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