The Good Funeral Guide Blog

No going back

Thursday, 4 November 2010

That modern death has failed to find its place on the continuum of ordinary life events is something we all recognise and more or less vehemently deplore. For most a funeral is a hermetically sealed, isolated (or devastated) worst-day-of-my-life episode rarely to be recalled, and only then with a shudder. We quarantine the bereaved and shoo them into the care of weird race of cool-blooded expatriates from another planet. Truly, a funeral is a para-normal and intensely private event with more than a touch of the hugger-mugger about it.

Feelings like this are echoed by a recently widowed blogger in Wales: “I found myself standing on stage introducing the Master of Ceremonies for the event – who was none other than the funeral director who buried R.

This situation was made all the more weird by the fact that he was wearing jeans and T-shirt, rather than his sombre funeral garb, sang in a rather excellent tenor voice and told a lot of slightly risqué jokes over the course of the evening. I am not sure what I expected a funeral director to do in his spare time, but it certainly wasn’t this.

But it didn’t end there. The other team performing this evening was led by the couple who own R’s burial field. They are lovely people, and made sure I was OK, but it was all very peculiar, standing there having a post-performance glass of wine with them.”

This being how it is, it was no surprise that there was so much media excitement yesterday about a brand new funeral photography enterprise, Funeography. The sub-text was Why on EARTH would anybody want a funeral commemorated with weepy snaps?

It’s a reasonable position, things being as they are, to take. I’ve just spoken to David at In Our Hearts Images in Lincolnshire. He and his partner Esther have been going for six months now and they’ve not exactly had the world beating a path to their door. For Esther this has been an insight into the Brit way of death. In Holland, where she comes from, they do it all the time. Until yesterday they were one of only three businesses in the UK offering the service.

If you’ve created something wonderful, that you’re proud of, you want to revisit it and share it. The only way to do that is to document it.

Laurel Catts in Sydney, Australia, is extremely proud of the send-off she gave for her son David. The funeral was filmed and posted on Vimeo. I posted it on this blog. Laurel emailed me this morning:  “David was the most incredible person and we wanted the funeral to reflect his wonderful personality and generosity of spirit.  Hence, I am so pleased that you thought the funeral service was a great and very moving send-off.” It was wonderful, wasn’t it? We wouldn’t have missed it for anything. Thank you, Laurel, for sharing it. You show us the way.

WARNING! This blog is about to transmigrate and inhabit a new server. The process of reincarnation may take a couple of days of suspended animation, but reborn we shall be. I can’t guarantee that the new flesh we put on will be incorruptible; indeed, it will probably look dispiritingly like the old. See you after the resurrection!

4 comments on “No going back

  1. gloriamundi

    Saturday 6th November 2010 at 11:50 am

    Good words.Maybe people who nervous of photos at funerals are afraid of being sad when they look at them in future. If so, that’s a pity. Being afraid of sadness drains meaning out of life.

    Spontaneous cricket match – outstanding. And a spontaneous and much-photographed jam session would be wonderful response after a musician’s funeral.

    I’ve occasionally had people taking photos at funerals I’ve helped with, and a couple of times they apologised a little shamefacedly – “it’s because so many family and friends are overseas, so…” I told him it was an excellent idea and he should click away as much as he wished. And for once, no-one posed.

  2. Jonathan

    Friday 5th November 2010 at 7:38 pm

    “What a fantastic funeral – I will look back on it and smile”, read a message from a family member once (who was grieving most painfully, by the way); and she had a point. We obediently adopt a hushed and reverent tone around death because it’s supposed to be unseemly to draw attention to others’ grief, or because they should be left to do it in private (like urinating?), or something – don’t ask me, I come from another world.

    Tosh. A good funeral is a milestone in the past, a reference point to establish the end of a life, however traumatic or commonplace, and the start of a life-changing new era, a deliberate act precisely to draw attention to death.

    Snotty kids on the beach mauling a sandwich have no artistic merit but you still want to photograph them if they are part of your family future and past. Who cares whether the subject has its best face on; in fact that’s the whole point of funerary snaps, it’s a record of the time we dared to show our hurting selves when we were openly acknowledging the prodigious depth of our love before going ‘back to normal life’ where death is conveniently overlooked again.

    Why not get the album out from time to time so as to remember what being alive can sometimes be like, and what a gift death can be for us all?

  3. Friday 5th November 2010 at 3:22 pm

    We didn’t have an official photographer at my father’s funeral but we did have lots of photos taken back at my sister’s home after the cremation. It was such a beautiful day, the children were in the garden and, somehow, a spontaneous cricket match started with lots of the men joining in – jackets off, shirt sleeves rolled, up so my sister started taking photos. My father LOVED cricket and I think he would have looked down approvingly on the scene and viewed it as a fitting send off. After a six year battle with Alzheimer’s, by the time he actually died, we had pretty much already mourned his loss. The funeral, although poignant, was more about remembering the husband/father/brother my father had been. The photographs taken that day of family, friends and the cricket match are treasured memories of what turned out, rather unexpectedly, to be a really lovely day.

  4. Kathryn Edwards

    Friday 5th November 2010 at 1:12 pm

    I can see the point of funeral photography. For people who have chosen a non-traditional approach, they may have invested substantial creativity, some of which will be materially visible and deemed worthy of record. And as for the people, don’t we all notice that in these days of scattered families, it’s only really funerals that draw all the strands together in the same time and place? Also a phenomenon that people might want to record in photographs.

    Not necessarily snivelling faces and weak walking, but perhaps flowers, an attractive environment, people looking ok.

    Personally, though, I’d say that the most significant aspect of a ritual is the psychic environment, which doesn’t lend itself to photography . . .

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