Thoughts of a funeral-goer

Charles Cowling


After returning from Trevor’s after-party, I persuaded Myra to come in for a cup of tea.  I felt the urge for some reminiscing.  I retrieved a large shoe box from the study – mother’s photographs. 

Mum died in 1979 – she was 65.  Sadly, back then, when it came to funerals, choice was not a word in common use.  You took what you were given. 

We were given an Anglican priest who mumbled. 

Mum had disliked religion ever since being forced to go to Sunday school with her brothers and sisters – whilst their parents had a lie-in.  So it really wasn’t the send-off our very special mother deserved.  However, as Myra and I both knew, it neatly avoided the problem of the eulogy.

Our mother was a clever, free-spirited and eccentric woman, but this was firmly wrapped up in a “what-would-the-neighbours-think?” mink fur coat.  A truthful tribute would have been out of the question.

Myra and I began to imagine what might have been said: 

Ruby and her husband had two beautiful daughters.  It was a shotgun wedding and one thing led to another.

She met her soul-mate Bob when she was in her 30s.  Unfortunately, by then she had been married to Sid for several years.  She changed her surname; Bob became her pretend husband and she lost custody of her two beautiful daughters.

Heartbroken when Bob died twenty years later, Ruby moved to Cheshire to live with her daughter Lyra which brought her great comfort.  Her GP prescribed Mogadon.  We tried to persuade her to go to bed before taking the sleeping tablet.  We lost count of the number of times we had to heave her up the stairs. 

She enjoyed the simple pleasures in life like reading…  When she ordered “Mein Kampf” from the local library, we never heard the last of it.  “Can you believe it?  They asked me for the name of the author!” … and the occasional glass of sherry.  Every night just before she took the Mogadon.

She grew very fond of the family’s pet dog Sammy.  She fed the dog digestive biscuits when no-one was looking.

She passed away peacefully with her daughters at her side.  She died from lung cancer after years of smoking Player’s No. 6.

She was dearly loved.  She is.

As you reflect on Ruby’s legacy, we are going to listen to…  Delilah by Tom Jones.  It was her favourite.

 

Lyra, her daughter Jamie and Grandma Ruby shortly before Bob died

25 thoughts on “Thoughts of a funeral-goer

  1. Charles Cowling
    Lyra Mollington

    ‘Not everyone causes sadness…when they die.’ How true David! And I’m sure that, whatever the circumstances of our bereavement, we greatly appreciate the kindness of funeral directors like your good self. My ten minutes is up. Back on the pitch!


    Charles Cowling
  2. Charles Cowling
    David Holmes

    Absolutely! Rugby, 15’s mostly – although I am also fond of Spurs, who play the round ball game, usually inconsistently.

    Your apology is accepted.

    In rugby they use the ten minute sin-bin prior to the red card. It works well.

    My point was that not everyone causes sadness and misery when they die. It’s just an observation – based on professional experience. The job of the funeral director is to listen, help, advise and never, ever make judgements.


    Charles Cowling
  3. Charles Cowling
    Lyra Mollington

    Mr Holmes: I apologise most sincerely. I am rather new to all of this and I had no idea that my innocent question would cause offence. Charles has been kind enough to contact me and explain the error of my ways. Fortunately on this occasion he has issued a yellow card rather than a straight red so I will be back on Friday. Are you a follower of the beautiful game, David?


    Charles Cowling
  4. Charles Cowling
    charles

    That really was a bit of a stinger, Lyra. An employee of the Co-op would not be able to spell. Come to think of it, no Co-op person has ever commented on this blog, and that could be an indicator of literacy levels within the sainted org.

    I think David is a good egg, and what he said does, I know from my own experience, apply to a small percentage of dead people.


    Charles Cowling
  5. Charles Cowling
    David Holmes

    Oh dear Lyra, what an insult. No, I work for myself.


    Charles Cowling
  6. Charles Cowling
    charles

    Peccadilloes enrich a personality and therefore enrich a eulogy. It is Lyra’s Mum’s foibles which make her so attractive (saintliness not being a lovable thing, unless of the St Francis species, ie, recklessly bonkers). Any celebrant does well to ask – towards the end of an interview – ‘What did he do and say that drove you nuts?’ You get your best laughs from those answers. But I fear an honest appraisal of my father would have amounted to no more than the washing of some pretty dirty linen. For some dead people, a minority, for sure, silence is the best and only course to take. It is no more and no less than they deserve.


    Charles Cowling
  7. Charles Cowling
    gloria mundi

    Always worth searching in the way you suggest, Jonathan, but – would you or would you not go so far as to include something they don’t want you to include, after all your discussions? A rich seam of gold, in your view, may be fine, after you’ve worked it through with them, or it may be something they simply don’t want. It may be a seam of pure pain.

    Who is the funeral for? When do our views need to be put aside? We work through this stuff on each occasion. There are no easy answers.


    Charles Cowling
  8. Charles Cowling
    Jonathan

    Follow their wishes, Gloriamundi? Not necessarily; my tack is to ask: “Oh, WHY can’t we say that? Tell me more” (about his erotic soap sculptures that he left in the ladies’ and gents’ loos of posh hotels, or his tendency to be violent towards his kids, or whatever.) There’s generally a rich seam of gold in these tales; discard them at everyone’s cost!


    Charles Cowling
  9. Charles Cowling
    Belinda Forbes

    When it comes to lives and characters it’s good to be truthful but most people don’t want it too truthful! “He REALLY loved women” is a way of telling the truth without making anyone feel uncomfortable.


    Charles Cowling
  10. Charles Cowling
    gloria mundi

    …or maybe Ru and sweetpea, Lyra is just havin’ a larff…as I was. Of course we all believe in honest representations, and of course it all depends on how it’s done.

    No doubt, if the family tells you something and then says “but we don’t want you to include that” you follow their wishes?


    Charles Cowling
  11. Charles Cowling
    sweetpea

    Absolutely, Ru, there’s usually some way of acknowledging the elephant in room. Whether it’s done obliquely or more openly, with humour, with pain, as long as it’s in the right spririt, people often seem relieved that it was said – and then you can get on with what you’re there to do.

    I once helped with a funeral for a twenty five year old man who had, how shall we say, lived life in the fast lane. And I was warned that half of the congregation would be young women who had sampled his amorous delights, and with whom, generally, he had continued on good terms. So near the beginning, I just said ‘and of course, we know one thing about X for sure. He really loved women. He REALLY loved women.’ The ice was broken, the atmosphere relaxed, and it he was allowed to be himself at his own funeral.


    Charles Cowling
  12. Charles Cowling
    Ru Callender

    I am surprised by the reaction to the idea of an honest appraisal of a life, we always endeavour to give a truthful tribute. There is nothing worse than everybody in the room thinking something and it not being acknowledged. It doesn’t have to be unpleasant or brutal, but if you are going to put a life into context, it deserves to be done honestly.


    Charles Cowling
  13. Charles Cowling
    Lyra Mollington

    Thank you for your comments David. Do you work for the Co-op? I must stress that unlike your gentleman, my mother, despite her little foibles, was and is dearly loved.


    Charles Cowling
  14. Charles Cowling
    David Holmes

    I might add that I always wondered what the old man had done to be so unloved by his family.

    We should never assume anything. I’ve certainly lost count of the times a family member confided afterwards (often on the way home in the limousine) that the death was a blessing not a curse!


    Charles Cowling
  15. Charles Cowling
    David Holmes

    Brilliant! I once had a man walk in to my office, producing a huge roll of notes he said ‘I want you to cremate my father. Do it whenever you like, any time or day, I’m not bothered.’ When asked if anyone would want to come and see him in the Chapel of Rest? He responded ‘None of us wanted to see him when he was alive, we certainly don’t want to see him dead. I don’t want a Vicar, and we won’t be coming to the funeral either.’ He was adamant he just wanted the job done. He wanted him gone! Eventually realising he was serious, I made him sit for a few minutes and fill the forms out. He paid me from the roll of cash and left as quickly as he could..

    I let him know when the cremation would take place..

    And of course, he and his family all showed up 🙂

    It’s a funny old business, funerals.


    Charles Cowling
  16. Charles Cowling
    gloria mundi

    Oh Lyra, don’t flirt with James please, he’s mine….


    Charles Cowling
  17. Charles Cowling
    Lyra Mollington

    James – do not be alarmed. Perhaps I’ll let you know a little more about me next week…


    Charles Cowling
  18. Charles Cowling
    james

    I am becoming alarmed that Lyra might be a real person, and that I have misunderstood the storyline.
    If not, who is that in the photograph?
    No matter, Lyra rocks.


    Charles Cowling
  19. Charles Cowling
    sweetpea

    In this case, the entire contents consist of ‘but you can’t put that in!’ Charles, you are a star – do you think it would fit in to my poetry folder under ‘somewhat ambivalent feelings?’ Only 19 minutes’ worth left to go…


    Charles Cowling
  20. Charles Cowling
    Jehdeiah

    Lovely Lyra…I was still chuckling over ‘Mein Kampf’ and Mogadon when I happened upon He is Gone – now I am in serious need of medical treatment!!!
    All brilliant – totally truthful tributes? No….no… perhaps not! Oh,but think if all those times the family tell you something and then say “but you can’t put that in” were joined together in one totally truthful tribute!


    Charles Cowling
  21. Charles Cowling
    charles

    He is Gone

    You can shed tears that he lived,
    Or you can smile because he has gone;
    You can close your eyes and pray that he will not come back,
    Or you can open your eyes and see that he has at last rattled his clack.

    Your heart can be joyful because you can’t see him,
    Or you can be full of the animosity that you shared;
    You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday,
    Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of now.

    You can remember him and only that he lived,
    Or you can banish his memory and let it die with him;
    You can rage and close your mind, be resentful and dwell on what has been,
    Or you can do what would piss him off most: smile, open your eyes, forget and go on.


    Charles Cowling
  22. Charles Cowling
    sweetpea

    Thanks, Charles, I may have to use that in a funeral I’m writing at the moment. Can you provide me with another 19 minutes and 45 seconds worth?


    Charles Cowling
  23. Charles Cowling
    charles

    “His brother was worse” has always got to be a top ten classic.


    Charles Cowling
  24. Charles Cowling
    gloria mundi

    Lyra, what a teasing thought. Totally truthful tributes….

    “I suspect, nay, I know, that several people here are relieved that Bob is safely in that box. His outbursts of temper were unpredictable and unpleasant, and although he was an entertaining fixture at the bar of the Mason’s Arms, many of us remember the time he…”

    Oh dear no. Well, perhaps only in special cases….


    Charles Cowling
  25. Charles Cowling
    Belinda Forbes

    I love Delilah too. I was grown up before I listened properly to the words. Bit of a shock.


    Charles Cowling

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