I have been to a few funerals in my time and they are always different. Perhaps it is time to take a deep breath and remind myself – it WILL happen to me.
I was about to mention the “victim” ie the deceased, for once that person stops breathing, he or she is at the mercy of those left behind. All in all, perhaps it is better to plan your own funeral in advance so that whether you are there or not in the ‘watching over you’ sense, you get what you would have liked. It will of course also save the next of kin from squabbles, headaches and deciding whether they can get away with a plywood coffin.
Once you’ve popped your clogs, the first question is to decide what it is going to be – church and graveyard? vicar and crematorium? no vicar and firing the remains out of a cannon? woodland resting place, chapel, synagogue, temple, mosque, in essence: bones or ashes? That done, one can get on with the nitty gritty.
.You can’t really beat a nice view, although you may not see much of it.
Ideally, one would hope that the officiating person will say nice things about you. With the changes in our society, vicars have often not even met the deceased person so they rely on information supplied by the family. Unless you are expecting to go to heaven, perhaps it is better to find a reliable friend to conduct the ceremony. To be on the safe side, why not write your own tribute – no need to boast, but just to make sure that your brave wartime deeds or academic achievements are acknowledged. Don’t go on for too long, though, or the mourners will begin to get restless. At one funeral I attended the service exceeded the time expected to the point that the mourners were panicking because their cars would almost certainly have parking fines on them. You don’t want their attention wandering away from you!
Lovely, atmospheric, Victorian, cemetery at Abney Park, London.
Most of us would rather not think about when we are no longer here but every now and then a thought pops into one’s head. In passing, cousin Carol might have asked if, “when you have finished with it,” can she have Grandma’s stuffed parrot, or you might have wondered who within the family would most appreciate your own artistic endeavours. To avoid your self-portrait ending up on the skip, why not leave it to Aunty Rose, whether she wants it or not?
One hopes that you have had the good sense to leave a will. Just mentioning what you want to your friend Ethel isn’t going to make it happen. There are of course the big items such as a house, or shares in Microsoft, but bear in mind things inherited from different sides of the family because somebody in that particular branch might really want it back. To save writing a will the length of War and Peace, you can also start a “living will,” a record of who you would like to be informed when you go and which persons you wish to be offered the opportunity to have a souvenir of your friendship.
Bequeathing pets is also an important factor. Do remind the next of kin that if you die in winter, Alphonse the tortoise is boxed up in the garage waiting for spring to arrive. I haven’t actually quite got around to starting a living will, I must remember to buy a nice notebook.
Symbol of graveyards, the yew tree.
One must never forget, of course, that death is a sadness for those left behind and a funeral is an essential part of saying goodbye. Paying tribute, reading poetry, playing music are all part of the letting go process. One does not want one’s relatives to grieve, but of course, they will. Doing all you can to ease the process will make you feel better.
Somewhere to meet up once the service has taken place is both a tradition and an important part of the day. People may have travelled long distances and the comfort of food and drink is welcome. It also allows mourners to meet up with others they may rarely see, to connect with more distant family members. It gives back a sense of normality to the day.
One talks of gallows humour but there is funeral humour, too. At a recent burial I attended, the two surviving children were asked if they would like to help carry the coffin into the church. At this point, the mourners burst out laughing because one brother was 6’5″ while the other was 5′ 8″. The thought of the coffin teetering precariously at an angle amused everyone.
A dear friend of mine wanted her ashes scattered into the Thames so we gathered on Lambeth bridge for the ceremony. It was very touching. One by one the mourners cast a daffodil into the river to follow the ashes on their journey. The silence was broken when somebody observed ‘Oh well, she’ll be coming back in about six hours,’ as the tide would inevitably turn.
A choice of music is sometimes surprising. Familiar hymns are resurrected: Abide with Me, Amazing Grace, the Lord is my Shepherd, All Things Bright and Beautiful. Recently, music has been customised in personal memory of the departed – beautiful, sober, nostalgic. I was rather surprised when for the funeral of a woman called Margaret, we left the church to a rendering of Paul Anka’s “Diana.”
I haven’t planned my music yet. There is a long list of possibilities – Miles Davis, Ray Charles, the MJQ, or those squidgy, romantic melodies of one’s youth? On the other hand, my musical son might want to provide his own offering – who knows. So let’s not be too bossy. If the kids would rather launch you off the London Wheel, then so be it.
This seemingly traditional event is unusual. The deceased, about a dozen of them, were dug up in a vicarage garden and had been resting in peace for centuries. From the alignment of their graves, it was deduced that they were early Anglo-Saxon Christians so their bones were neatly packed into boxes and interred together in a hole in the churchyard. Interestingly, the Lord’s Prayer was intoned at their graveside in Old English, fittingly linking the past and present.
I think I would like to leave with the words of Lady Florence Dixie (1855-1905) intrepid campaigner for women’s and animal rights.
Just plant the wild flower on my grave
‘Tis all I ask, ’tis all I crave.
Kill not one single bud for me,
Remember how I loved to see
Sweet Nature rev’lling all secure,
From mortal hand, unsullied, pure.
In other words : No flowers!