Charles Cowling

Picture of a privately commissioned sculpture by Martin Hill called Interdependence. Read more about the artist here:

Posted by Vale

We were saying farewell to a very old lady – nearly 99 – who had spent her last years living in a care home. She had no family there and, apart from myself and the organist, there were just four people present, all of them members of staff from the Care Home.

It could have been perfunctory: decent, caring even, but a bit of a formality. In the event it was one of the most moving services I have ever been involved in.

It made me wonder where our feelings come from. We are involved in funerals all the time, why is it that, even if we are always engaged, empathetic, professional, there are some services – not always the most tragic – that carry an extra emotional charge?

For me the answer lies in the relationship we have with our clients. It looks straightforward, is usually quite brief, yet in my experience manages to contain all sorts of complexities.

What happens when you meet people – family, a group of friends, carers – for the first time? You bring experience, knowledge, expertise and a commitment to helping them shape the funeral that they need.

In return you receive a commission which is both practical and almost intangible. As you go off perhaps to find poetry and music, perhaps to write a tribute, you also carry with you a responsibility to be truthful to their feelings as they would like them represented at the funeral service.

It’s not always easy. You must in some measure set aside your own reactions to a death and even, on occasion, your own beliefs about the benefit of ‘good’ funerals. But in the end your only justification is to be truthful to their need. You reflect and are validated through their feelings. You depend on them in the same measure that they are depending on you.

In the case of my very elderly lady, although she had no family two of the carers had looked after her for twelve years, had grown to love her and were passionately concerned to give her the best and most feeling send off that they could manage.

So although there was no life story and only the smallest things to remember – a saying, a look, a turn of the head – her funeral was charged with mystery, love and, in the end, a sense that together we had been able to do what was needed.

6 thoughts on “Interdependence

  1. Charles Cowling
    Charles Cowling

    So are comments like that, Sweetpea.

    Charles Cowling
  2. Charles Cowling

    Vale, you have expressed something here which is sometimes elusive, but which encapsulates the very thing that keeps me in love with this work – deep, person to person communication.

    Sometimes we work in a very public forum, with large brushstrokes which can be tremendously moving in their more grandiose gestures, perhaps speaking to a large group of people who have vastly different connections to the deceased.

    Sometimes we work in a very intimate setting, with just a small group of mourners, all of whom may have been involved in the discussions and arrangements, all of whom have a very close connection to the deceased. It feels very different.

    Both have their value, but I think that the larger occasions are often viewed by the outside world as ‘successful’ expressions of mourning, while the gatherings for three, four or less people are seen as rather pathetic, somehow requiring an apology. How many mourners say, during a meeting ‘I’m really sorry, but there’s only going to be one or two of us’? I find myself reassuring them that some of the most beautiful, meaningful funerals I’ve been involved in have been for a small number. We are able to gather just as friends without the sometimes distancing effect of a more peopled event. Soft voices, intimate communicaton, and, as Evelyn so beautifully put it, hovering somewhere within ‘the ephemeral essence of her’.

    Having said this, there is room too, in a larger event, for moments of intimacy and deep communication to cut across the public face of such an occasion. And room, too, for a sense of ceremony in the smaller event. Such flashes of contrast are magical.

    Charles Cowling
  3. Charles Cowling

    Interdependence, seamless, reflecting back to them what they have given to you and somewhere within that exchange will be the ephemeral essence of her, indistinguishable from her reality in the moment of sharing – like this sculpture.
    Lovely Vale, thank you.

    Charles Cowling
  4. Charles Cowling
    gloria mundi

    One for the training manual, Vale. “It’s not always easy.” I don’t ever find it easy. But the balance you strike here certainly helps me see it more clearly.

    Charles Cowling
  5. Charles Cowling
    Charles Cowling

    “truthful to their feelings as they would like them represented at the funeral service.”

    That’s it. That’s the starting point, isn’t it? (I hadn’t understood that til I read this.)

    Charles Cowling
  6. Charles Cowling
    Belinda Forbes

    Thank you Vale for sharing this. Sometimes I am taken completely by surprise with the way a particular funeral ceremony affects me. Emotions come to the surface when I’m least expecting it. When a funeral is as good as the one you describe, it’s hard to express how special this can be. Feel the love!

    Charles Cowling

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