You only get one chance to get it wrong

Charles Cowling

Oh-no

 

A few years ago I worked with a very nice woman on her second husband’s funeral. Naturally, we talked about all sorts of things. She recalled the day of her first husband’s funeral. The hearse was due to go direct to the crematorium and she left home in good time so as to be sure of meeting it there. She set great store by punctuality. 

On the way she noticed, ahead of her, what looked very like a broken-down hearse on the side of the road. It was indeed a broken down hearse on the side of the road and in it were the mortal remains of her husband. She stopped and endured a vast outpouring of apology from the red-faced funeral director. How was she to know that this was one of the worst possible things that can happen to a funeral director, the stuff of nightmares, of crazed, gibbering terror at the darkest, loneliest hour of the night? 

In any case, she saw it differently. She thought it terrifically funny. All through their marriage one of her stock retorts to him had been “You’ll be late for your own blinking funeral!” And here he was, late for his own blinking funeral. Perfect. 

You only get one chance to get it right, they say. But here was a disaster which made the day. 

I have witnessed a few disasters at funerals and I can’t think of many that didn’t make the day. Bereaved people have a happy way of recasting a disaster as the hilarious intervention of the the person who’s died – a posthumous last raspberry. 

A faultless funeral must always be the beau ideal of a funeral director. But faultlessness at all costs can turn a funeral into a parade ground. And seamless can easily = soulless. There must always be room for whoopsiness. 

What’s your funeral whoopsie story? 

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Sara Elliot
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Sara Elliot

My mother’s funeral should have been a carbon copy of my father’s. We therefore dispensed with the services of a Funeral Director, having effectively already had the Dress Rehearsal, and knowing exactly what was needed. Seven years previously I had shown up, at the same churchyard, with £150 in cash for the grave digger. This time I had £200 on me, to allow for inflation. When I had asked my siblings about mother’s grave being dug, I was told, my younger brother had ‘spoken to Minstead’. I was on costumes and props this time. Oh, and I was paying for… Read more »

David Holmes
Guest

Another believable tale – This very week, I saw a Dignity Mercedes hearse being pushed along the road by several men in overalls. Mechanics I assume? I even took a quick photo to prove it.

It wasn’t loaded.

Nick Gandon
Guest

I’ve had several grinning FDs relate to me a recent local incident. The (true) story goes something like this…… Hearse and two limousines enter the drive up to a crematorium. The cortege halts to allow FD to exit the hearse in order to page the cortege towards the crem. Rumour suggests that at this point, the driver of the 2nd limo has perhaps “dozed-off”. Second limo rear-ends limo number one, which then rear-ends the hearse. Driver of limo number 1 then panics, and slams gears into reverse and front-ends limo number 2. (I never knew that Mercedes bumpers fell off… Read more »

David Holmes
Guest

Legend has it that in one crematorium I use – pre Wesley system, several CD or tape errors were made. My favourite being ‘Smoke gets in your eyes’ accidentally played at committal. Music still makes most sensitive funeral directors blood run cold on occasion. Did they deliver the CD to us, did we deliver it to the crem, was it tested, has it now been mis-placed? Will the darn thing actually play when required! The old tapes always made me stress, just waiting for your big moment pressing the play button was enough to make the hair grey. Despite asking… Read more »

Nora Miller
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Nora Miller

After my sister died in Florida, we planned to bury her ashes with her late husband’s at a military cemetery in Vermont. My niece packaged up the container and sent it via UPS. Another sister, who lives in Vermont, received a package from UPS the day before the ceremony. She opened it and found, not a container of ashes, but a bottle of bath salts! A few phone calls later, she determined that the ashes had been delivered to an unknown person in Troy, NY! Imagine *her* surprise! The recipient had immediately called UPS and the package was already on… Read more »

gloria mundi
Guest

(I may have posted this one before somewhere.) I was told, reliably I think, of the sort of music horror story all we celebrants dread. The family brought in the CD, soundtrack from The Wizard of Oz. The daughter of the woman who had died wanted “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” track 14 for her mum. Unfortunately, the chapel attendant chose the wrong track. What rang out during the committal was track 7, The Munchkins singing (you know what’s coming, don ‘t you?) “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead.” Celebrant grovelled, apologised, wanted to die. Daughter just said “Oh, don’t… Read more »

Kitty
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Kitty

I was told this story too. However in my version it should have been Somewhere over the Rainbow. The person who claimed to have been there when it happened (in the days of cassette tapes) was a funeral director and is now a celebrant . If you’re reading this, let us know – did it really happen?

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

A hearse! A hearse! My kingdom for a hearse! cried the driver.
(Or has someone thought of that one before?)x

Charles
Guest

Ah, that’s a lovely story, David!

David Holmes
Guest

Similar story – a West London funeral director. His principal hearse driver kept on telling him the oil pressure on their ageing Daimler was weak – the thing was using oil too – running hot – past its sell-by-date. Our successful FD paid no heed. The hearse looked great and kept going – why worry about buying a new one? Until, one day – it started overheating on the way to the crem – (Breakspeare I believe) The limousine was following – on board – the widow of the deceased and close family. The hearse driver nursed the old DS… Read more »