Thoughts of a funeral-goer

Charles Cowling

 

Posted by Lyra Mollington

 

Our neighbour Keith had no idea that the woman who visited him every day in the care home was his wife of 57 years.  Their children and grandchildren were also strangers to him.  After he died, Doreen felt guilty that she wasn’t as grief stricken as she thought she should have been.  She was also worrying about how Keith was coping in heaven.  When the children told her they were going to help her to plan the send-off their dad deserved, she felt a glimmer of hope returning.

The sun was shining on the day of Keith’s funeral.  His widow was wearing a cream dress with a pale pink jacket.  There was no floral arrangement – instead Doreen, her children and her grandchildren each placed a rose on the coffin before they sat down.  Everyone had chosen their favourite colour.  The roses clashed beautifully.  Jim Reeves was singing, ‘Welcome To My World’.

After some words from the celebrant (a homely looking woman with a warm smile) Keith’s daughter and son held hands and came up to the front to read the poem ‘One At Rest’.  The celebrant then told us how Doreen and the family had spent the weekend reminiscing, talking to friends old and new, and looking at photographs going back to 1933, the year Keith was born. 

They had decided not to have a eulogy.  Instead, there was going to be a slideshow set to Rodrigo’s ‘Fantasia Para Un Gentilhombre’. 

As soon as I saw the first black and white photograph of a little boy sitting on his father’s shoulders, I was captivated.  We all were.  We smiled, laughed and shed a tear as photographs from each decade of Keith’s life appeared: the school boy with a crooked tie; the soldier standing to attention; the beaming bridegroom; the Chelsea supporter with his blue and white scarf; the proud father and grandfather; and the fisherman with his arms outstretched describing the one that got away.  We even saw Keith dressed as a pirate.  By the time the final photograph of an old man cradling his great grandson came into focus, I was desperately hoping for more. 

The music ended.  But then there was a short piece of camcorder footage.  Keith and Doreen were on the dance floor at their granddaughter’s wedding reception.  This was just a few months before the Alzheimer’s diagnosis.  Doreen was wearing a cream dress and a pale pink jacket.  Keith spotted the camera, smiled and waved.

Later, Doreen told us that this was the man she wanted us all to remember.  More importantly, this was the Keith she wanted to say goodbye to.

 

13 thoughts on “Thoughts of a funeral-goer

  1. Charles Cowling
    sweetpea

    Charles, I don’t know if you remember, but we attended a celebrants’ conference in Staffordshire about four or five years ago, and the gentlemen behind the Wesley systems made a presentation about their DVD/video systems, which they were aiming to put into crematoria across the country. From what I remember, their intention was to provide a composition and editing service for clients, so that a finished slide/video show would be compiled for you, very much like music is now ordered from them.

    I haven’t seen any of these screens in any of the places I have worked, and so, when I do include slide shows, there has to be an awful lot of family cooperation to aid with the techie aspects – speed is of the essence, even when a double slot is booked, and it only takes a techological glitch to ruin things. Less stressful by far when the venue isn’t on a stop-watch.


    Charles Cowling
  2. Charles Cowling
    james

    Dear, good Lyra: It’s always the picture on the front of the order of service that draws the most admiring and affectionate comment. So well done slides would be even better.

    For myself, I think I’d like to say good bye to the person the way they were when they died – to alert some compassion and appreciation of their whole life experience, even what they went through over the weeks/years slipping away into dementia or depression, or whatever else has done for them; as well as remembering the vigorous life loving person of times gone by.
    Though probably not the later days in slide form. 🙂


    Charles Cowling
  3. Charles Cowling
    Lyra Mollington

    Charles, Gloria and Belinda: thank you for your interesting comments.


    Charles Cowling
  4. Charles Cowling
    Belinda Forbes

    Lyra: I am so pleased you were captivated by the slide show. At a funeral I did recently it was interesting how many comments there were about individual photos. One friend and neighbour of the deceased proudly told me that her daughter had taken one of the photos. Sadly many venues aren’t suitable but you may be interested to know that there’s a chapel at the City of London Crematorium that has a built in screen and projector. There must be more?
    Charles: with the right projectors and positioning, the light isn’t always a problem.


    Charles Cowling
  5. Charles Cowling
    gloria mundi

    Slide show – marvellous. Average crem – not easy. Plate glass. And the timing. Get in, set up, do ceremony, get out, in 30 minutes? Needs a double slot – provided it’s a crem that doesn’t charge too much for a double.
    I’m all for the idea, but at one of “my” crems recently, it couldn’t be done for the above reason, so they had to have the slideshow at the do afterwards – not at all the same thing, of course.
    And Charles is indulging in an entirely understandable exaggeration. What about the grand-daughter’s words? Words too can be very powerful, and because in secular ceremonies they sometimes/often aren’t, we should’t dispose of the baby with the bathwater etc.
    But certainly we need to redress the balance. And how much better to have some slides/video than just one forlorn portrait propped up against the coffin?
    Lovely, lovely post Lyra, thank you.


    Charles Cowling
  6. Charles Cowling
    Charles

    I think these slide show tributes can be 1000 times more eloquent than words. Let’s not forget that they are very common in the US. Do families have the idea put to them? Have crematoria tooled themselves up for them? Having said which, crems with masses of plate glass have a big problem with light.

    Worth knowing, Rev Amy, if you take funerals, that you or a family can create their own for a very small outlay at animoto.com. Buy the music as an MP3 file at Amazon.

    Lyra, this is a marvellously well written piece, as always, if I may say so. As we ‘live longer’, ie, take longer to die, a video tribute may be the best way of winding back the clock in the case of those who have spent years lost to Alzheimer’s. .


    Charles Cowling
  7. Charles Cowling
    Lyra Mollington

    Thank you Rev. Amy. If slideshows are a growing trend perhaps more crematoria should provide a screen and projector. The man who set everything up for Keith’s slideshow looked quite frazzled by the end! And he didn’t have very long to pack it all away before the next service.


    Charles Cowling
  8. Charles Cowling
    Rev. Amy

    I sense a niche opening up – Celebrants who are technologically able to provide a slideshow. Something to look into!
    I adore your posts, Lyra. Thank you for these candid portraits.


    Charles Cowling
  9. Charles Cowling
    Lyra Mollington

    Thank you Evelyn. Although I’ve told my family I’ll have a woodland burial I’m hoping there might be an opportunity for a slideshow at some point.


    Charles Cowling
  10. Charles Cowling
    Evelyn

    Alzheimer’s – the ‘beholders disease’
    It was when you said ‘ Doreen was wearing a cream dress and a pale pink jacket’ that I went….

    Thank you Lyra for an inspired bit of writing… I think I’d like a funeral like that!


    Charles Cowling
  11. Charles Cowling
    Lyra Mollington

    Thank you Richard and Phoebe. Doreen used professionals to make the DVD. It was pricey but she saved money on the flowers and by having a simple coffin.
    Charles – thank you for adding the music. It moved me to tears – again!


    Charles Cowling
  12. Charles Cowling
    Phoebe Hoare

    What a lovely send off.


    Charles Cowling
  13. Charles Cowling
    Richard Rawlinson

    Beautifully written. I could visualise it all so clearly. I’m sure the slideshow spoke much more than a 1,000 words.


    Charles Cowling

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