Firstly I suppose you need people that love you if you are going to have a fantastic funeral. People who are genuinely keen to say nice things about you, to tell funny stories to innumerate your huge achievements. To celebrate your life. We have to bear in mind that nobody speaks ill of the dead – it must make the dead laugh to see themselves sainted in such a way. But it’s also true that when we look back on any life there is much that can be said that uplifts the rest of us and maybe spurs us on to greater things.
Attending a funeral brings on all sorts of questions regarding what we have achieved in our lives. Sitting in the church, we are enveloped in a warm glow of admiration. Admiration for how strong the family appear, particularly the spouse, while we on the periphery of the whole event are clutching a tissue and choking back a few tears. I’ve been known to cry at funerals of people I don’t even know. Not that I’m one of those funeral crashers who turns up for the sandwiches afterwards, but occasionally one finds oneself supporting a partner at the funeral of a colleague or some such.
Hearing a eulogy at a recent funeral that I attended made me and many others feel rather inadequate. The accomplishments of our dearly departed friend were many, interesting, energetic and exciting. He had lived a full life, had produced 4 stunningly clever and beautiful children, had loved his wife, to whom he had been married happily for decades, had been a keen sportsman before he became ill, had favourite poems he could recite from memory, and had given his children bucket loads of fond memories.
I’ve seen a post recently which suggests that if you can’t turn up at someone’s door with a bunch of flowers before they die then don’t bother to turn up with said bunch to their funeral once they are dead. There is certainly some merit in this message. That we should value our friends while we have them not just mourn them when they have gone. But we often have a wide circle of people who we know who we might not see for a while, maybe for many years, but who we have fond memories of and who we would like to honour with our attendance when we hear of their passing. In this case, our friend had requested that rather than flowers we should bring a pot plant to the church and at the end of the service we should take a different one home with us. A very original idea I think, and a very sweet one.
As we stand for the hymns are we all wondering what we would choose? Are we evaluating how easily the congregation manages to sing the chosen hymns. Are the tunes well known? Is the register too high? Our recent attendance at a funeral was for someone who had a chance to plan his own event. Sadly his descent into ill health had taken place over a matter of several years, but this had given him the opportunity to stipulate the hymns and readings he wanted, and who he wanted to speak. He also stipulated that he didn’t want people to dress in black. Black being associated with mourning and death and sadness. He wanted the day to be a celebration of his life, full of laughter, song and poetry. The church was therefore full of colour and light and only a few tears.
If you are thinking of planning your own great day I have a few pieces of advice. Choose the person or people to give your eulogy wisely. It’s a delicate balance of an illuminating life story and a few great jokes. Even at the most celebratory of celebrations there is a poignancy in the air that needs breaking every now and then with a good big laugh, even if we are dabbing at our eyes at the same time. If you know one, get a wonderful Welsh poet to read your favourite poem in his wonderfully melliflous tones. If he has great hair, even better.
The people at the lectern or in the pulpit make or break the day. I attended a funeral a few years ago where the eulogy was given by a nephew of the deceased lady. He stood up at the lectern, dressed in a lumberjack shirt and a questionable gilet. I think the remark I remember most clearly from his terrible eulogy was, ‘and this is when Aunite acquired her hatred of men.’ Memorable indeed, but probably not how I wanted to remember her, or one might guess, how she would want to be remembered.
I know someone who has a list, at least in his head, of people that he doesn’t want to be allowed at his funeral. My own feeling is that when the time comes he will realise that those people, who he has taken against, are actually the ones that did him the biggest favour in life by allowing him to learn the most important lessons. From his seat up in the rafters of the church. looking down, he will see that those people should really have reserved seats in the front pews. They were his biggest friends after all.
Maybe it won’t be in a church. I plan to have a ceremony in a forest where a tree will be planted along with my ashes. But we will need a good sound system and I would like people to cry just a little bit.
So, have you already selected your hymns or songs and readings for when the big day comes – hopefully at some distant point in the future? Does it worry you what your choices may say about you? Are you planning for erudite and literary or would you prefer humorous and playful? Do you want to be original and unique or are you happy to go with the crowd and have “My Way’ blaring as you disappear behind the curtain?