Category Archives: Thoughts of a funeralgoer

Thoughts of a funeral-goer

Friday, 2 November 2012

‘…she left behind small traces of her time on Earth, visible only to those who know where to look.’

(From the film Pan’s Labyrinth)

Posted by Daisy Dury

A couple of weeks ago, Lyra told me how much she was looking forward to seeing the latest Bond film. With a big smile she claimed that this was nothing to do with Daniel Craig.

‘Can you believe it? Judi Dench is older than us. Living proof that it’s never too late.’

But for Lyra, it is too late.

By the time we’d dropped Edward home from the hospital it was nearly midnight. The following day, we went round to make sure he was all right. He looked shattered but he waved away our concerns with, ‘There’s a heck of a lot to sort out. And for starters I have no idea what kind of funeral Lyra wanted. Unless there’s something on her laptop…’

With that, he went off to make us a cup of tea. He shouted back, ‘Sorry I can’t offer you a coffee. We’re out of instant and I have no idea how that wretched espresso machine works.’

We fired up the laptop and spotted it straight away: a shortcut called ‘Funeral Thoughts’. We were expecting a long list of instructions. But there were only two: a request to be buried at our local cemetery and the name and phone number of the celebrant who had officiated at Richard’s funeral. We later found out that Lyra had collared Janet outside the crematorium and asked if she’d be willing to ‘do the honours for me when the time comes’. Well the time had come and I wondered if Lyra had known it was going to be sooner rather than later.

When we told Edward that we had a few decisions to make, he said, ‘I hope this doesn’t seem too soppy but I think I’d like to release a dove.’

We briefly considered a DIY funeral. However, we knew we were out of our depth. We needed a funeral director. Edward decided on the same one my neighbour John had used for his wife Sandra.

I was pleased that the funeral arranger lady remembered Lyra. Once met never forgotten! The celebrant, remembered her too. Janet tied everything together beautifully and she wasn’t fazed by any of our ideas.

We booked the funeral for Wednesday 31st October. Hallowe’en. We were all thinking the same thing – Lyra would have been disappointed if we had chosen any other date. When Edward had once asked his wife when she was going to form her own coven, Lyra took it as a compliment. From then on, whenever she met up with Lilian and me, she would tell him she was going out for some quality cauldron time!

The grandchildren chose the coffin – a vibrant purple. Edward and I chose the floral tribute – a single white rose. The procession to the chapel was led by a piper from the Pride of Murray Pipe Band. As Lyra used to say, when it comes to lifting everyone’s spirits, you can’t beat a man in a kilt.

She was carried by her son Alex and three of the grandchildren, Seb, Chloe and Jack. Edward walked behind with his daughter Jamie and the youngest grandchild Ruby. Barry gave my hand a squeeze. Yes, I thought, I’m holding myself together really well. Then I made the mistake of looking down at Lyra’s dog Colin. He wagged his tail.

I could just imagine what Lyra would have said. ‘Daisy: get a grip and be grateful that I didn’t ask you to read anything.’

After Janet’s words of welcome, Lyra’s sister Mary read a poem called ‘Peace, My Heart’ by Rabindranath Tagore. This was one of the readings from their cousin Trevor’s funeral. Janet read the eulogy. I have no idea how she managed to make sense of our random memories but somehow she did. Lyra would have approved because Janet didn’t waffle on too much.

Lyra’s grandchildren shared some of their favourite memories. Ruby was the last to speak. ‘Grandma used to say that the real meaning of Christmas was being able to force everyone to play charades. She was very old and clever so I always wanted to be on her team. And she didn’t care how silly she looked even when Granpa gave her one of his looks. She often told us, “Normal is boring.” Well Grandma, you were never boring.’

As the applause subsided, Janet looked at me and I nodded. She smiled encouragingly as she told everyone that I was now going to say a few words. I took a deep breath. And thanked myself for remembering something Lyra had said. Never end a tribute with something emotional.

‘When Lyra and I first met, she sensed I was out of sorts. But she never let on. She pretended to need my help. She was going to get a rescue dog and asked if I would like to visit the dogs’ home with her. How could I refuse an offer like that? Several weeks later and Lyra was the proud owner of a scruffy little dog named Colin. When she saw how thin he was, she had to have him. Typical of Lyra, she gave him the nickname Mr Chunky.

When Lyra was around, anything seemed possible. She was quite a handful at times, so determined was she to lead me astray. But if it wasn’t for her, I’d never have met Barry. In fact, there are a lot of things I wouldn’t have done.

Lyra called herself an old biddy. Yet I never heard her complain about how much things had changed since we were young. She embraced the present including modern technology. However, I was still taken aback when I discovered that she was writing a weekly post for an internet blog. Strangely, for someone who had what I can only describe as a zest for life, she chose to write about funerals.

And that was Lyra: full of surprises and never afraid to take life – or death – by the scruff of its neck and give it a good shake.’

The ceremony ended with ‘Here Comes the Sun’ – Nina Simone’s version. Jamie and I chose this song because Lyra loved it and it’s gentle and reassuring.

Unfortunately, barely had it started when I realised that it is also unbearably poignant and moving.

 

 

No words were said as she was lowered into the grave. Instead the piper played a lament. Then the Dove Man stepped forward. He carefully placed the dove into Edward’s hands.

Edward gently kissed its head before letting her go.

 

 

East Sheen chapel

 

 

East Sheen lawn cemetery

Thoughts of a funeral-goer

Friday, 26 October 2012

 

Peace, My Heart

Peace, my heart, let the time for the parting be sweet.
Let it not be a death but completeness.
Let love melt into memory and pain into songs.
Let the flight through the sky end in the folding of the wings over the nest.
Let the last touch of your hands be gentle like the flower of the night.
Stand still, O Beautiful End, for a moment, and say your last words in silence.
I bow to you and hold up my lamp to light you on your way.

Rabindranath Tagore, Bengali poet and philosopher (1861 – 1941)

 

Thoughts of a funeral-goer

Friday, 19 October 2012

 

Posted by Lyra Mollington

After last week’s trials and tribulations, I was looking forward to a week of rest and reflection.  Mr M suggested a short break.  Unfortunately, at our age, the stress of packing and travelling cancels out any benefits of getting away from it all.  In any case, ‘it all’ is a centrally-heated home with all mod cons, a reclining chair and a bed with a memory foam mattress.  Holiday cottages play havoc with my sciatica. 

What I really needed was a week without death.  However, this is easier said than done at my age.  A few weeks ago, Daisy and I sat down to watch ‘Bargain Hunt’ only to discover that this was a tribute episode, shown in loving memory of one of the experts – our favourite, David Barby.  We were distraught.  We had no idea that he had died.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I watch rather a lot of TV.  Would it be possible to watch television AND avoid death-related topics?  Forward planning was the key.  I decided that the programmes I could safely watch included ‘Hairy Bikers’; ‘Grand Designs’ and ‘Strictly Come Dancing’.  I also decided that there were going to be a lot of programmes I’d have to avoid, like ‘Homeland’; ‘999: What’s Your Emergency?’ and ‘Emmerdale’.

For two days, my television diet was dull but death-free.  Until I was tripped up by Mr M.  We were watching ‘Dad’s Army’ because  I was fairly certain no-one ever dies in that, although I was trying not to dwell on how many of the actors are no longer with us.  As the credits rolled, Mr M began fiddling absent-mindedly with the remote control.  We were now watching a show called ‘The X Factor’.  It seemed harmless enough until one of the contestants burst into tears.  Her nan had died.   

On Monday evening, with the remote carefully hidden, I settled down to watch a BBC2 documentary called ‘Wonderland: Walking with Dogs’.  I have a soft spot for dogs, especially my canine companion Colin.  I named him after a certain good-looking and talented young actor. Farrell of course, not Firth.

As the remarkable ‘Walking with Dogs’ stories unfolded, I wondered if Colin (the dog, not the actor) and I might have had a tale worth telling.  Not that we would ever have been in the running:  Vanessa Engle filmed her documentary on Hampstead Heath, which isn’t our local park.  This is just as well because, judging from the experiences of one set of dog-walking ladies, Colin and I have had a lucky escape.  Apparently dog-walkers were often stumbling across dead bodies on the Heath.  Indeed, whilst the camera crew were there, a dead body was discovered.  Although to everyone’s disappointment, it turned out to be someone fast asleep in a bush. 

At the mention of ‘dead bodies’ I should have changed channels but I was gripped.  The most poignant story of all was about a couple whose son had died a few months previously.  They referred to their pet as a ‘rescue dog’ because he had rescued them.  Their advice to anyone who had suffered an unbearably painful bereavement?  Get a dog.  Whilst a dog can never replace the person you have lost, he or she is a wonderful distraction. 

I held Colin a little tighter.  It was at this point that I heard a snuffling noise.  I looked across at Mr M who was dabbing his eyes with a handkerchief.  After a minute or two he regained his composure and said, ‘Have you seen the remote?’

  

Thoughts of a funeral-goer

Friday, 12 October 2012

 

Posted by Lyra Mollington

 

Editor’s note: before reading Lyra’s latest thoughts, it may be helpful to read last week’s Thoughts of a funeral-goer.

When we saw a sign for the crematorium on the outskirts of Aldershot, my heart sank.  Not a café in sight – only garages and car showrooms.  Barry’s face lit up for a split second but he knew that there was no point in even asking.

Not that there was any time for coffee or new cars.  The traffic coming out of Richmond was dreadful that morning and we were only half an hour early.  The car park was almost empty but I knew it would be filling up fast.  Before everyone else began to arrive, I wanted to take a few photos and find somewhere for Barry to do his breathing exercises. 

First stop was the waiting room – bright, clean and tidy.  To my delight I spotted a poem by Sir John Betjeman sitting on an Ercol coffee table.  But this was not the time to be reading poetry.  I took a photograph instead.  

 

 

Ignoring Daisy’s protests, I walked through to the main entrance and found the ideal place for Barry to prepare himself: the vestry.  He entered reluctantly, only to come straight back out again.  Apparently, there’s a huge window overlooking the main drive.  Anyone could look in and he wasn’t going to risk it.

I peeked into the chapel.  It was empty.  Perfect.  This was Barry’s opportunity to stand at the lectern and do some visualisation exercises.  We’d barely taken three steps inside the door when someone asked, ‘May I help you?’ It was the organist, hidden in a corner at the back.

In reply, Daisy let out a small yelp.  Barry, however, didn’t miss a beat, ‘If you could read my speech for me, that would be very helpful indeed.’  The organist smiled politely. 

Back in the waiting room, Barry told us that he didn’t think there’d be any ‘sombre organ-playing’ for our service.  Richard was a Status Quo man.  According to Barry, ‘If there’s no Quo, it’ll be a travesty.’  Daisy rolled her eyes.

With five minutes to go, the waiting room was full to bursting.  A smart young man invited us to enter the chapel.  Unfortunately for Barry, it was a double slot and a quick word with Richard’s son confirmed that he would be speaking just before the committal.  Which might be fifty minutes away.

All of Richard’s wives were there.  The youngest of the wives looked lovely in a short electric blue dress with matching fascinator.  And sunglasses!   

The minutes ticked by and we were told about Richard’s childhood; his marriages; his passion for golf; his love of fine wines and his successful career in financial services.  As we were listening to the music for reflection, I suddenly realised that my mouth was dry and my heart was racing.  I was nervous. For Barry.  I glanced at Daisy who was staring at her feet.  She looked terrified. 

Barry, on the other hand, seemed completely relaxed.  When his name was announced, he strode confidently towards the lectern.  To be on the safe side, I started sending instructions to him – telepathically. 

(Smile…)  He began by explaining that he and Richard had known each other since they were five.  (Not too fast…)  He went on to say that it was no surprise to him that Richard would want to have the last word.   Everyone laughed enthusiastically.  (Well done, but don’t lose focus: remember, funeral audiences are easily pleased…) 

As the laughter subsided, Barry paused before reading Richard’s message.  (Good – lots of pauses in all the right places just as we practised…) 

‘If all has gone to plan, Barry is reading this and I’m dead.  Not that I planned on dying this young.  Truth be told, I’m completely hacked off that he’s reading this at my funeral and not the other way round.  But maybe that serves me right for being an insurance salesman.  Which reminds me: to all my colleagues, if you’ve managed to get the day off, some advice for you.  Take early retirement.

I really have had a great life.  Granted, I’ve had more wives than children which isn’t ideal.  But making mistakes is what life is all about.  As long as you learn from them.  Which was probably my biggest mistake of all.  But what the hell.  And, by the way, I don’t believe in hell.  Or any other kind of after life.  

But I do believe in THIS life.  And if you’re feeling sad – don’t.  I’ve packed a lot into my 64 years.  Even if it does seem like yesterday when I heard that Beatles song and thought, ‘When I’m 64?  That’s a lifetime away.’

And I believe in people.  At this moment, I can honestly say, I love you all.   

To my first wife, Maggie: our marriage didn’t last but you are a true friend.  Thank you.  You were more than I deserved.

To my second wife, Anita:  thank you for many happy years and for being an amazing mother to Matthew.   

To my third and final wife, Sally: thank you for choosing me.  And for never calling me old.  You have no idea how much I love you.  Mainly because I never told you.  Well, I’m telling you now.  Or at least Barry is.  I love you.  And for the last time, I AM always right.  So don’t get your hopes up for Spurs this season.

To my son Matt: I am incredibly proud of you.  Thank goodness you take after your mum.  Be happy.  I love you.

To my daughter-in-law Carolyn:  you’re far too good for Matt but don’t tell him I told you.  And thank you both for giving me two gorgeous grandchildren. 

To my mates:  thank you for never growing up and for making me laugh.  Especially you Eddie: I forgive you for all those practical jokes.  Remember that embarrassing secret you told me last year?  I never told anyone.

To my golfing mates: we had a lot of fun!  Well as much fun as you can have with a stupid stick and a little white ball.  Remember me at the 19th.  You all bloody owe me a drink!   

To my posh mates:  you know who you are – no, not you Len.  Thank you for putting up with my naff taste in wine.  I never did learn to tell the difference between Plonk de Maison and Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  It’s all bollocks as far as I’m concerned.

To everyone: thank you for coming here. As Spock used to say, “Live long and prosper.” 

As for me: it’s to infinity and beyond…’

Barry turned to face the curtains and led everyone in a round of applause for Richard.  Before returning to his seat, he touched the coffin to say his own goodbye to his friend.  Daisy and I were beaming with pride. 

A few minutes later we were leaving the chapel to Richard’s favourite song, ‘Paper Plane’.  By Status Quo.

 Park Crematorium, Aldershot

Thoughts of a funeral-goer

Friday, 5 October 2012

 

Posted by Lyra Mollington

 

‘They’re dropping like flies!’

This was Daisy as she came in through our front door on Monday morning. Barry was close behind, shrugging his shoulders by way of an apology.

I replied, ‘You’d better come in for a coffee.’

My (or rather Mr M’s) new espresso machine is proving extremely popular. Daisy is a latte, I’m a double shot cappuccino and Barry is an Americano. Mr M is Earl Grey.

Daisy was in a bit of a flap. ‘Barry’s the last one standing!’

Thankfully, Barry provided the details. When he was a school boy, his best friends were Tom and Richard. The three were inseparable. And, inevitably, their class-mates referred to them as Tom, Dick ’n’ Barry. Tom died in his mid-fifties. Richard died at the weekend – he was only 64.

Daisy was waiting expectantly for me to express my sympathies and ask for more details. However, I found myself on a completely different train of thought. Barry is seven years younger than Daisy – well I never!

I regained my composure. ‘That really is far too young. I’m so sorry. When is the funeral?’

I then discovered why Daisy was flappier than usual. Barry had been asked by Richard’s wife (his THIRD, interjected Daisy) to speak at the funeral.

‘SPEAK! AT A FUNERAL!’ emphasised Daisy. I made a mental note to buy a tin of decaffeinated ground coffee.

When Richard discovered that he was terminally ill, he wrote a letter. He then asked his wife Sally if she could ask someone to read it out at his funeral. Understandably, no-one in the family feels confident enough to do this. Cue Barry, Richard’s oldest friend.

Barry has mixed feelings. He is honoured to be asked. But he is also terrified. Not of speaking in public – as a retired teacher, he’s done plenty of that. The problem is speaking at a funeral, in full view of the other mourners. Daisy and I had thought we’d made a breakthrough when Barry finally admitted that his dislike of funerals stems from when he was a boy and he wasn’t allowed to attend his father’s funeral. Unfortunately, although he no longer dislikes funerals (any more than anyone else, that is) the sight of a coffin unleashes decades of repressed emotion. Or that’s how he views it. We witnessed a burial recently, from a distance, and all I can recall is Barry wiping away a tear. Hardly a torrent of grief. Nevertheless, if it’s important to him that he should be seen to maintain a stiff upper lip, then I was determined to help.

Could I read the letter? Could the vicar or the celebrant read it?

No. Barry believes it is his duty to read it. So I suggested that he reads Richard’s words aloud so many times that they become meaningless. I also offered to come along – I could stare at him menacingly if I see his top lip begin to wobble.

He was willing to try anything. Unfortunately it’s a bit of a trek – a crematorium on the outskirts of Aldershot, in Hampshire. But Barry’s going to drive and there’s bound to be a nice café nearby.

Thoughts of a funeral-goer

Friday, 21 September 2012

 

Posted by Lyra Mollington

 

Daisy is one of those people who pretends she hasn’t a care in the world when really she is a quivering heap of insecurity and doubt.  Ask her how old she is and she will cheerily reply, ‘21 and holding!’ (She’s 71 and slowly slipping like the rest of us.)

She’s been particularly unsettled since a dead body was discovered just a few doors from where she lives.  As I reported last week, a young stowaway had fallen from a plane.

We needed to talk so I invited her round for a coffee.  It was Mr M’s birthday a few days ago and I gave him one of those espresso coffee machines.  I had wanted one for ages.  Over a café latte and some Seriously Chocolate Tiffin from Waitrose, Daisy revealed that she had made some ‘life-changing’ decisions.

Firstly, she decided to get rid of her urns.  You may remember that she had several of these displayed on her mantelpiece.  Not all the contents are of human origin – most are from her pet dogs.  Barry refers to them as ‘clutter’.  By ‘get rid of’ she means she’s put them up in the loft.  This is a splendid idea – a modern sky burial.

Secondly, she’s invited Barry to move in with her.  I have no idea what they’ve been waiting for – although Barry was probably waiting for those urns to go.  She explained, as though it had never occurred to her before, ‘Life’s too short to care what the neighbours think.’  I didn’t like to say but the neighbours are probably thinking the same as me, ‘About time too!’   

Thirdly, she’s written a will.  When I asked her why she hadn’t done this years ago, she replied, ‘You’ll think I’m being silly but I’ve always thought it would be the kiss of death.’ I don’t think she’s silly at all (well not in this instance).  For Daisy, and many others I’m sure, writing a will is like saying, ‘I’m ready – take me now.’

As it turned out, it WAS the kiss of death – but not for Daisy.  One of her neighbours, whose opinions she had been so concerned about, died the following day.  Her husband John has asked Daisy if she will help him with all the arrangements.  He’s at a loss to know where to begin, not least because for the past fifty years his wife made all the decisions.

We’re going round to John’s this afternoon armed with a laptop and the Natural Death Handbook.   

Thoughts of a funeral-goer

Friday, 14 September 2012

 

 

Posted by Lyra Mollington

 

We’ve lived in East Sheen for almost ten years. It would be perfect if we weren’t living under the Heathrow flight path. Even on a Sunday they start flying over very early in the morning. When we sit out in the back garden, conversation is impossible whilst the planes are flying over.

It’s a nuisance. But I had recently started to think that the noise and pollution of aeroplanes flying overhead could be bad for our health. Mr M says I worry too much. He stores up examples of ‘reprobate friends’ (smokers and drinkers who eat too much and/or eat the wrong things and never exercise) who are hale and hearty. And it makes his day when he reads about keep-fit fanatics who drop dead on their treadmills.

Then, last Sunday morning as yet another plane flew overhead, something terrible happened. Mr M and I were eating our sugar-free muesli with skimmed milk – completely unaware of what was going on just a few streets away.

A tragedy of the most shocking proportions.

A man had dropped from the sky.

He had plummeted thousands of feet from a passenger jet and landed in the avenue where Daisy lives.

Daisy told us what she could over the phone but it was only when we read the newspaper the following day that we discovered what had probably happened. A young man from North Africa (desperate to find a better life?) had stowed away in the undercarriage of a holiday plane. He may have died from the cold and then, when preparations were made for landing, he fell from the undercarriage. More recent reports say he was from Angola and may have been in his twenties.

We haven’t complained as much this week. And Mr M is eating his muesli, and even his vegetables, without his usual harrumphing.

Thoughts of a funeral-goer

Friday, 7 September 2012

 

Posted by Lyra Mollington

 

I was fascinated to read about the Good Funeral Guide Awards ceremony.  What a wonderful idea!  To all the finalists: well done and my very best wishes.  And if you win one of the awards, try not to look too elated or smug: just a serene acceptance that your brilliance has at last been recognised.

Here are my thoughts on each of the awards.

  1. Most Promising New Funeral Director: she or he should be as far removed as possible from Del Boy or Uriah Heep (the Charles Dickens character not the English rock band).  Sincerity and an ability to listen are paramount.

  2. Embalmer of the Year: everyone who embalms for a living deserves an award.  Shortly after my neighbour Keith died, his wife Doreen was inconsolable when she saw his grey face seemingly contorted in agony.  A few days later, she visited him at the funeral home and he looked serene and peaceful.  In fact she had never seen him looking so relaxed.

  3. Coffin Supplier of the Year: I am sure that anyone who reliably offers a large choice (and who supplies the correct design and the right size at short notice) is in with a chance here.  Valerie’s mum’s coffin looked lovely – pale blue with a meadow-flower design.

  4. Most Significant Contribution to the Understanding of Death in the Media.  I don’t envy the judges on this one.  But the winner should definitely not be the producer of Midsomer Murders.

  5. Crematorium Attendant of the Year.  This person should be like the young lady I met at Joyce’s funeral: smartly dressed, caring, calm, discreet and tactful.  With a friendly smile.

  6. Best Internet Bereavement Resource:  another tricky one.  Apart from Barry, very few of my friends, bereaved or otherwise, use the internet.  But then there’s Jeremy – he loves the internet.  Three weeks after his wife’s funeral, he was using an online dating agency.  But that probably doesn’t count as an internet bereavement resource.

  7. Funeral Floristry Award:  as someone who is incapable of arranging even the smallest bunch flowers, I admire anyone who can create floral displays.  However, I’m a traditionalist when it comes to flowers.  Some of the designs I have seen have not been to my taste but I have to admit that they were eye-catching and thought-provoking: a witch, a giant cigarette and a kangaroo spring to mind.

  8. Funeral Celebrant of the Year: looking back at all the funerals I have been to, the celebrant at cousin Trevor’s funeral has been the best so far.  She barely batted an eyelid when that mobile phone went off with the ring-tone that asks, ‘Who let the dogs out’?  Also, she had carefully listened to Trevor’s wife Marjorie.  The ceremony was a perfect balance of laughter and solemnity.

  9. Cemetery of the Year: I’m a little old-fashioned when it comes to cemeteries.  A cemetery is no place for helium balloons, wind-chimes, nodding dogs, flags or windmills.  In fact anything wind-related should be banned.

  10. Gravedigger of the Year: these people deserve a medal.  I arrived early for a burial once and to my surprise a tall and handsome man appeared out of the ground.  He had just finished digging out a double-depth grave by hand.  Not only was it extremely hot, the earth was solid clay.  When one of the mourners threw in some ‘soil’ it landed on the coffin like a paving slab.

  11. Funeral Director of the Year: this person must surely be a tried and tested version of the ‘Most Promising New Funeral Director’.  See my comments above.

  12. Best Alternative to a Hearse:  this is an easy one.  Your own, or a borrowed, estate car.  Although I am still certain that with the seats down and the boot lid slightly raised I could fit Mr M’s body into the back of my Ford Fiesta.

  13. Book of the Year (published after 1 May 2011).  Not Dead Yet by Peter James.  I love crime novels.  However these authors need to do their research on funerals more thoroughly.  Which is what I told Mr James when I met him last year.

  14. Lifetime Achievement Award: I assume that this person will be fairly old and experienced with a good sense of humour.  Which could be me of course  – although, sadly, six months of writing about funerals probably doesn’t count as a lifetime’s achievement.

 

Thoughts of a funeral-goer

Friday, 31 August 2012

 

Posted by Lyra Mollington

 

Editor’s note: before reading Lyra’s latest thoughts, it may be helpful to read last week’s Thoughts of a funeral-goer.

Whilst everyone else was making their way to the cloisters to look at the flowers, I popped back to have a chat with the young lady chapel attendant. I pretended that I had left my reading glasses behind. As we approached the pew, I apologised. Silly me – they were in my bag all the time!

Before she could lead me out, I asked her if she had a busy day ahead. She told me that it had been fairly quiet recently and there were only five services that day. Which was interesting, because Joyce’s family had been told by their funeral director that the crematorium was ‘chocker’. Perhaps he was worried that if he told the family the truth – that he was having trouble fitting them in to his tight schedule – they would look elsewhere. Although I doubt it. Who wants to go ‘shopping around’ for a funeral? Apart from me of course.

I casually mentioned that the lady vicar had seemed to be in a hurry. Was there a family emergency? The chapel attendant’s lips were sealed. Well almost. She smiled and asked me if everything had been all right. I was about to say yes, apart from the vicar bolting for the door like a greyhound released from her trap, but before I could speak, a voice boomed from the balcony. I had completely forgotten about the organist. Unlike the chapel attendant, he was not at all discreet. But he was extremely charming.

‘Ha!’ he boomed. ‘She was panicking from the moment she arrived!’ He was now leaning over the balcony. ‘She’s doing a service at Randall’s Park in half an hour and the traffic between here and Leatherhead can be a nightmare. And there’s been a road closure. Squeaky bottom time methinks!’

And with that he sat down and started playing his organ in the style of Eric Morecambe! The chapel attendant tried not to smile.

 

 

Interestingly, one my favourite comedians used to be a crematorium organist – Bill Bailey. Perhaps they’re all comedians. Perhaps they have to be.

I digress. I wasn’t going to get any more information out of the chapel attendant and the organist was off to ‘powder his nose’ so I left to join the rest of the family.

Is there any sight more forlorn than smartly dressed bereaved people silently looking at flowers? In this case, even more so because Joyce’s family had requested ‘no flowers’.

I put on my solemn face. Inwardly I was smiling. Joyce wouldn’t have liked the vicar… but she would have loved the organist.

Thoughts of a funeral-goer

Friday, 24 August 2012

 

 

Posted by Lyra Mollington

 

When my first grandchild was born, I decided I would like to be called Grandma.  Fortunately the other grandmother decided she would prefer to be called Nanna. 

A few years later, I overheard my grandchildren Sebastian and Chloe talking about their ‘other grandmother’ and they were calling her Nice Nanna.  Intrigued, I wondered if perhaps I had been given a similar title, although I doubted if the vocabulary of two infant school children stretched to adjectives like ‘Glamorous’ or ‘ Gregarious’.  And it was highly unlikely that they would call me ‘Gentle Grandma.’ 

No, it was none of the above.  I was…Nutty Nanna. 

Two weeks ago Nice Nanna died.  Joyce was a lovely lady.  Mr M took a real shine to her from their first meeting.  And our daughter Jamie adored her. 

The funeral took place on Wednesday.  The undertaker had told Joyce’s family that they were ‘lucky’ to be able to have the funeral so soon because he was ‘rushed off his feet’ and the crematorium was ‘chocker’!  It seems that to have to wait only ten days after someone dies is ‘a result’. 

I didn’t know Joyce well.  We had met on only a few special occasions.  She was happily divorced and looked considerably younger than her seventy two years.  The more I heard about her, the more I thought that perhaps Naughty Nanna might be a more suitable title.

I wasn’t sure whether the relationship was close enough to justify my attendance at the funeral.  My daughter’s mother-in-law.  Nanna to my grandchildren.  And it’s such an awkward journey to Woking crematorium.

Of course I went!  Woking Crematorium is the oldest in the country.  The parking is terrible and to Mr M’s embarrassment we were nearly turned away by a young man on the gate who pointed sternly to the ‘Car Park Full’ sign nearby.  However, when I asked him to have another look, a space miraculously appeared. 

It’s an adorable chapel – and NO curtains.  Instead there’s a small brass door and the coffin moves through it, as if by magic, at the critical moment.  The organist sits high above the congregation on a balcony, together with any overflow of mourners.

Joyce’s family had chosen a traditional send-off with a lady vicar.  She was very brisk giving the impression that she was late for another (much more important) engagement.  Her name was either Beverley or Brenda.  It wasn’t on the order of service and I have to confess I wasn’t listening properly – I was too busy trying to spot Joyce’s boyfriends.

Our granddaughter read a poem.  I was very proud but made a mental note to tell Chloe that I would prefer a less sentimental reading when it’s my turn.  On second thoughts, perhaps best not to say anything.

Joyce’s younger brother read the eulogy.  He cleverly avoided any mention of ‘the divorce’ and ‘the boyfriends’ – one of whom I’m fairly sure had hidden himself away on the balcony with the organist.  Nevertheless, it was an affectionate tribute and Geoffrey held it together very well.  Except for the last bit.  People will insist on ending a tribute with sentences like, ‘You were such a kind and caring person, adored by everyone.  We will miss you so much – thank you for everything you did for us.’  Geoffrey crumbled at the word ‘kind’.  Without waiting for him to compose himself, the vicar said the rest of the words for him. 

One hymn.  Yes, All Things Bright And Beautiful.  I’m sure that hymn has it in for me.  It pops up at almost every funeral I attend.  Fortunately the organist played it in the key of C so I didn’t have to stretch my vocal chords too much.

The final piece of music was Get Happy, an extremely lively show tune.  At ‘Forget your troubles,’ Brisk Lady Vicar was at the door like a bat out of hell.  I had to smile when I noticed that she was struggling with the handle.  (‘Get ready for the Judgement Day…’)  She gave up and waited for someone to help her.  I was pleased to see that the young lady chapel attendant was in no hurry to assist.  She walked slowly along the aisle (‘We’re going to the promised land…’).  When she was in line with the brass door, she bowed (‘It’s all so peaceful on the other side…’) and finally rescued the BLV (‘The Lord is waiting to take your hand…).

Once outside, I made a bee-line for our grandchildren, Seb and Chloe, to comfort them.  They may be grown-ups but they still appreciate a hug from Nutty Nanna.

 

Exterior, Woking crematorium

 

Woking crematorium – the brass door

 

Woking crematorium – chapel balcony

 

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