Thoughts of a funeral-goer

Charles 8 Comments


Posted by Lyra Mollington


After even just a few funerals, remaining focused as a mystery mourner is proving quite a challenge.  No wonder some of the vicars sound lacklustre.  They must be thinking, ‘Here we go again: everyone looking glum; pretending to listen; miming to the words of the hymn; wishing they were already at the pub.’

After a couple of dull funerals that were not worth writing about, I thought about giving up.  However, I seem to have become addicted.  And, like a gambler, I live in hope.  Add to that the dreadful weather we’ve been having lately and, before I knew what was happening, I was wearing my black suit and driving through the gates of my local crematorium.  Keeping my fingers crossed for a winner.  But were the odds against me?

We all followed the coffin in.  I sat three rows from the front just behind the family, leaving everyone else skirmishing over the seats at the back.  It’s as though they are back at school – if they sit too near the front the vicar might ask them to come up to the lectern and read something. 

‘I have a poem here that the family have chosen.  It’s rather sentimental and theologically unsound so would someone like to read it for me?  You madam!  Yes you, sitting on the second row back with the ill-fitting jacket and the red cheeks…’

I was daydreaming and I completely missed our vicar’s real opening words.  I then noticed that the floral displays were new.  Artificial of course but quite tasteful, standing out nicely against the curtains.

I was suddenly aware that we were standing up.   I quickly checked the order of service.  Unbelievable!  All Things Bright & Beautiful.  Again.  What are the chances?   

As we sat down, I resolved to concentrate.  I berated myself… this was someone’s funeral.  Someone who may (or may not) have been dearly loved.  It wasn’t yet clear.  I focused on the photograph on the front of the order of service.  It was of a smiling woman with dark wavy hair.  Dyed?  Shirley Ann. My age. 

As I tuned in once more to the Reverend Susan, I was disappointed that there was still no sign of Shirley: her life; her legacy, her hopes and dreams…

Absent-mindedly, I picked up a book from the shelf in front of me: ‘Funeral Services of the Christian Churches in England – New Edition’.

We were standing again – The King of Love my Shepherd Is.  As we sang, I wondered whether the line ‘Perverse and foolish oft I strayed’ applied to Shirley.  And what on earth is ‘unction grace’?

I felt sad as I left the mourners standing around in the drizzle staring at their flowers.  Perhaps Shirley was a private person and this had been the perfect send-off for her: godly words of comfort for her family and friends chosen by the Reverend Susan.  To my shame, I had hardly listened to a single word.

I rummaged in my handbag to find my car keys and I felt something that shouldn’t have been there.  A book.   

I put the heating on when I got home (heavens above, is it really June?).  I read the book of Christian funeral services from cover to cover.  Well, almost: I skimmed some of the prayers and the selection of 44 hymns at the back.  I looked in vain for two of my favourites, ‘I Vow to Thee My Country’ and ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’. 

Although I continued to feel despondent that no-one had wanted (or been able) to share a little about Shirley’s life, I concluded that there are some lovely readings in the book of funeral services. 

I wondered whether these were amongst the words chosen by Reverend Susan: ‘Eternal God…We thank you for Shirley, for the years you gave her and the years we shared with her…’  I hoped they were.  I am determined to listen properly next time.  And there has to be a next time fairly soon – this perverse and foolish woman has stolen goods to return.


© Lyra Mollington 2012


  1. Charles

    Dear Lyra, never foolish and perverse, though perhaps on this occasion a bit naughty. You’d always be welcome at one of “my” two local crems, though I hope you wouldn’t be offended if I asked the attendants to tidy a few things out of temptation’s path…
    Lovely readings certainly – if the Devil has all the good tunes (until the Sally Ann got going) and Milton was of the devil’s part without knowing it, as Blake said, then I have to admit, in balance, that God has the best funeral words of a certain sort, and we flail around looking for things to say that truly resonate. But – we do tend to say something about the person we’re all there for. Surely the Rev Susan could have knitted a few words about Shirley in with the burial service?

  2. Charles
    Richard Rawlinson

    Hi Lyra, we’re glad you’re ‘addicted’ to being a mystery mourner. GFG is ‘addictive’ for a few of us, whether scribes or readers, and I’ve certainly lodged Friday in my mental diary as the day of Lyra’s latest installment.

  3. Charles

    Wholly agree with you, Richard. A Friday without Mrs Mollington’s latest would be like a summer without sun. How lucky we are.

  4. Charles

    Gloria: quite right – keep me away from your valuables!
    Phoebe: it did seem a shame not to dedicate some words to Shirley. However some people don’t want a eulogy. Mr M says he’s not worried about the words as long as there’s lots of loud sobbing. I think he was joking.
    Thank you Richard and Charles – your kind comments are spurring me on to continue my ramblings (as someone once called them).

  5. Charles

    Lyra thank you for taking the time to go to funerals AND to write about them so lucidly for our delectation and delight. I wonder if others nick the odd hymnal or two either on purpose or inadvertently ? I have a hymn book purloined from my old Grammar School- the sight of which still makes me feel weak with fear at the possibility of being summoned to the headmistress’s office. Perhaps I’ll return it anonymously, I’m fairly sure they’ll be using the same one, even after 40 years.

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