Thoughts of a funeral-goer

Charles 11 Comments


Posted by Lyra Mollington


Nearly twelve years ago, I was with my grandchildren in the queue for the newly opened London Eye when we saw an elderly man collapse.  Paramedics arrived quickly but by the time the man was lifted onto a stretcher, a blanket had been pulled over his head.  It took me a few seconds to realise the implications of this. 

In the intervening years I have often thought about that balmy summer evening.  I wondered whether his family, having recovered from the initial shock, had been able to accept that there are (much) worse ways to go.  Perhaps they shared what had happened at his funeral.  Something like, ‘He’d had a brilliant day out with everyone he loved most in the world.  And we all know what he would be saying to us now: “After queuing for an hour, we were nearly at the front.  Why on earth didn’t you go on the Ruddy Wheel?”’

From the funerals I’ve attended, it seems that information is hardly ever given about how the person died; apart from being solemnly told that she/he passed away peacefully in her/his sleep.  Understandably we are kept in the dark when there are unpleasant details.  Few would want to know that their neighbour was discovered dead on the toilet, however painless and quick her death may have been.  Or, even worse, that the body wasn’t discovered for several days, but at least her beloved cats didn’t go hungry.

We were told by the vicar at one funeral, ‘On the morning Charlie passed away he was looking forward, as always, to the regular visit from his great friend Derek.  He was up and about, clean shaven and smartly dressed, with a couple of tots of whisky ready for Derek’s arrival.’ 

Everyone agreed that this was what Charlie would have wanted.  But afterwards Derek told us that the vicar had missed out the bit that Charlie would have loved the most.  After nearly jumping out of his skin, Derek downed the contents of both whisky glasses, having carefully prised one of them out of Charlie’s hand.

Lilian, a dear friend of mine, insisted that the clergyman tell the story of how her 95 year old mother had died during a singing session at the care home.  Lil’s mum had been joining in with gusto all afternoon.  When the other residents had retired to their rooms, one of the assistants discovered the old lady slumped in her chair, slightly warm but extremely dead.  Lil was shocked but she soon started saying that this was ‘the perfect way to go,’ and that her mum had died ‘with her boots on’.  Or, strictly speaking, her orthopaedic Velcro slip-ons.

Another friend was proud to inform everyone that her husband had collapsed and died whilst buying a present for their granddaughter in ‘an independent book shop’.  For years she had worried herself sick that he would die face down in the gutter as he staggered home from his local. 

The widow of a chap who died half way round the golf course asked one of his golfing chums, Maurice, to read the eulogy.  He began, ‘Jack had been playing really well that fateful day.  He said he’d never felt happier and that when we got back to the clubhouse he was going to buy everyone in the bar a drink.’ At this point, Maurice lowered his voice.  With a straight face and through gritted teeth he continued, ‘There and then, I KNEW he was a goner.’

The Who famously sang, ‘I hope I die before I get old.’ Well I hope I die before I get too decrepit and in such a way that my family are able to say at my funeral, ‘She died happy, with her walking boots on.’



  1. Charles

    Even by your high standards, Lyra, this is priceless!

    Perhaps a name for departing in the midst of what one loves doing (i.e. your walking boots etc) could be “He did a Tommy Cooper.”

    And there is of course another activity that sometimes takes ageing chaps from amongst us, because the – ahem! – exercise is relatively unaccustomed…I understand in such cases the paramedics are always very tactful. But I trust such an exit would not involve dying with one’s boots on.

  2. Charles

    This is more dying than death, but I was at a funeral recently where the husband of the woman who had died stood up and took us step by step through the last weeks of her terminal illness – the pain, the fear, the nitty gritty of the care – and how as a couple they got through it. It was an insight into their love for each other and a real gift for all of us.

  3. Charles

    We’ve discussed before in these hallowed halls how, early in the meeting, talking through the time of dying with a bereaved family – sometimes just listening well as it all comes pouring out -very quickly creates the right sort of relationship. Having done that, two things happen. It becomes easier for the celebrant to glimpse the kind of funeral ceremony these people may need, and it helps them to concentrate on the funeral itself. Maybe in the funeral you attended, Poppy, soothing similar was happening with the whole congregation.

  4. Charles

    Poppy – what an inspiration to others. Our mother died of cancer and how we wished she could have died with her metaphorical boots on. Although this was many years ago now, it remains a very painful memory. How I admire the husband in your comment.
    Gloria – ‘another activity that sometimes takes ageing chaps…’. I wondered who would be the first to mention this.

  5. Charles

    You can often rely on me to lower the tone I’m afraid Lyra – I do try to behave…

    And Poppy – damned autocorrect thingy made “soothing” out of “something” and I’m such a lousy proofreader I didn’t spot it – but maybe what you describe was, eventually, soothing. Let’s hope so. And yes, the husband had a rare kind of honesty/bravery.

  6. Charles

    I adore the whiskey story. I would have come away from my grandmother’s funeral disappointed and unmoved if it weren’t for the anecdotes.

  7. Charles

    Just brilliant Lyra – I’m so glad we’ve got you to ‘get real’ about dying. I must admit that I just want to ‘wake up dead’ one day….

    I hope you never get too decrepit too. Long Live Lyra!
    I think I might start lying down with a glass of vodka and ginger beer in my hand as a treat for any potential finder!

  8. Charles

    Think how, in former times, minute-by-minute accounts would be uttered in hushed voices of the last days and hours of someone’s life, and everyone would listen spellbound. Very instructive — a good way of rehearsing, in one’s mind, one’s own last days.

    Waking up dead’s best so long as it isn’t too much of a shock for the finder. Toilets have, of course, claimed untold numbers of lives, more probably than wars, pestilence and plague put together.

    GM, I think you’ll find that mortality rates attributable to the activity you allude to are mostly because it was she who kept her boots on.

  9. Charles

    I was discussing with my local crematorium assistant today about how many people die while actually attending a funeral. It seemed to be not quite as uncommon as one might think.

    So, all the celebrant/clergypeople out there, perhaps there’s a chance we’ll all ‘die with our boots on’, doing what we love most – hopefully once we’ve got the tribute out of the way, of course – it would be terribly bad form to interrupt the flow of a good story.

    Is there any more than anecdotal evidence to this…perhaps our fd crematorium friends could enlighten us?

  10. Charles

    Lyra – wonderful stories!
    Sweetpea – when a mourner was taken ill during one of my ceremonies (!) I thought he was dead. Fortunately,he had just vomited and fainted. Although not so fortunate for the chapel attendant. The assistant manager of my local crematorium has seen all sorts but has not (yet) had anyone die at a funeral on his watch. But an ambulance has been called on countless occasions.

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