Be honest. What goes through your mind at a funeral?
If, like me, you have been attending them from a young age, you might find yourself thinking about funerals you’ve been to before the one you happen to be attending at that moment. If so, does it make you feel guilty to realise you have been remembering someone other than the person whose life you are supposed be celebrating? I’m not saying I compare them you understand, rather I’ve noticed that funerals don’t get any easier the more experience of them you have and, if anything, they have a cumulative effect.
Painful as they are, we feel compelled to arrange and attend funerals as a mark of respect and from a need to make sense of our loss. Despite knowing every life surely must come to an end, our minds mostly have difficulty accepting that someone who was here with us, suddenly is no longer and so we gather together with our thoughts. But while thoughts are private and individual, are they really that much different from the thoughts of our neighbour?
I’ll admit my mind has wandered to wondering what’s so wrong with flowers these days? We are often told, ‘family flowers only’ and a donation to a relevant charity may be made via the funeral director instead. I don’t disagree with collecting money for a charity in memory of anyone, but flowers make a funeral smell good and give us something fresh and beautiful to look at while trying not to lapse into morbid imaginings. Would you admit to staring at a coffin and picturing what lies under the lid? If you ask me, it’s difficult not to, no matter how wrong it seems.
In the five years since we have been together, Drew and I have been to eight funerals. We are starting to lose count now, it might be nine, but even for people in their fifties, that’s a fair few. All of them have been at churches or crematoria, so I can’t comment on any other type, but the tradition of congregating with a coffin before you surely means there are others picturing a cold corpse too. So I’m in favour of flowers, especially atop a coffin – lots of tastefully, expertly arranged flowers. But please not those floral tributes spelling out ‘Mum’ or ‘Grandpa’ or whoever. Seriously, if only ‘family flowers’ are allowed, make a good job of it; spelling out names or other words in flowers belongs in municipal parks or similar, not at funerals. Just put their name on the card!
At a funeral, I always feel it’s best to have a look at the order of service before the proceedings commence and be prepared for the choice of music. I have often tried to figure out what lies behind the musical choices and make the lyrical connection between the deceased and the song or hymn – which isn’t always particularly obvious. I heard once that Robbie Williams was aghast at the popularity of his song ‘Angels’ when selecting funeral music although it seems a perfectly appropriate choice to me. However, the popularity of Sinatra’s ‘My Way’ has rendered it a cliche which is embarrassingly inappropriate if the deceased led a conventional life in the town where he or she was born, working for the local authority for example. Though to be fair, that choice would almost certainly have been made by the deceased themself and who would argue with a last wish?
A word of warning here: if you choose music for a loved one’s funeral, think carefully about how often you might hear it again when you hadn’t been expecting to. The sudden, unforeseen loss of my father when I was still a girl was the hardest thing I have ever lived through and it affects me still, almost forty years later. It catches me unawares sometimes, especially when I happen to hear a particular piece of music which was played at his funeral, a piece I couldn’t hear for many years without silent tears streaming down my face.
When Elton John asked Bernie Taupin to revise the lyrics to his song ‘Candle in the Wind’ to be sung at the funeral service of The Princess of Wales, he vowed he would never perform it again afterwards. No doubt this was to save himself from many distressing moments as well as protecting her sons from having to endure hearing the saddest song of their young lives again.
You may have reached the stage when, at a funeral, you begin to consider what you would want at yours. I know I have. Were you so impressed or moved by a little touch that you have earmarked the idea for your own service? Cardboard coffin? Your portrait on an easel perhaps? Flowers? I want lots of lovely flowers. And just to be sure, the music I’ve chosen is ‘The Flower Duet’ (Duo des fleurs) from Delibes’ opera, ‘Lakme’. I don’t expect many people I know will follow the words because they’re sung in French, which is just as well. It ends with …