The Good Funeral Guide Blog

My first funeral

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

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Posted by John Porter

I think a personal reflective piece is in order following my delivery yesterday of my first fee-paying funeral ceremony as a recently qualified Funeral Celebrant. I will not forget it for several reasons.

The first reason is that I was sunning myself beside a swimming pool on a sun-drenched Greek island when I got the call from the funeral director on my mobile. I rarely answer it on holiday but for some reason decided to. I said “yes” without hesitation, took down the details and called the client straight away. The line sounded like a load of crickets having a tele-conference but we somehow managed to set up a meeting for the following Monday. The funeral was on Thursday. My mind started to tick. I sent a couple of emails and quickly established that the family did not want an order of service – phew! One obstacle out of the way with a tight timescale.

The interview went very well, I sent a draft script the next day and resolved a miscommunication between others about version of music – it pays to be very picky on this point! The son and grandson were both speaking during the ceremony about their matriarch’s character.  One would read, the other would do it off the cuff with some notes on his iPhone. I was not nervous about this as there were no funeral ceremonies to follow. 20-25 people would be there including 8 grandchildren which I was very pleased about.

Thursday 2nd October dawned a beautiful day. Chilly start but soon became unseasonably hot. The ceremony was at 2pm. I was working at the hospital until noon (p/t administrator in Transforming End of Life Care Team) and was fully prepared. I fancied lunch on the pier and then a short cycle ride to the crematorium – allowing 30 mins before the start to check everything. I was calm.

The second reason I will remember my first funeral is that 2nd October 2014 was my partner and I’s 21st anniversary – since we met. I was feeling very happy.

The third reason I will remember my first funeral is my accident! I left work as planned at noon and set off on my fold-up Brompton bicycle, suited, booted and tanned, to the bus stop for a ride to the pier. The sea beckoned. Within 30 seconds from leaving my office I cycled past a van that was blocking my way onto a grass verge and then suddenly hit a hardly visible hollow and summersaulted over the handlebars collapsing in an undignified heap! No-one came to my rescue as I guess they did not witness my acrobatics. Those first few seconds are very hard to recall. My first thought was “The funeral!”, the second “My clothes!” I scanned myself, nothing broken, no obvious holes in the suit – just a bit dusty. Phew! I did not notice the blood dribbling over my twisted Brompton. It was coming from the tip of my finger. “Right, back to base I think”.

Twenty minutes later I stepped out into the sun’s heat, suit brushed, blood washed off, tie straightened, finger smartly decorated with a plaster, bikeless but reasonably relaxed. A bus and taxi (I don’t drive) got me to the crematorium 30 mins before the ceremony as planned. I determined not to mention any of this to anyone until after the ceremony. I could feel some pain in my elbow but dispatched some adrenalin to suppress its pleas for attention.

My ceremony script was in a folio that only just fitted into the lectern (worth checking this in advance methinks). Two buttons: one for music, I noticed later it activates an audible door bell to alert the chapel attendant to play a piece from a CD (quaint!); the other to close the curtains, well-positioned so that I needed to face the coffin to easily press it.

As I climbed into the pulpit to start the ceremony I saw an envelope from the funeral director with “fee for John Porter…” written on it. It was cash. It would be impossible to pick up during the ceremony without being noticed. I let it be and hoped it would become invisible to the family contributors. Mercifully they were too focussed on what they needed to say and appeared not to see it. Another phew!

I closed the ceremony, cued the music (that’s when I heard a distant doorbell chime), left the pulpit, bowed to the closed curtains and stepped into the heat once more. I did not feel relieved. I felt a profound sense of respect for the family that had lost their matriarch, gratitude for the trust they placed in me and overwhelmed by the privilege to help them say farewell.

The family said wonderful things to me. The funeral director said he would email the other FDs in the area as I had done such a good job. I felt very thankful.

The final reason why I remember my first funeral is because 30 minutes later I was sitting in the A&E department of the hospital I work in waiting for an X-ray on my extremely painful elbow. People were being rushed in with life threatening injuries and conditions. The circle of life. I was eating a very late lunch – not the one I anticipated earlier gazing out to sea from my favourite café on the pier.

That was my first funeral.

8 comments on “My first funeral

  1. Vale

    Wednesday 8th October 2014 at 9:26 am

    I doubt that any celebrant forgets their first funeral – but you’ll have better reason that most for remembering. Congratulations, John. On to number 2.
    By the way, big up for the Brompton. Lovely bikes.
    There are probably more cycling stories out there – like the vicar I saw arriving at the last minute on his in anorak and jeans. He flung his bike down outside the vestry, ran in and unzipped his jacket. It was like Superman’s quick change: the cassock tumbled out and he was up into the pulpit like a frog up a pump.
    I’ve recently started riding a stately dutch bicycle – all enclosed chain guards and hub gears so that I can arrive in my suit feeling all present and correct.

  2. Wednesday 8th October 2014 at 9:07 am

    Well done John, you got there (in so many senses).

    A word of warning – “I was not nervous about this as there were no funeral ceremonies to follow.” A client of ours was fined £74.40 for over-running by just a few minutes a couple of weeks ago, despite there being no following funeral. Not only are crematoria threatening fines, they are enforcing them.

    • A Celeb

      Thursday 9th October 2014 at 2:39 pm

      Very true Andrew. I’ve heard similar stories, the worst being where a double slot was booked. It later emerged that this crem doesn’t do double slots. It’s ‘extended time’. Which was only 40 minutes, despite the time between one funeral and the next being 90 minutes. A hefty fine was imposed. Also John, check for yourself how long is allowed by each venue. Optimistic arrangers have been known to tell families they have 45 minutes when it’s only 30 minutes chapel time.

  3. A Celeb

    Wednesday 8th October 2014 at 8:22 am

    Take care John Porter. Our job (and the praise that comes with it) is very addictive!

  4. Girl on the Hill

    Wednesday 8th October 2014 at 7:33 am

    Welcome to our world! Well done, great writing, I was with you all the way!

  5. Tuesday 7th October 2014 at 7:52 pm

    Brilliant! Will you cycle to your second funeral?

  6. Tuesday 7th October 2014 at 11:59 am

    sorry that’s “long-term” celebrant. Not sure what a log-term would be..

  7. Tuesday 7th October 2014 at 11:58 am

    Thank you John, lovely writing. I salute your ability to deal with a very difficult situation. I’m afraid you are fated to be a very good log-term celebrant, because the first thing you thought as you hit the deck was: “the funeral!” (Not “my suit,””my bike,” “my elbow” etc.) And you still got there with 30 minutes in hand.

    May your approach to subsequent funerals be simpler and more comfortable.

    As for the envelppe full of used tenners actually on the lectern – clearly the FD was a tacful and sensitive soul….

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