My father's funeral takes place this afternoon.
I am not a religious woman. I have no 'faith'. But death has a way of tweaking atavistic superstitions in all of us. I wanted to leave something with my father's remains before they were cremated.The notion of the dead passing from one realm to another is expressed in different ways in different cultures but the need to furnish them with goods for the journey – money, weapons, food, treasured possessions – is common to most ancient traditions. In some, a boatman is said to ferry souls across dark water to the after-life: the most famous is Charon, of Greek mythology, who navigates the rivers Styx and Acheron to Hades. The tradition of placing coins on the eyes of the dead stems from an obligation to 'pay the boatman'.For various reasons, I didn't want to place coins on my father's eyes but I didn't want to take the chance of his soul being stranded if the myths turned out to be true. So I spent yesterday morning crafting a small, black felt pouch, hand-stitched with waxed upholstery thread to a pale leather thong, to contain a few coins. I will place the pouch on his chest, beneath his hands, and the thong around his neck, before his coffin is closed.The tradition calls for the coins to be pennies and I have stuck with this, providing him two pre-decimal ones minted in the years of his conception and birth. However, I have also allowed for centuries of inflation and added around five dollars in additional funds. My father was a generous man and would probably want to tip the boatman at the end of the passage – or offer to pay for a fellow-traveller who hadn't coins for the toll.