Tuesday, 15 January 2013
Lives, lives, lives - celebrant's gold
Almost always, we celebrants/ministers are asked, or expected, to give an account of someone's life. One of the privileges of this work is that we learn about so many lives. Every life is a story to be told, of course, and each of them is unique. But we have to be careful. On their own, the facts of a life may do little to bring significance to a funeral.
I well understand the paradoxical value to bereaved people of being told something many of them probably know already. The real task seems to me to be using biographical detail to illuminate the sort of person s/he was, and looking for that smile or nod of recognition. That's surely what illuminates the meaning of a life for the people who badly need to take something away from a dreary old crem.
For me, writing the script for a ceremony, it's always an imagined life. I like the challenge of using what I've been told and adding some imaginative resonance. "The vehicle weighted over a ton and a half, and when I tell you that he had to shove it back into the garage, on his own, we can understand just how strong and determined he was."
Sometimes, I feel a life fact can stand on its own: "...and he fought his way from D-Day plus 2, to the banks of the Rhine," but nevertheless, an appeal to the congregation's imagination might help: "... and all that time, Emily didn't know where - or how - he was."
Doesn't have to be dramatic or spectacular: "..and he loved gardening. Many of us do, but how about this for dedication: Jill looked out of the bedroom window one night at two in the morning and saw a torch moving around the garden. She went to wake Bill, then realised it was him in the garden. Slug hunting. At two in the morning. In the rain..."
I've found it salutary to recognise, after hearing so many facts about so many lives, that an imagined life is more than the facts; yet at the same time, to accept that it is all too easy to over-extend the imaginative work and add something that won't ring true.
Well, there's no formula for these things. In we go to listen to a family, receptors tuned, looking to get it right every time. But getting it right is relative. Success is always limited; significant failure cannot be contemplated.