The Good Funeral Guide Blog

Memory tables

Tuesday, 17 January 2012


We’ve talked recently here about shrines and memorials and remembrancing. Here’s a very nice idea from Shirley, over at the Modern Mourner, in a blog post titled Why can’t memorials be more like weddings? 

It’s a memory table. You put choice things, invested with meaning, on it — arranged beautifully, of course. What would you put on yours?

Not enough time to do this at a British crematorium, of course — not unless you bustle. But at any sensible venue it’d look great. Or at the do afterwards, whatever that’s called. 

Thank you for this aesthetic inspiration, Shirley!


Find the Modern Mourner blog here

17 comments on “Memory tables

  1. Thursday 19th January 2012 at 10:16 pm

    Lovely ideas here. I’m right with Jonathan on getting funeral ceremonies (as opposed to committals)out of crems, but actually, you could use his brilliant starter idea in a crem if you had to, IF ONLY more FDs would check the sort of funeral people want before they book the crem, and got a double time allowance pencilled in, tbc when you’ve spoken to the celebrant. Is that so effing revolutionary? (And yes you can get some crems to pencil in for a couple of hours before they let go of a slot. Whose bloody crem is it? The Council’s? Then it’s ours.)

    Ten minutes milling, peering and chatting would kick it off so well, it would make the space truly theirs, sod the pew-like ‘orrible seating nailed to the floor.OK, a double slot costs a bit more, but yet again, someone the other day said to me “A double time slot? Well, that’s useful to know. I had no idea.” He didn’t even blink when I said it would cost a bit more. We were discussing his own funeral. He added “it’s only going to happen the once,so…”

  2. sweetpea

    Thursday 19th January 2012 at 2:44 pm

    It doesn’t have to be whole shebang of a table, though. One of the most moving things I’ve seen was the simple placing of a little piece of good bread and good chocolate on the coffin, for a Frenchman who hadn’t been able to eat those things for a while, but to whose family those simple pleasures said everything about their husband and father.

  3. Jonathan

    Thursday 19th January 2012 at 8:49 am

    Well, to me the point of the table would be less as an ornament than as a focus for action. You announce to everyone that they can bring something to remind them of the dead person, so the thing evolves as the participants enter, you mill around instead of processing behind the coffin as you enter, and keep going back to it to see what others have contributed and to use it as a spur to chat – ‘oh, you remember that cracked teapot, I wonder who brought that, she would never throw it away but you couldn’t get a better cup of tea in the whole of Islington…’ – it brings people together and hands ownership of the funeral firmly to them before the start.

    Or at least that’s the theory; it would only work if everyone grasped the point of it (‘Wot, bring her old shoes to her funeral, whatever for, does she have to walk into the fire or something??’), and that, in turn, would require a sea change in our attitudes to funerals; they’re dreary and sombre and you must do as you’re told and be on your best behaviour, so arriving to a celebration of life and being given freedom of action comes as a disarming surprise to most, who linger at the back and try to look inconspicuous.

    In all events you couldn’t perform such a casual, un-time-limited ritual at a crematorium, with the attendant huffing away and looking pointedly at his watch behind their backs while you, the celebrant, tear your soul in two between the immediate needs of the bereaved and the likelihood of their being chucked out before they’ve completed their grieving and celebrating ritual. Answer to this problem? Have the funeral somewhere other than at the crem. How can a mere celebrant ensure such a thing when s/he’s not privy to the funeral until the crem’s already been booked?

    Answer: sidestep the funeral directors and appeal to the public themselves as first point of call after a death.

    But I digress. Only the English – or the British, as the Americans think of us – could be so anally retentive as to refrain from the obvious mourning exercise of throwing baked confectionery at each other after a funeral… I’m presuming the Yankees have a baker’s baseball bash with a french loaf bat and a marzipan ball, Shirley?

  4. Wednesday 18th January 2012 at 11:53 pm

    I like the idea of everyday objects as opposed to “important” items. Books, glasses, coffee mugs, items gathered from the desk, kitchen, etc. A tableau of the intimate and everyday, with a few items doubling as flower vases.

    And thanks again for “bunfight”. I challenged some friends to guess what it meant and most of the answers were predictably lurid.

  5. Wednesday 18th January 2012 at 6:40 pm

    I recently conducted a couple of Mormon funerals, (Church of Jesus Christ of the Latterday Saints). This seems to be something that they do – a life table and photo display wall. I was impressed.

    Surely this is a very therapeutic thing to do at any funeral, even a crematorium service? A ‘double-slot’ can always be booked, if time is needed for those attending to get a proper look. If not, the table could be displayed at the wake?

  6. Wednesday 18th January 2012 at 12:19 pm

    Love it, Kathryn. Very, inscrutably, British.

    Sweetpea, I am in awe, I really am. I find candles quite enough — the hot wax problem at the end a nightmare. To be able to welcome people without fighting for breath, albeit with wisps of smoke arising from your raiment, marks you out as a Superpea.

  7. Kathryn Edwards

    Wednesday 18th January 2012 at 11:05 am

    I tend to refer to a funeral bunfight as The Ham Sandwiches. Especially if that isn’t the menu.

  8. sweetpea

    Wednesday 18th January 2012 at 11:01 am

    Shirley, you are the American ambassador for this admirable word – let us know how you get on!

    And yes, Charles, I’ve also crammed candles into the 60 second dash round the just-vacated-by-others room. But I neglected to say that you need a lovely attendant who is willing to go the extra mile in helping lug the table, a well-filled lighter and a devil-may-care attitude to slight singeing of the suit. Oh, and of course a naturally lithe and athletic build to speed you towards the door with but the mereist rose-blush of exertion on your dewy cheek.

  9. Wednesday 18th January 2012 at 8:45 am

    When I think of all the great slang you Americans have given us, Shirley, it’s good to be able to give something back. I hope it will go viral.

  10. X Piry

    Wednesday 18th January 2012 at 8:00 am

    What a fabulous idea. I shall recommend it herewith.

    Thanks, as always.

  11. Wednesday 18th January 2012 at 1:32 am

    Wonderful! I can’t wait to use bunfight in a sentence.

  12. Tuesday 17th January 2012 at 9:11 pm

    A bunfight, Shirley, is sort of reverse British understatement. It’s ironic, of course. Any sedate gathering of people at which refreshments are present is a bunfight – the more sedate, the more of a bunfight.

  13. Tuesday 17th January 2012 at 8:21 pm

    Thanks Charles for the mention! This made my day.

    As an American reader, I have not yet heard of a bunfight. Now I’m curious …

  14. Tuesday 17th January 2012 at 7:51 pm

    Bunfight is good.Like it!

    Can you do that and candles, Sweetpea? I’d like to see you.

    For the purposes of contemplation/meditation, I guess the bunfight is the place. (Do our American readers have the first idea what a bunfight is? Understand, the buns are not projectiles.)

  15. sweetpea

    Tuesday 17th January 2012 at 7:46 pm

    I’ve always had a soft spot for Bunfight.

    And it IS possible to have a memorial table at a crematorium, Charles. You just need a small collapsible table which you set up and dress in the vestry and then manoevre into place like a veritable greyhound when you’re ‘on’! But it’s even better at the Bunfight – larger table, and people can look at/through the things laid out. It can also provide a good focus at funerals/memorial services where there isn’t a body present, for whatever reason.

  16. Tuesday 17th January 2012 at 6:50 pm

    Ooh, highly debatable, Paul. I mean, all right for some. There really ought to be a specific word for it. Wake is obviously completely wrong – it means watching over the corpse before the funeral.

    It may be time to neologise old chap. Time to put your word-inventing cap on.We need a funeral-specific word.

  17. Tuesday 17th January 2012 at 4:56 pm

    I live this idea, Charles and Shirley, and will mention in My Last Song…yes, I’m that sort of guy.
    The do afterwards is called the gathering or the reception…at least it is in My Last Song.

Leave a Comment