The family of Bailey Massey, who died aged nine months, accompanies his body to his funeral dressed as his favourite cartoon characters.
Matthew 5:54 He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
Everybody always misses off the second half
So sun or rain – it falls on the righteous and the unrighteous!!!
Hopefully that might help Jenny even after all this time – the FD was thinking it was a comforting (mindless) quote – he was a twit.
David – I’m sure you did everything right, some families do look for a scapegoat for their own dysfunction – it’s easier to criticise the person who has left the room than address their own issues.
As for the dressing up or not – I did once in my very early celebrancy days – heed a widow’s request for all the ladies to wear their brightest floral dresses… So there was me and one other guest in floral skirts. Since then my mantra has been ‘I’ve never regretted wearing black”
And that remains true – I have worn accessories like Watford FC colours, or a Welsh pin badge, or a UB40 tea shirt, but always with a smart dark suit. I feel that, as Jenny said, it shows our respect for the deceased and the occasion. It makes me feel like I at least look like the one in charge (after the top hatted one of course) It also helps me to get into my ‘role’ as celebrant – something I find I really need on some occasions, to keep the emotions at bay.
It isn’t just about the family, it has to be about the one in the box too. And just as we get dressed up for weddings and other life celebrations, dressing up is an important part of funeral ritual for all concerned, surely? When you dress up for a wedding or a Christening it isn’t for the bride or the baby, it’s the communal celebrating, marking the occasion out as being special, valuable, worthwhile.
Lots of families muse about possible wild and crazy things they might do on the day…but nearly always decide against it. It’s almost as if they become a little manic in their grief and somehow speaking these ideas out loud is enough. I’ve seen grieving mothers sit silently through my meeting with the family, and then suddenly become animated and come up with a totally mad suggestion. The rest of the family looks astounded and because it’s the only thing Mum has said, they all cautiously agree for a while, until someone, often a much younger family member says ” Mum, Mum, it sounds great, but…. what about Nan?” Or “How do you think you’ll feel actually ON THE DAY?” I always say “it’s up to you, we can do whatever you feel is right….” But they have always talked it out of play during the course of the meeting themselves.
It seems it’s still extremely unusual to be bold enough to do what this family did.
(The source article says an FD spokesman said ‘This was an unusual funeral but it was carried out just as the family wished. We were glad to help.’ Comments all seemed positive)
I spoke to one of my A level students a few years after she left. She told me very proudly that she still read philosophy books, and that when she did, the voice she heard in her head was mine. I can’t tell you what an effect that had on me!
Instinctively I ALWAYS avoid commenting on the weather! Unless the client does. And you would be amazed how often they do, rain or shine.
One of my teachers, (possibly more than one) told me I would never amount to anything, never achieve anything. I think this was of tremendous benefit. I believe they saw my potential and felt I was hell-bent on wasting it. Most of my teachers couldn’t reach me at all. I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the few that did.
I take your point entirely, and of course it is impossible to always get it right since we are not psychic. I am not generally easily offended and to this day I could not explain to you why that comment affected me in the way it did. I was certainly not thinking particularly rationally, and it is not a statement that would normally bother me. I was feeling very protective and defensive of my Nan and that may well have had an effect on my reaction.
It just makes me aware that things I may say without much thought, both in this incarnation and my previous one as a teacher, may have repercussions far beyond the time when I hav forgotten about them!
Jenny – your story makes me consider giving up being a funeral director. Not because I make glib comments, but because I fear I might say something, anything inappropriate or memorable.
A few months ago my son informed me that a family who had just arranged a burial with me, thought I had been too cheerful. I spent hours and days reconstructing the hour or so we spent together in minute detail. For the life of me, I couldn’t see what I might have said or done that they felt was inappropriate. Unfortunately I will never know. They did strike me as a slightly unusual trio and the widower, who was very deaf, asked me to direct my questions to him, not his daughter who had made the initial telephone enquiry. These were the first words uttered once they were seated. I believe I was warm, friendly and offered lots of help and advice. The funeral itself went very well but of course left me feeling rotten. I have little choice but to ‘take it on the chin’ as they say. The bereaved can sometimes be irrational.
Alternatively, not everyone will like you, although they did like my son.
This mild rebuke was a first for me. I confess my family and team thought it mildly amusing. The positive was that it served to prove what I always tell them is true. It is very easy to say or do the wrong thing. Our clients are dealing with something that may well make them slightly irrational – even unhinged. We must always be on our guard. If in doubt – say nowt.
All comments in the spirit of discussion only, I assure you!
I think the answer to all your questions is ‘it depends’ It depends on who the funeral is for, how they perceive what is going on and their way of interacting with the ritual.
Purely for the sake of playing Devil’s advocate (me, I hear you cry, surely not!)Here is an example from my own experience of what looks like pomposity and arrogance from one angle looks totally different from another.
Around 15 years ago my grandmother died at the age of 92. At this time, you understand, I was happily teaching (well teaching anyway) with no idea that this would ever change. I had had very little experience of funerals at all, and I certainly had no particular interest. I live 120 miles away from my parents (and my grandmother) and played no part in the arrangements (conducted by my mother’s older sister who had been Nan’s carer). It was a very small family only gathering (what my Dad affectionately calls ‘the covern’…my Mum and her two sisters and myself) pluse my Dad, my then husband, and my cousin. There way a small graveside ceremony (although there is only me in the family with any interest in religion and I could best be described as ‘unconventional’ this was conducted by the parish vicar because we didn’t know any better)and a small gathering afterwards at the house of my oldest aunt. Although most of us could hope for little better than to die at 92 in relative peace after a short illness my Nan and I were close, and I was heartbroken. Knowing then what I know now there are many things I would have done differently. For a start I would not have used a Christian clergyman and I would have had a service, I really feel the loss of that even now. I could also have done without the cheerful false sympathy of the fd and the rather glib comment when he came to her door to collect us of ‘the sun always shines on the righteous’ (how the hell did he know if she was righteous…whatever that means.) What I don’t regret, however, was that this man was immaculately and formally dressed, as if my Nan was important…worth getting dressed up for; and that he bowed to her. When he walked off ahead of the cortege he made sure that the traffic stopped so she could get by. For a little while, my little, unassuming Nan who kept herself to herself (apart from when she was spying on the neighbours that is…’Well Mrs Bell is getting old, you know…I worry!’) was important. She was shown respect, and that mattered.
Looking back (now that I’m on the other side of the fence!) there are many things I have learnt from the experience. The first, and most important, is to give people time and space to decide what is really important. Once you get it wrong it can never be put right. For the rest of my life I will wish we’d had a service. Secondly, that little unimportant things really matter. The throwaway comment the FD made 15 years ago was probably forgotten by him the next day. It still irks me 15 years on.
Finally, that in times of mindbending grief, tradition and ritual can be immensely important. For me personnally, at that particular time at least, there was genuine emotional value and help in the traditional dress and actions. Doesn’t make it universally so of course…but for me, then, it was.
send-off *and therefore do not consider other options.
Upstage, probably. Do mourners think about that, and if so, do they care? In my (uneducated in these matters) opinion, people are content to take the back seat for two brief moments during the cortege while the funeral director does his walk. If they weren’t then surely they would opt out of the walking business, or have a family member or friend do it instead? From another angle the bereaved might link traditional ceremony with an appropriate send-off…This is an interesting point you’ve made Charles, I need to give it some proper thought!
When I posted this I did not expect any comments. Whatever their feelings about the pseudo-Victorian funeral (possibly a pejorative term?), most people who comment on the blog agree, I think, Jenny, that the considered and right view of almost all funeral customs is one of liberal-minded ambivalence. Whatever our position, we do not assume the right to legislate for others. For that reason there can be no right and no wrong about whether Mickey Mouse outfits are okay — though it would be a hard-hearted person who asserted that it can’t have been meaningful for the family members who enacted these roles.
For all our ambivalence, we still like to test our points of view in this blog (even though ambivalence, strictly, has nothing to say). In that spirit, I would like to wonder aloud whether the ceremonial role of the funeral director does not in some way upstage the dead person. Furthermore, if a funeral procession is about ‘we the people accompanying our dead person to the edge of Eternity’, might not the procession more aptly be led by a faith leader or family member?
Let us reflect, also, on the disgust shown by many funeral directors in the last year for the cane-twirling fraternity, whose playacting is either derisory parody or great theatre.
We need to talk about these things if ritual is to be living ritual, and evolve. This means suspending the taking of sides and understanding always that the swordplay is ritual swordplay only.
Lastly, I very much hope that no consensus will ever arise from any discussion of any topic on this blog, ever!
Its worth pointing out, I think, that for some families the walk and the formal dress are very important. They bring a sense of occasion and gravitas to the situation that are very important. Keith once did a funeral (many years ago and in a different incarnation) where the family were adamant that they did not want anyone wearing formal clothes. Bright colours and jeans were the order of the day. So Keith said, in effect, fine…would you like me to wear jeans as well? The reply was ‘good heavens no, you’re the funeral diector, we want you to wear a top hat’.
We often assume in this forum I think that the ‘pseudo Victorian’ funeral should be consigned unceremoniously to history. We forget that for some people it still feels right and comforting and makes them feel that things have been done ‘properly’. I think it comes down to what I said about ritual, that one of its purposes is to give a sense of continuity with the past which helps to fix you and give a sense of belonging.
To me, the important thing here is not modernisation but choice. To give families a real choice and make sure that they are aware of that choice. For some people having the FD dressed in jeans, or a silly tie, or a Micky Mouse outfit would be incredibly meaningful and liberating. For others it would be very distressing and leave them feeling that things had not been done with due respect.
To be it doesn’t matter how incongrous the FD in the picture look. What matters is whether he offered to dress up and whether the family were given genuine choice or were just told ‘this is the way we do it.’ From the picture, of course, there is no way of knowing.
I don’t know why, but this image makes me uncomfortable. I agree it is anachronistic. But..
A short walk in front of the hearse – in my case just for a few yards as we leave a home address, serves a practical purpose. It gives any following cars a few minutes to start up and join the cortège. It gives me a chance to see who’s intending to follow and what car they are driving. Having done that, I can more easily make sure we don’t lose them en route! On arrival at the crematorium I hop out and walk the last thirty yards. This gives those same arriving cars a chance to park up and feel as if they are not missing anything. For some odd reason, whenever I have not done these short walks, I feel as if the journey has become too casual, less dignified.
One other point. In these days of unpredictable traffic, these walks can be shortened or extended to use up or gain time. Walking works as an alternative to hanging around waiting for the exact start-time. I believe the majority of my clients like the conductor walk!
One other point. I do wear traditional clothing but happily respect a clients wishes when they request something else. I carry (but never wear) a top hat – I loathe them! And those bl***y canes. If I were anything other than a very small business, my cars would be any colour but black!
just for a fleeting short sighted moment I thought the conductor had the Mickie ears on ….. then realised it was ‘behind you’ …sigh
I was struck by the contrast and wondered if anyone else would be, too. I wonder if the funeral director consulted the family.
There can be such a gulf fixed between the attire of a funeral director and that of the mourners that I sometimes think the funeral director looks absurdly anomalous and anachronistic.
Having said which, let me declare an ineradicable prejudice: this walking in front of a car business rarely excites my admiration.
That nice FD Michael Gamble in Stroud recently did a Glastonbury-themed funeral in full fig and wellies. I thought he carried that off extremely well, bridged the gulf nicely — entered the spirit, that’s the point.
Totally depends on what the family wanted him to do!
Hmm I think it would have been more convincing if the funeral director had shaken off his black attire for the day and replaced it with a Goofy outfit. Still, I guess they have to maintain a certain level of je ne sais quoi!
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