The modern funeral is a grief-bypass procedure?

Stewart Dakers is a 76 year-old voluntary community worker with a weekly column in the Guardian. He wrote a piece in last week’s Spectator about funerals. Here’s a taster:

Funerals ain’t what they used to be. Today’s emphasis is more on celebrating a life past than honouring the future of a soul. While I am not averse to a celebratory element, the funeral is morphing into a spiritually weightless bless-fest. This was brought home to me last week at the funeral of Enid, a lady I knew only through our mutual attendance at bingo in the community centre.

I was uncomfortable from the moment we gathered outside the church, where my sombre suit set me apart from the Technicolor crowd of family and friends. The atmosphere was more akin to a wedding, even a hen do, than a funeral, the air drenched in perfume and aftershave. Inside, there was pew-to-pew chatter, wall-to-wall music (Robbie Williams’s ‘Angels’, inevitably), not a single moment of silence, and not a single sacred song, let alone a prayer (an inaccurately mumbled Lord’s Prayer excepted). There were two readings, one by a grand-niece of perhaps eight, snivelling, bless, a poem about being only next door; then a nephew offering a eulogy, the main point of which was that his aunt had been a keen gardener ‘and she will plant her flowers in heaven’.

I know I shouldn’t sneer. Religion, the Anglican version anyhow, is a broad church with a wide liturgical spectrum. But I could not help feeling that such celebration missed the point. It somehow connected with a virtual life rather than a real death. It was spiritual displacement activity.

You can read the rest of the article by clicking here.

Portrait of a deaf man

Posted by Vale

I was listening to a programme about the recordings John Betjeman made with Jim Parker, setting his verse to some glorious music.

Until they played this, though, I’d forgotten how dark Betjeman could be.

On A Portrait Of A Deaf Man

The kind old face, the egg-shaped head,
The tie, discretely loud,
The loosely fitting shooting clothes,
A closely fitting shroud.

He liked old city dining rooms,
Potatoes in their skin,
But now his mouth is wide to let
The London clay come in.

He took me on long silent walks
In country lanes when young.
He knew the names of ev’ry bird
But not the song it sung.

And when he could not hear me speak
He smiled and looked so wise
That now I do not like to think
Of maggots in his eyes.

He liked the rain-washed Cornish air
And smell of ploughed-up soil,
He liked a landscape big and bare
And painted it in oil.

But least of all he liked that place
Which hangs on Highgate Hill
Of soaked Carrara-covered earth
For Londoners to fill.

He would have liked to say goodbye,
Shake hands with many friends,
In Highgate now his finger-bones
Stick through his finger-ends.

You, God, who treat him thus and thus,
Say “Save his soul and pray.”
You ask me to believe You and
I only see decay.

This, I realise is number three in my very occasional series of tributes to fathers – the ‘Old Deaf Man – is certainly Betjemn senior. See numbers 1 (Horace Silver) and 2 (Astor Piazolla) here and here.

Bespoke poems as funeral eulogies

Posted by Richard Rawlinson

Poems are often read at funerals.

Here are just a few, including WH Auden’s Funeral Blues, which moved many cinema-goers to tears when featured in Four Weddings… ‘He was my North, my South, my East and West/My working week and my Sunday rest…’

But are many celebrants confident enough in their word skills to craft a bespoke poem based on their understanding of a person’s character traits and unique story?

Helen Bennett advertises this service on her website. ‘There are many wonderful eulogy poems out there that are for general use, but for many people they can seem overused, impersonal and inappropriate,’ she says. ‘If you want something that really is very personal… then I can help you’.

It’s a shame she doesn’t post a few examples of her work to give us a flavour.

Above is The Dead by former US poet laureate Billy Collins. It doesn’t take the form of a eulogy about a specific person, but it evokes a soothing image of the after-life and comes with an animation for the YouTube generation.

And here’s my attempt at a sonnet of iambic pentameter, again unspecific, and more concerned about rhyming than moving.

We do not know

We do not know when or how we shall die.
Will we even have time to say goodbye?
A deadly disease or quick accident,
In peaceful sleep or by something violent?

We do not know where we go at the end.
Heaven, Hell, Nowhere, or does it depend?
How do we prepare for this great mystery,
What acts and beliefs define our history?

We do not know why we love or hate so
Until we acknowledge it all has to go.
Life matters more because Death’s at the door,
Merging as one with eternity’s law.

We do not know when or how we shall die,
May God give us grace for our final sigh.

Love, death and much, much verse

The Purbeck Isle

What do love and death have in common? Ans: they inspire poetry. It’s where we turn when words fail.

Two pieces today. The first is freshly minted by our religious correspondent, Richard Rawlinson.

We do not know

We do not know when or how we shall die.
Will we even have time to say goodbye?
A deadly disease or quick accident,
In peaceful sleep or by something violent? 

We do not know where we go at the end.
Heaven, Hell, Nowhere, or does it depend?
How do we prepare for this great mystery,
What acts and beliefs define our history? 

We do not know why we love or hate so
Until we acknowledge it all has to go.
Life matters more because Death’s at the door,
Merging as one with eternity’s law. 

We do not know when or how we shall die,
May God gives us grace for our final sigh.

The second is by Jim Dolbear, was published in the Free Portland News in July and commemorates the loss with all hands of the Purbeck Isle off Portland Bill in May.

Souls of the Sea

The Purbeck Isle set sail that day
To trawl whelk, haul crabs along the way
Skipper Dave, Robert, and young Jack,
On the same day, they would be back.
Twilight came, there’s no sight, no sound,
The search now on ’til they are found.
Alas the rescue not to be,
Three more souls lost to the sea.
Now bairns alas will only see,
Pictures of dad when on mum’s knee.
A widow for her son will weep,
As angels their vigil now keep.
No husband, dad, son to hold,
We bow our heads when the bells tolled.
And pray for safety there will be,
For those that fish upon the sea.

The house is not the same since you left

Posted by celebrant Evelyn Temple

 

THE HOUSE IS NOT THE SAME SINCE YOU LEFT

BY HENRY NORMAL

 

The house is not the same since you left

The cooker is angry – it blames me

The TV tries desperately to stay busy

But occasionally I catch it staring out of the window

The washing-up’s feeling sorry for itself again

It just sits there saying “What’s the point, what’s the point?

The curtains count the days

Nothing in the house will talk to me

I think your armchair’s dead

The kettle tried to comfort me at first

But you know what its attention span is like

I’ve not told the plants yet

They think you’re still on holiday

The bathroom misses you

I hardly see it these days

It still can’t believe you didn’t take it with you

The bedroom won’t even look at me

Since you left it, it keeps its eyes closed

All it wants to do is sleep

Remembering better times

Trying to lose itself in dreams

It seems like it’s taken the easy way out

But at night

I hear the pillows weeping into the sheets.