Thursday, 18 July 2013

What stays, what goes


No one wanted the tools my father bought
at car boot sales and garage sales and farms:
claw hammer, tack hammer, the ornate
toffee hammer with a tiny pickaxe head.
Sometimes the handles had to be repaired - 
he'd chisel where the rot was worst, blowing
out the dust, then glue in a piece of ash
and clamp it in. He'd cut a wedge of brass
to make the shaft fit tighter to the head,
then he'd work away with wire wool and turps.
Each hammer had to marinade for weeks
in linseed oil wrapped up in plastic bags.
They'd hang around the shed like dusty trophies
until he'd take one down and show us all
the glowing afterlife of wood. He'd close
his hand around them just to feel the smoothness
running through his palm, and when he died
we left them hanging in their bags. None of us
could face the task of clearing out the shed.

                         (from The Crumb Road, Bloodaxe Books)

In any man who dies there dies with him
his first snow and kiss and fight
it goes with him.

There are left books and bridges
and painted canvas and machinery
Whose fate is to survive.
          Yevgeny Yevtushenko



A Perfect Funeral....? probably impossible, given the variety of beliefs, attitudes and needs to found in a congregation. After five years of celebrancy work, my views have changed, so here's a few thoughts, suggestions, questions that may/not be of interest:

1. What do you want the funeral to do? What difference do you want it to make to you? If you haven't thought of some answers to these questions, the funeral may not work well for you.

2. Do you really want or need a fairly lengthy factual biography by way of a eulogy  Why? Don't you want the ceremony to be about what the person means to you, not about the outline of their biography? Why not:

  • only bring in biographical facts if they illustrate, or lead into, something important about the person
  • avoid starting at the beginning and working through to the end - hop about, and glue it together with thoughts and feelings
  • write a biog and give to people who want a copy, so they have the purely biographical account, and for everyone present, the funeral is less about what she did when, and more about what she did or didn't mean to people - in other words, why we're all there in the room
3. Consider not holding the ceremony in a crematorium; perhaps only the committal, which could be before or after the funeral ceremony, really needs to be in a crem.

4. Ditto burials - it's difficult to say many meaningful things in  heavy showers of horizontal sleet blown by a northerly gale (believe me...) so let's get together in a nice dry room, and then nip out into the rain for ten minutes of committal! 

5. If the ceremony is in a less formal space, more people may be prepared to speak, especially if they are supported and helped along (celebrant's job?)

5. So why not simply have a succession of people talking about why they are there, what she who's gone meant to those who are at the funeral; out of this some biog will emerge from anecdotes and recollections, but it will, collectively, mean something to people there - it'll be anchored in a life and it's meaning.

6. And why not concentrate, rather more than often happens, on the ceremonial, the ritual, the occasion; do things, as well as say things- light candles, stand round the coffin in a circle, move round the coffin in a circle, have some call-and-response going on, sing some songs, hold hands, whatever works.