My experience this week might have taught me not to over-generalise. Woodland burials may be better in all sorts of ways - nicer to visit, greener (actually, I understand that there are two views on this issue - later for that) etc. But I'm only referring here to the actual ceremony itself.
It was my first visit to this woodland burial. Lovely place, I'm sure, but:
- Because of circs out of my control, I visited the widow the day before the funeral, so I there was very little opportunity to broaden the range of the ceremony; the widow is herself pretty ill, and had, naturally enough, little spare energy for what might be done to make a funeral a fuller event for her. I didn't feel able to suggest any more creative ideas to her.
- Because the widow is so unwell, the chosen plot was close to the road so she didn't have to walk far; we had an unwelcome counterpoint of tractors and and a couple heavy lorries at one point, which had to slow down to get round parked cars and then accelerated hard away - and it's a fairly quiet B road, too.
- The weather was cold and mizzly - except when it was actually pissing down; I delivered the ceremony as discussed and planned, but was concerned for the well-being of some of those present. I speak not of my own damp and chilled state - comes with the soggy territory, on occasion.
- Tricky one this - but it seems to me that funerals need to fit the people most closely concerned. As far as I could see, this one did, but it was a bit limited by what could be drawn from the family meeting - upon which, of course, one is entirely dependent. So the funeral seemed to be appropriate and good things were said about it afterwards, but I didn't feel it was a particularly profound or heightened experience for them. It was - OK.
- The woman who has died was obviously a great character, so there were plenty of excellent anecdotes about her, and she had some interesting if sometimes tough times during her life. Those close to her were not afraid to described how difficult she could be, as well as what a wonderful friend she was.
- The family meeting was memorable; her daughter was calm, thoughtful, sensitive, and eloquent, as well sad. I was touched by the way she was moved to tears for quite a few minutes - her husband comforted her (their recent baby helped a lot here!), she regained her compsure as we Brits like to say, and then returned to the story - she didn't once apologise for being upset - well done her. Very natural about it all, very true to herself and her mother's memory.
- The sun streamed in through the crem windows, the place was packed to the rafters, we had tears, and we also had real laughter - not just sad smiles, but bursts of the stuff. It seemed to me that we - the daughter and me - had got the tone right, as well as the content.
- Unusual and excellent musical choices (i.e. interesting, appropriate to the occasion and the person, moving)
- The dead woman's brother came and said a few simple words, and I read out a lovely tribute from a friend. Thanks to the family meeting, I was able to refer to other friends too, and although I did most of the talking, it did feel as though the people were as involved as it might be possible to be, given the circumstances.
- One woman came up to me afterwards for a few words. After she'd said something that I found encouraging, I asked "would she have approved?" An honest answer to this question can be a good way of checking on what I've just done. I got an honest answer. The woman thought for a moment, and said "Well, no, of course not. She'd rather not be dead." That's a remark I shall treasure. I stood corrected. This was a moving funeral, but not a sentimental one. I think the funeral matched the family.