Meaning in metaphor

Charles Cowling


We are driving to the crematorium for the committal. It’s late afternoon. A shower of rain is clearing as we breast a rise in the road and there in front of us is a rainbow. ‘Look!’

It’s a sign. It’s common at funerals for people to see a sign.  Call it superstitious, call it what you like. I remember an afternoon of flood-strength rain one autumn. The roof was leaking, the sky was baleful and nature felt out of kilter. Part way through the funeral a butterfly unaccountably flew up from the floor by the catafalque. There was more meaning in that than in all the fine words we uttered. 

What signs have you encountered at funerals? What thoughts do you have about this? 




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Christine Markey
5 years ago

How wonderful all your comments are! My experiences are as follows: (1) the funeral of my nephew-in-law aged not quite 13. Afterwards, we saw a double rainbow. It made us think that perhaps he was in heaven with my daughter who died aged 6 weeks. (2) the funeral of a lovely friend of ours on 31/10/2016 which was a beautiful autumn day and there was a “plague” of ladybirds – our wonderful friend Glynis loved ladybirds! Moreover, there was a “plague” of ladybirds the year my daughter died – and my eldest son, then aged 2, loved them! I don’t… Read more »

gloria mundi
9 years ago

Jenny’s conclusion seems spot on to me. We need to make meanings all the time; we have to cast the net of our meanings over the randomness of the universe, or life would be unbearable. The effect is all, the meaning supplies its own coherence.In our culture, a scientific/rational explanation can powerfully strengthen the force of such meanings, but it is not essential. Metaphor is not rational, in the purest sense, is it? “Oh, as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means Time held me green and dying Though I sang in my chains like the… Read more »

Jenny Uzzell
9 years ago

With us it was butterflies and ladybirds that took on a particular significance for a family we worked with. It was the death of a young man and the arrangements were carried out by his grandmother. Since his death she had started to see (notice?) butterflies and ladybirds and finally,during the funeral itself, a ladybird landed on the wall next to her. It had a huge effect on her. We later arranged for a cremated remains casket to be made for her covered in ladybirds and butterflies. It forms the focal point of a sort of shrine in her front… Read more »

9 years ago

Since biblical times ( and for all I know pre biblical times) the rainbow has been a sign of hope. I took a funeral for a man whose daughter had travelled up from Exeter for the occasion. He asked for this reading at his funeral: Time for me to go now, I won’t say goodbye; Look for me in rainbows, way up in the sky. In the morning sunrise when all the world is new, Just look for me and love me, as you know I loved you. Time for me to leave you, I won’t say goodbye; Look for… Read more »

9 years ago

I find those moments often involve the sudden appearance of sunlight. A while ago, I took a funeral for a man who had lost his way in the world, and was pretty much universally disliked. He hadn’t always been like this, it may have been the result of a very slowly developing dementia. Anyway, the funeral said what it needed to say to the six people who attended, and then I read this poem. As I took a big in-breath, the sun broke through the window and flooded the front of the room: When I come to the end of… Read more »

Kathryn Edwards
Kathryn Edwards
9 years ago
Reply to  sweetpea

Can share the ‘sun’ thing. Sunshine is always a blessing in these lands, of course. But a little watery revelation of it came as a particular delight in the middle of my father’s funeral in an old church on a cold and foggy November day.