Posted by Juno Gatsby
Jack’s granddaughter called me and asked if I could recommend a venue for his funeral service. His family knew he didn’t want his last journey to be in a church or crematorium. He would be laid to rest in their local cemetery after his farewell ceremony. We talked about hotels and wedding venues but most hotels aren’t too keen on having a hearse parked outside the main entrance! They tried the local Register Office as a potential venue, they were very kind and helpful but…..there were just too many corners to be negotiated. It would be impossible to manoeuvre a coffin into the building with any dignity. Then we hit on the idea of wedding barn venues, and the family got busy on the phone and sorted it all out for themselves. The owners of a beautiful, mellow stone-walled, old oak-beamed barn conversion agreed in principle – as long as there were no legal restrictions. We reassured them that, unlike weddings, there are no legal restrictions on where and when you can hold a funeral ceremony.
The funeral directors were brilliant – open and compassionate; whatever the family wanted they were prepared to do their utmost to accommodate their wishes. They told me that they had booked out the whole day for this funeral – so there would be no sense of rushing for the family, and we would just see how it all unfolded.
Jack was 88 when he passed away. He served on the Arctic Convoys of WWII and even survived the resulting TB he had contracted during those icy voyages. He loved animals and nature, he loved the countryside, he was fiercely patriotic and extremely hardworking. Jack was so loved by his wife and family and they wanted the best for him.
Jack was taken home and spent his last night with his wife and daughter. We were to meet on a bright January morning, the crisp blue sky clear and high above us. Snowdrops lifted their heavy lolling heads in their own particular winter greeting as I pushed open the solid wooden door of the Barn. Jim was there to greet me and we checked the orientation of the sun streaming onto the beautiful oak floor before rearranging a few chairs and then settled down to await our guests.
They soon began to arrive, nervous, a little unsure of what to do or how to be, in this place. They knew WHY they were gathering, but there were no cues, no regular patterns to follow. I greeted them, welcomed them into the space, handed them a reassuring Order of Service.
The hearse scrunched gently and sedately along the gravel drive, pulling round into the car park just by the French windows. The funeral director came forward and looked inside the space of the Barn, he agreed with us when we said that we’d like the coffin to be carried into the middle of the gathering and not left high and separated. The family were seated as Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony played gently… And Jack was carried regally into the room to join us. We opened with his Granddaughter’s husband reading this beautiful poem.
I AM THERE
Look for me when the tide is high
And the gulls are wheeling overhead
When the autumn wind sweeps the cloudy sky
And one by one the leaves are shed
Look for me when the trees are bare
And the stars are bright in the frosty sky
When the morning mist hangs on the air
And shorter darker days pass by.
I am there, where the river flows
And salmon leap to a silver moon
Where the insects hum and the tall grass grows
And sunlight warms the afternoon
I am there in the busy street
I take your hand in the city square
In the market place where the people meet
In your quiet room – I am there
I am the love you cannot see
And all I ask is – look for me
We sang Blake’s Jerusalem, we heard the tribute and eulogy, we said farewell together, we listened to Satie as we reflected and shared tears….. we closed with W H Davies.
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?
No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
William Henry Davies
In recognition of Jack’s patriotic spirit we all stood to I Vow to Thee my Country and accompanied him out into the piercing sunlight …
The hearse and following cars all drove serenely through the most beautiful country roads – passing thatched roofs, weather worn red brick walled gardens, and farm fields with crops lying dormant beneath the soil, as sheep idly grazed the nearby pastures.
We left our cars blocking the narrow village lane – our precious pilgrimage taking priority in this place where life and death and respect still mattered.
The little country churchyard on the hill, rested up a flight of shallow steps, and as we ambled under the lychgate, the birds were trilling and singing so loudly as they heralded our arrival. Only their song disturbed the peace of the place and its silent inhabitants… so we felt free to chatter together too, as we processed to the opening in the earth that had been prepared for Jack. The burly bearers carefully carried an old lady in her wheelchair up the steps and across the uneven territory to share in the moment of lowering as we returned Jack to nature.
A tall, young, vibrant Navy bugler stood silently in full dress uniform, under the shade of an overhanging oak, biding his time until his signal, and then finally The Last Post floated across the gap between him and us, between the air and the soil, between life and death…..it was perfect.
With grateful thanks to Jack’s family for permitting me to write about his funeral.