31 March 2023

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Evelyn Lockley: Irish rituals and introducing her boyfriend to her dead grandfather

Evelyn Lockley shares her opinions on death, dying and bereavement.

Have you ever thought about your fantasy funeral, pondered your dream epitaph or wondered what you do if knew you had a week left on Earth?

A selection of six writers, comedians and actors shared their innermost feelings about death, dying and loss with us with a carefully crafted combination of candour and comedy in our podcast series Dead Good.

We’ve picked out some of the best bits in a new series of article and if you like what you read you can then click on the link at the end of each one to hear the whole of that interview. They really are rather good – Dead Good in fact.

Evelyn Lockley

Open coffins, traditional black mourning clothes, music and miscellaneous funeral gifts are just some of the many and varied traditions and rituals actor Evelyn Lockley associates with death, dying and bereavement.

Evelyn told interviewer Sajeela Kershi how she was exposed to death from a very young age and funerals were a regular event – regardless of how close you were to the deceased.

“Growing up in a Catholic environment in Dublin I went to quite a lot of funerals. And in my primary school it did not matter who died. You went. If you met them once you went, if you never met them at all, you go.” For some it was almost a part of the daily routine, Evelyn added: “Like, honestly, I think my grandmother would always sort of fit in a funeral mass before going to do the weekly shopping.”

There was one death in particular that made a mark on the young Evelyn. “When I was about 17, my first boyfriend passed away. He died. And that I remember it coming as such a huge shock. It was just kind of unfathomable. Our whole year kind of was just struck by this very sudden huge grief and we didn’t know what to do with it.”

Music and whiskey are two traditional accompaniments to a three day Irish funeral – both, Evelyn says, help those who find it hard to express themselves in the spoken word.

“So sometimes it might mean that people need that whiskey to get to find their singing voice. And you also have a very traditional old school sort of Irish single collection which is kind of like akin to wailing. And that is sort of reserved for such a very primal feeling as that of grief and death”

Evelyn has left behind her strong Catholic upbringing and now identifies as an atheist. But she says, some of the rituals of the many Catholic funerals she’s attended have definitely left their mark – in a positive way. In particular, being encouraged, as a child, to touch the body in the coffin.

She says: “It’s very strange and objectively it’s quite odd. But by the time you get to the burial, that body is no longer the person that you love. That body is the body. And for me, there’s that ritual of separation between the spirit and the body which is something that I really appreciate.”

When her grandfather died in Ireland during the pandemic, Evelyn travelled from her home in England and took her partner Dan. It turned out to be quite an experience for Dan as Evelyn’s grandmother insisted they go in the house so she could introduce him to her grandfather, albeit in his coffin. “These are the family members that we all see annually. And this was the time that Dan got to meet him. It just happened that he happened to be dead. And I think there was a point where my granny just kept talking to him.  I think he was just sort of like, Oh, my God, it’s just really strange.”

Just as ‘meeting’ people when they’re dead is not considered odd in Ireland, Evelyn believes we should use straightforward language to overcome taboos. She says: “I think that calling things as they are is actually really helpful. I think remembering that someone has died, it is a death. I think there’s a real usefulness and a utility in that.”

Evelyn’s Departure Lounge

We asked the questions you want to know but might be afraid to ask!

How would you spend your last week on Earth? Jump out of planes, climb mountains and spend as much time as possible with family and friends.

Fantasy Funeral: A humanist version of a Catholic funeral lasting the three days so that you can mourn the life, celebrate the life, and have it come to pass

Epitaph: Fado Fado (translates as Long Ago)

For more tales from Evelyn’s childhood and to discover the four unusual items placed in her grandfather’s coffin, listen to this episode of our podcast Dead Good here.

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