Thoughts of a funeral-goer

Charles Cowling


Posted by Lyra Mollington


‘They’re dropping like flies!’

This was Daisy as she came in through our front door on Monday morning. Barry was close behind, shrugging his shoulders by way of an apology.

I replied, ‘You’d better come in for a coffee.’

My (or rather Mr M’s) new espresso machine is proving extremely popular. Daisy is a latte, I’m a double shot cappuccino and Barry is an Americano. Mr M is Earl Grey.

Daisy was in a bit of a flap. ‘Barry’s the last one standing!’

Thankfully, Barry provided the details. When he was a school boy, his best friends were Tom and Richard. The three were inseparable. And, inevitably, their class-mates referred to them as Tom, Dick ’n’ Barry. Tom died in his mid-fifties. Richard died at the weekend – he was only 64.

Daisy was waiting expectantly for me to express my sympathies and ask for more details. However, I found myself on a completely different train of thought. Barry is seven years younger than Daisy – well I never!

I regained my composure. ‘That really is far too young. I’m so sorry. When is the funeral?’

I then discovered why Daisy was flappier than usual. Barry had been asked by Richard’s wife (his THIRD, interjected Daisy) to speak at the funeral.

‘SPEAK! AT A FUNERAL!’ emphasised Daisy. I made a mental note to buy a tin of decaffeinated ground coffee.

When Richard discovered that he was terminally ill, he wrote a letter. He then asked his wife Sally if she could ask someone to read it out at his funeral. Understandably, no-one in the family feels confident enough to do this. Cue Barry, Richard’s oldest friend.

Barry has mixed feelings. He is honoured to be asked. But he is also terrified. Not of speaking in public – as a retired teacher, he’s done plenty of that. The problem is speaking at a funeral, in full view of the other mourners. Daisy and I had thought we’d made a breakthrough when Barry finally admitted that his dislike of funerals stems from when he was a boy and he wasn’t allowed to attend his father’s funeral. Unfortunately, although he no longer dislikes funerals (any more than anyone else, that is) the sight of a coffin unleashes decades of repressed emotion. Or that’s how he views it. We witnessed a burial recently, from a distance, and all I can recall is Barry wiping away a tear. Hardly a torrent of grief. Nevertheless, if it’s important to him that he should be seen to maintain a stiff upper lip, then I was determined to help.

Could I read the letter? Could the vicar or the celebrant read it?

No. Barry believes it is his duty to read it. So I suggested that he reads Richard’s words aloud so many times that they become meaningless. I also offered to come along – I could stare at him menacingly if I see his top lip begin to wobble.

He was willing to try anything. Unfortunately it’s a bit of a trek – a crematorium on the outskirts of Aldershot, in Hampshire. But Barry’s going to drive and there’s bound to be a nice café nearby.

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[…] Editor’s note: before reading Lyra’s latest thoughts, it may be helpful to read last week’s Thoughts of a funeral-goer. […]

9 years ago

Vale – the deed is done! Barry did not disappoint! I will endeavour to write an account for Friday.

9 years ago

Oh, Lyra these tales of life and death are exquisite – so sharply observed, so compassionately told.
Evelyn and Sweetpea have said all I would have said (although the bit about breathing is always worth repeating). I would only add that a sense of duty is a great help in times like this. For the widow, for his friend Richard, in memory of a lifelong friendship – Barry is the man of the moment. You’ve no idea how strengthening it can be to feel that England (or at least your special circle of friends) awaits.

9 years ago

Poor Barry, though in my experience, if someone is determined to speak at a funeral they usually manage it very well. Tell him the hard part is standing up and getting to the lecturn. Once there, a few deep, slow breaths, a sip of water, and then start…. Speak slowly, then slower again. It will be such a fabulous final gift to Richard. He’ll be so glad when he’s done it – in more ways than one!

9 years ago

Following your excellent insight about reading until you are sick of something, here are some further words of advice to Barry, Lyra, which he can take or leave as he sees fit. In order to protect himself in these dire circumstances: 1. Do the opposite of most other public speaking, and try to avoid catching anyone’s eye as he speaks. If he is worried about other people’s sobs while he is speaking, a little cotton wool in each ear will cocoon him further. Not too much, or he’ll miss his cue. 2. Go into the gents (preferably behind a closed… Read more »

9 years ago
Reply to  sweetpea

Thank you for your excellent advice Sweetpea! Poor Barry – but he is determined to do it. I still think that a menacing stare from me will work wonders.

Ru Callender
9 years ago

Barry had a lucky escape Lyra. My response to not going to my father’s funeral as a child was to become an undertaker. We use that particular cautionary tale when well meaning adults try to stop their children from coming to a funeral…