Thoughts of a funeral-goer

Charles 8 Comments

Posted by Lyra Mollington

When my first grandchild was born, I decided I would like to be called Grandma.  Fortunately the other grandmother decided she would prefer to be called Nanna. 

A few years later, I overheard my grandchildren Sebastian and Chloe talking about their ‘other grandmother’ and they were calling her Nice Nanna.  Intrigued, I wondered if perhaps I had been given a similar title, although I doubted if the vocabulary of two infant school children stretched to adjectives like ‘Glamorous’ or ‘ Gregarious’.  And it was highly unlikely that they would call me ‘Gentle Grandma.’ 

No, it was none of the above.  I was…Nutty Nanna. 

Two weeks ago Nice Nanna died.  Joyce was a lovely lady.  Mr M took a real shine to her from their first meeting.  And our daughter Jamie adored her. 

The funeral took place on Wednesday.  The undertaker had told Joyce’s family that they were ‘lucky’ to be able to have the funeral so soon because he was ‘rushed off his feet’ and the crematorium was ‘chocker’!  It seems that to have to wait only ten days after someone dies is ‘a result’. 

I didn’t know Joyce well.  We had met on only a few special occasions.  She was happily divorced and looked considerably younger than her seventy two years.  The more I heard about her, the more I thought that perhaps Naughty Nanna might be a more suitable title.

I wasn’t sure whether the relationship was close enough to justify my attendance at the funeral.  My daughter’s mother-in-law.  Nanna to my grandchildren.  And it’s such an awkward journey to Woking crematorium.

Of course I went!  Woking Crematorium is the oldest in the country.  The parking is terrible and to Mr M’s embarrassment we were nearly turned away by a young man on the gate who pointed sternly to the ‘Car Park Full’ sign nearby.  However, when I asked him to have another look, a space miraculously appeared. 

It’s an adorable chapel – and NO curtains.  Instead there’s a small brass door and the coffin moves through it, as if by magic, at the critical moment.  The organist sits high above the congregation on a balcony, together with any overflow of mourners.

Joyce’s family had chosen a traditional send-off with a lady vicar.  She was very brisk giving the impression that she was late for another (much more important) engagement.  Her name was either Beverley or Brenda.  It wasn’t on the order of service and I have to confess I wasn’t listening properly – I was too busy trying to spot Joyce’s boyfriends.

Our granddaughter read a poem.  I was very proud but made a mental note to tell Chloe that I would prefer a less sentimental reading when it’s my turn.  On second thoughts, perhaps best not to say anything.

Joyce’s younger brother read the eulogy.  He cleverly avoided any mention of ‘the divorce’ and ‘the boyfriends’ – one of whom I’m fairly sure had hidden himself away on the balcony with the organist.  Nevertheless, it was an affectionate tribute and Geoffrey held it together very well.  Except for the last bit.  People will insist on ending a tribute with sentences like, ‘You were such a kind and caring person, adored by everyone.  We will miss you so much – thank you for everything you did for us.’  Geoffrey crumbled at the word ‘kind’.  Without waiting for him to compose himself, the vicar said the rest of the words for him. 

One hymn.  Yes, All Things Bright And Beautiful.  I’m sure that hymn has it in for me.  It pops up at almost every funeral I attend.  Fortunately the organist played it in the key of C so I didn’t have to stretch my vocal chords too much.

The final piece of music was Get Happy, an extremely lively show tune.  At ‘Forget your troubles,’ Brisk Lady Vicar was at the door like a bat out of hell.  I had to smile when I noticed that she was struggling with the handle.  (‘Get ready for the Judgement Day…’)  She gave up and waited for someone to help her.  I was pleased to see that the young lady chapel attendant was in no hurry to assist.  She walked slowly along the aisle (‘We’re going to the promised land…’).  When she was in line with the brass door, she bowed (‘It’s all so peaceful on the other side…’) and finally rescued the BLV (‘The Lord is waiting to take your hand…).

Once outside, I made a bee-line for our grandchildren, Seb and Chloe, to comfort them.  They may be grown-ups but they still appreciate a hug from Nutty Nanna.


  1. Charles

    I love Woking Crematorium! And even though it’s an old traditional chapel, I’ve done funerals there where we’ve had a slideshow.

  2. Charles

    Lyra – thank you for a lovely insight as ever – the attitude of these Funeral Directors is staggering – ‘lucky’? ‘result’? It makes it sound like a gem found at the back of the bargain rail at M & S! What a brilliant last song for Joyce’s final farewell! We don’t usually think of judgement in any other terms than with foreboding and dread, do we? I like the idea of getting happy first… And thanks for the pictures – all looking very neat and tidy – though the brass door causes no end of fretful worrying to the families. I’ve lost count of the times I have reassured them that they definitely will NOT see any flames as the coffin ‘goes through’ (the preferred term of the staff there.) Television has a lot to answer for in my opinion.

    1. Charles

      You’re right Evelyn. The depiction of cremation on TV and in crime novels is always dramatic and often wrong. No wonder people imagine they can see the flames from the chapel. In Borgen (a subtitled Danish political drama which is a lot better than it sounds) a funeral and cremation is shown. Two mourners watch as the white coffin is pushed into the cremator then bursts into flames. Then a minute later, the door to the cremator is closed. Or perhaps this is how they do it in Denmark?

  3. Charles

    Woking Crematorium is rather splendid. I have officiated there on one occasion. I love the dignity of the coffin “going through” the golden door. I also like many of the other forms of committal around the UK, in particular descending catafalques: Honour Oak and Kingston Crems being particularly splendid.

    I agree, though, that TV and film has much to answer when it comes to cremation. I have lost count of the times I have patiently explained mourners will not (and cannot) see flames at the moment of farewell. Some folks (already anxious and vulnerable by their loss) are genuinely afraid of that moment.

    Lyra’s comments should also serve as a reminder that one must be so careful in not only what we say when dealing with the bereaved, but more importantly how we say it.

    Lyra, my sympathy to you and all affected by Joyce’s death.


    1. Charles

      Thank you Rev George. I rather think you would have done a better job than our Brisk Lady Vicar. Although I have since discovered that Joyce disliked funerals that went on too long so perhaps the BLV knew what she was doing after all!

  4. Charles

    What a shame that the funeral director used such unhelpful and inappropriate language such as ‘lucky’ (can a funeral be ‘lucky’?); ‘rushed off his feet’ (that is not a cause of concern for the family: it’s his issue); and ‘the crematorium was ‘chocker’’ (yes, the Crematorium may be busy, but using the word’ chocker’? How thoughtless on his part).
    Since the original article was written Woking Crematorium have enlarged and greatly improved the car park; mourners are seldom turned away these days due to the car park being full.
    I am sorry the minister was brisk. Unless the family arrange for a ‘double time slot’ (45 minutes), then the total service is just 25 minutes. The Funeral Director should have explained this to the family at the time of making the arrangements. When the family chooses to sing a hymn and make contributions to the service it can put the minister under great pressure to keep to time. If they over run the 25 minutes service time in the chapel then it means that they keep another grieving family waiting for their loved one’s funeral service to start. You may have noticed that the chapel only has one door? This is the reason the Crematorium allows 20 minutes between services (giving the family time to vacate the chapel before the next family arrive).

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