The Good Funeral Guide Blog

Lonely funerals

Monday, 10 May 2010

A beautiful story for you today – one you’ll have to listen to.

It’s a BBC World Service programme about an Amsterdam civil servant, Ger ‘Gerry’ Frits, whose job it was, til his retirement, to arrange and hold funerals for people, all kinds of people, who have nobody. “You must like people, love people, and you do that for each other in a community. You do that.”

Frits is a stickler for good form. He insists that the funerals he holds are the same anyone else would have. So: every funeral must have fresh flowers, four bearers, three pieces of music, respect and someone to say goodbye.

And a poem. Written by Frank Starik. He was so impressed by Frits’s work that he has been working with him since 2002. And he has started something of a movement among fellow Dutch poets. Frits would, at first, give Starik no information about the dead person which might lead him to make judgements of that person or their circumstances.

‘Lonely funerals,’ they are called. And the object is to return stories to those who have lost them.

You can download the programme as a podcast here. Highly recommended.

2 comments on “Lonely funerals

  1. Sunday 16th May 2010 at 1:04 pm

    What a beautiful documentary. I’m just about to begin my third listening. You can also get a little more information (and an mp3 download) from http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/documentaries/2010/05/100513_gb_lonely_funeral.shtml

    and a review at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/bbc/7685854/Giving-a-respectful-funeral-to-lonely-strangers.html

  2. gloriamundi

    Saturday 15th May 2010 at 11:58 am

    “To return stories to those who have lost them.” Now that is a brilliant comment. Seems to me there is a powerful human imperative to have one’s story told, and to hear that story told. Hamlet:
    “If didst ever hold me in thy heart,
    Absent thee from felicity awhile,
    And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain,
    To tell my story.”
    And it’s not just manic depressive princes who need their story told. Eleanor Rigby needed Ger Frits.

    I’ve found, by the way, that to “do” a good funeral and tell someone’s story well, you do have to absent yourself from felicity for a bit, whatever the nature of the story and its subject, and that’s why too intensive a run of funerals can be hard to take for an officiant. Unless of course you have the sort of temperament that doesn’t give a bugger about the fact that someone’s just died. But in any case, it’s a particular kind of concentration, I guess.

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