourners that he risked being unfrocked for unfrocking himself. He was considering defection to the C of E anyway.

The dead man was young, or at worst, middle-aged. Though he had been living a healthy life-style and indulging in a great deal of swimming, mostly of the skinny-dipping variety, he had suffered a stroke while on route to his advertising job, fully dressed and on a bus full of passengers. Despite first aid administered by a passenger with considerable life-saving experience, his time had come before its time. Relatives were notified of his tragic loss, and in keeping with his dying wishes, expressed in a will and spelt out explicitly on his website blog, his funeral was conducted in the nude.

David Mallarding’s doctors had warned him of the danger of such a death as his blood pressure had soared despite every medical measure taken to abate it. He had so much vibrant life and energy inside him, and so many wild ideas that his body and blood could not contain it all. His vitality burned through him and transcended his flesh. David was a shooting star, burning up in the atmosphere faster than anyone had time to think up a great wish or to wish one upon him. Clothes were too much for him, and so, ultimately, was his corporeal body itself. His life was too short, a memorable cameo appearance in an otherwise dull plodding drama – he was the one character everyone remembered, but he was never given enough lines and he got written out far too soon.

The coffin was mostly made of glass, to show his pride in his bare body. The base, by necessity, was wooden, but the sides and top were glass. The burly pallbearers were nervous in case they dropped the fragile box. David lay there, in his final repose, arms folded across his chest, left hand touching right shoulder – right hand touching left shoulder. His eyes were closed. Here was a male Sleeping Beauty, with a single red rose on his coffin, placed there by his Princess Charming, Ann-Marie, the vivacious brunette fiancé who’s kiss could now never wake him from Death’s ultimate fairy tale enchantment. Her despair gave horror to her charm – no one looked for more than fleeting glimpses at her exposed breasts for fear of seeing the broken heart barely contained within.

Passers by were astounded, and a sizable crowd of the clothed grew around the slow-moving on-foot procession. The police, in full uniforms, came out in force, to control the traffic, and in fear of hostile attacks from easily offended protesters, but no one offered any challenge.

A few of David relatives walked to the rear, in their traditional mourning clothes, too shy or old-fashioned and prudent to disrobe. They felt a little put out by the legion of the unclothed before them. Their son had put more and more of his friends before family as his life went on, drifting further away from them by the day. They felt that he had been lost to them long before his final breath. His values were a million miles from theirs, but they came because they still loved him dearly and missed him. Had they paid more attention to his blogs they might have seen his many messages saying how much he loved them too.

Most of the mourners knew David well in life. Few were exhibitionists trying to promote naturism for the masses. The funeral was not a publicity stunt advocating the joys of going sky-clad. It was a funeral in all its raw emotional despair; make all the more emotionally stark for the stark-naked display of so many mourners. These were David’s friends, and their proud shameless full-blown display of genuine grief showed in their eyes so much that most onlookers looked there rather than at the generous free expanse of genitalia on view. The intensity of despair told everyone that this was a man who commanded tremendous and well-earned respect. Many of those who saw him now without ever knowing him, found themselves weeping. A great man was dead and their lives were somehow emptier for not having been touched by his presence, smiles and words of wisdom. The mourners cried more for knowing that their moments of joy in his company, clothed or unclothed, were over.

Some of the naked mourners were not habitual or hobby nudists. They had braved the baring of the flesh for this occasion only, as they felt it was what he would want, though some enjoyed the freedom of their clothing free bodies enough to want to do so more often in the future. Others looked red faced and self-conscious of the onlookers watching, staring, and strangers occasionally sneaking photographs on cell-phones. They would re-dress themselves at the first opportunity.

It was a warm day, though raining gently, and water streamed down the mourner’s bodies. No one bothered with umbrellas. There were no clothes to keep dry. A couple of cars were following the cortège, with clothes packed into the boots and back seats for people to dress into once the sorrowful ceremonies were completed.

A third car carried the flowers and bouquets. The glass coffin could never have supported them. Only Ann-Marie’s single red rose got to go with her love to his final repose.

The priest kept his sermon short and discreet, dignified and polite. Mallarding had not been a practicing Catholic. He used too many of his weekends for running nudist activities, ranging from swim-meets to archery contests, bike rides, and rambling. Somehow the priest felt that the whole ceremony was an act of revenge by the deceased – the Bible had made Adam And Eve recognize their nakedness with shame and put clothes on to cover themselves. Religions had denounced the naked as vulgar ever since, but David Mallarding had requested a Catholic funeral, and it would have seemed heartless and callous to deny him the rites he called for. Father Daneshaw was unsure if he was burying a good Christian man or conducting some blasphemous parody – a sick joke at his faith’s expense. He looked at the sombre tear-filled eyes of the mourners and felt justified of his own nudity and the conducting of the ceremony. He prayed that no others would request such a method of being buried. .

Prayers and eulogies completed, the coffin was carefully lowered into its open grave. The mourners stepped forward one by one to throw a handful of muddy dirt and dust down upon their friend, signalling the start of the burial itself. It was about ten mourners into this grim ritual before the glass lid shattered. This had been expected and planned by David. He wanted his body exposed to the elements, the earth and the worms right away. His decomposition would be rapid.

Nathaniel Greene, treasurer of the Nudist group David had chaired was the man whose soil clod had crushed the lid. He almost fainted in despair and friends steadied him and drew him aside to comfort him. David had announced in writing that casting the soil was not casting aspersions and that the breaking of the glass was an honour and not something to regret, but Nathaniel was inconsolable. He had hurt his friend, he felt; and it was something he would never forgive himself for until his own dying day.

The other nudists reflected on their own future funerals. They would not copy David. They would have conventional departures, mostly by cremation fire, mostly clothed, discreet, and in wooden coffins. David had done this first, and for others to do so would cheapen the value of his unique departure. Despite standing out from society in their expression of naturism. the mourners felt very ordinary and mundane beside his extra-ordinary method of leaving their lives. Their tears soaked them almost as much as the rain. .

The mourners continued to throw a little dirt onto him now, and it was onto him, rather than onto the coffin. There was a sense for them of direct communion with his body – he was as naked in death as in birth – unguarded by the slow-rot wooden overcoats of the neighbouring dead. David had jokingly signed off his last blog with a promise that if the dead did come back from their graves, he would be the first true nudist zombie.

The mourners filed away, and the gravediggers moved in discreetly to complete the burial itself. David was truly one with nature now. The grieving ones took a discreet pub feast in the nude, held a moment of silence and raised a toast to their departed friend, got into their clothes and went on to live their own lives. A few felt relieved to be dressed again, from shame about their bodies but most felt more cursed and ashamed of the clothes life imposed on them, and knew they would only really be happier and more alive once naked again.

© 2013 Arthur Chappell. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

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