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

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Lyra MollingtonDavid Holmescharlesgloria mundiJonathan Recent comment authors

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Lyra Mollington
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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!

David Holmes
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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.

Lyra Mollington
Guest
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?

David Holmes
Guest
David Holmes

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

gloria mundi
Guest

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.

Jonathan
Guest
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!

Belinda Forbes
Guest

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.

gloria mundi
Guest

…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?

sweetpea
Guest
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,… Read more »

Ru Callender
Guest

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.

Lyra Mollington
Guest
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.

David Holmes
Guest
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!

David Holmes
Guest
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… Read more »

gloria mundi
Guest

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

Lyra Mollington
Guest
Lyra Mollington

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

james
Guest

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.

sweetpea
Guest
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…

Jehdeiah
Guest
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!

sweetpea
Guest
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?

gloria mundi
Guest

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….

Belinda Forbes
Guest

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