Monday, 20 June 2011

Inexplicable patterns - funerals, not crop circles.

"Considering the seemingly random nature of bookings I receive, both in terms of the number of funerals and the cross-section of society, it never ceases to amaze me how patterns can emerge" says Comfort Blanket on a recent-ish blog post,

which is mostly about finding the balance - telling the truth, and finding the light, in a funeral for someone who has had more than the usual share of difficulties in his life. But the point about the little temporary patterns that emerge might be very true for minibrants in general, I'd guess.

Recently, I've led two funerals that were about balancing two halves of someone's life so that two quite separate groups of people both felt that the funeral was right for them.

I can also ski down Everest, speak twelve languages and play four games of chess at the same, I tried to get the balance, I should say! Not everyone speaks to you after a funeral, I don't know what the others think who don't say positive things, and no-one's walked up to me and said "that was a lot of rubbish," so who knows? there must be a huge range of potential views and viewpoints in any funeral audience/congregation.

Number 1: A woman came to live round here to escape some pretty heavy scenes, the consequences of what her brother described as unlucky choices, back on her home territory. He was still fond of her, but said she'd perhaps made some unwise choices and not looked after herself, and sometimes been badly treated. At least one of her other siblings was estranged from her, and most of her family had seen little of her for several/many years. So to her family, she had been living a life of which they knew little.

But around here, she had a small group of close friends. I only had contact with the one brother who'd stayed on good terms. After the ceremony, the sibling who had been estranged from her made a couple of positive comments, and was considerably more upset than the brother who'd been on good terms. Maybe some balance - too late, too late! - had been restored there. I think to some degree the two halves of her life came closer as a result of the ceremony, and above all of input from the brother I'd met with, who had the compassion to understand what had happened in his sister's life from a point of view other than his own, and to accept what she'd done, good and not so good. I was pleased I'd been able to build his bridge for his sister.

Number 2: A man had an unhappy home life and a dead-end job in the town where he was brought up. Possibly in response to this early life, he drank too much, smoked too much and applied rather too many chemicals to his consciousness. He moved up here about half-way through his life. He kept in touch with his mother by phone, and saw his brother and sister-in-law occasionally, but his life here was quite separate from his earlier life. He had a large circle of very close and supportive friends around here. He did work part-time part-time, but spent a lot of the time on benefits and down the pub.

When he died, his older brother and sister-in-law, both retired, came up here to arrange his funeral. They knew no-one up here until a week before the funeral. They struck me as people who'd worked hard, not made a lot of money, people with pretty mainstream sorts of values and attitudes - unlike he who they'd come to mourn, who I suspect must have seemed to them self-indulgent, irresponsible and ultimately self-destructive. The man had known he was going to die, but had done nothing to sort things out, neither did he leave any instructions with regards to his funeral. His brother had to pay, and clear out his flat etc etc. Two days before the funeral, the sister-in-law phoned me in some distress about all this.

But his friends around here were just great. Two of them delivered their (excellent) tributes to him and helped choose the music; another friend put up the two visitors. There was a large turnout for the funeral, and down the pub afterwards. Brother and his wife felt calmer about it all just before the funeral, and they were, I think, helped by the funeral. I think a pretty good balance was struck between the two halves of this man's life, in his funeral ceremony at least. I think and hope brother and wife were able simply to grieve for the man instead of just feeling bitter - certainly, they said so.

So there's a little pattern for you. Here's another: I've been asked to play Leonard Cohen's famous song "Hallelujah" in three of the last five funerals I've worked on - sung by the old groaner himself, by Jeff Buckley, and by Rufus Wainwright. I'd never been asked for it it until six weeks ago.


  1. Yes, patterns. It really does happen. And the saddest pattern of all, when you're there for the funeral of one, and then you're back for the funeral of the spouse just a few weeks or months later.

    As to music, that's more of a vogue thing, isn't it? I rarely have to listen to Ms Brightman singing Time tooooo say goodbye any more. I don't altogether miss her, or that other chap, her mucker who sings some of it. I can't quite see the relevance of Halleluia to a funeral. I can't think of any other funeral song which does not address mortality and farewell in even a single line. How peculiar. But it's all about mood-inducememt, isn't it?

  2. Yes, mood inducement seems to be it Charles, or simply that "it was one of his all-time favourites." I thought it odd that "Hallelujah" came up quite so often, so close together, seeing that the song been out for decades. But it sure doesn't seem to have much in it about mortality or funerals.

    Like you, I wasn't sorry that it seems to have been been time to say goodbye to Ms B and co!

  3. And people ask why we do this job..

  4. I think that Hallelujah works because firstly Leonard wrote it, almost enough said, but also because it feels like a modern version of the Song of Solomon, transcendental eroticism at it's best. It all hinges on, "Love is not a victory march, it's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah." Amen to that.

  5. H'm, well, thanks Rupert - I shall think about that as it's playing on Monday. So far, the sound of it seems to have fitted well, but the words?

    And look, praises to Leonard, but - doesn't Jeff Buckley do it better?

    Sorry, mustn't wind up you guys, may need your services some day.

    And yes, people do ask why I do it, and are often surprised to hear the hugely rewarding things I get from it. And I don't mean ££...