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melting but not down

Friday, 21 August 2009


I've been to countless funerals over the last ten years, family and friends - an alarming number in our age group (50s). The best have been the humanitarian ones, they seem to offer a more flexible, personal and joyous celebration of a life lost than those within a faith framework, a generalisation I know, and there have been exceptions, but I love the informality of the former and the opportunity for friends and family to share their memories of the departed, evoking tears and laughter in equal measure. The worst religious service I ever went to had a vicar droning on about 'ooh she loved her bingo, didn't she....she loved her cruises, didn't she....eeh, she liked a good laugh, didn't she", you get the picture, or rather you don't - it made the deceased sound like a cartoon character.

The best - the funeral that tried to make sense of what had happened for the little daughter left behind by including a play about a prince that turned into a star and went to heaven. After the service, a roman candle was lit at the graveside and shot up into the grey, rainy sky, exploding just like a star. Then there was my uncle's funeral for which his son had chosen the Rolling Stones' Not Fade Away as the last piece of music because his dad had loved the band. (He had wanted to play Street Fighting Man 'cos Uncle J was a bit of a lad in his day, but decided against it!). I still chuckle at the memory of a friend's funeral nearly two years ago, at which Mr Lily (fortified by several alcofrolic beverages) told/acted out the story of the night we went to see Carmen, all dressed up, and afterwards he and M ordered fish and chips to the tune of Toreador. I think the vicar was a bit shell-shocked - "Well, follow that!" he said. Poor fellow, lol.

This Wednesday's funeral had been planned down to the last detail by the guest of honour herself. She chose the poems - 'Do not stand at my grave and weep...' and one written by herself 'I am not afraid to die..' that produced much sniffling in the house, and the music - a Kate Bush track, the Can-Can and to finish, 'I can see clearly now'. I'd never really listened closely to the words before but that song was just perfect for such an extraordinary person's life cut short by cancer. One thing she didn't plan but would have hooted with laughter at, was her husband's final gift to her - a bag of weed tucked into her jeans pocket, for the journey.

I used to think I'd like to plan my funeral, but now I'm thinking, funerals are for those left behind. Should my family choose the readings and music to reflect what I meant to them? Or should I impose the laughing Elvis 'Are you lonesome tonight?' on all and sundry? Or pick a real tear-jerker? Or a favourite Andrea Bocelli track that will mystify all the non-Italians in the congregation (I could provide a translation on the order of service, I suppose.) Getting maudlin now. And its after 4 am (nettle devils again). Must go to bed, work tomorrow.

1 comment:

Emily said...

I've thought about my own funeral. Given the fact that I won't be there (haha) & that funerals really are for the living...well, all I could do, really, would be to use it as a last chance to tell my kids something, if I chose anything. I've listed music that means a lot to me, but I don't think my kids would relate to any of it. Hmmm. I hope I don't need to figure this out anytime soon.