Yesterday I went to the funeral of a former neighbour. George had been in a care home for a couple of years and was frail as he approached his 90th birthday. When he [and his late wife] lived in the same complex of flats as I do, as the generous, friendly, active man he was he often took care of minor grounds maintenance, put everyones bins out and back again, without ever being asked. A few times he got down on hands and knees to scrap the weeds from between the vast expanses of block paving that are the car park places, he also used an old mower to collect and mulch the leaves. People would return home and find their washing taken down and folded and put under the porch because rain threatened to resoak them. Snow was cleared from paths and parcels were taken in. A generous, helpful spirit who just needed to be useful.
The service was a little different to those we expect as we attend more and more of them. I sat there waiting for the calm voice to declare “I am the resurrection and the light ……” but no, instead a voice asked “For those who care to, please stand”. With gracious solemnity his coffin was walked in to the strains of Johann Pacheibel’s Canon in D major, a highly evocative and growing piece of strings. As the coffin was placed upon the stand a candle was placed at its foot and lit.
The service was conducted by a “Civil Officiant”, she gave an expressive, interesting and comprehensive account of George’s life. We were asked to remember warm times with George as we listened to the piece of reflective music [Dvorak Symphony No.9]. I sat there trying hard not to come out with “He were a grrrreat baker were ower dad” as the piece is far more known as the Hovis song. The Officient recited a poem of light and sleep before turning to the coffin, walking over and placing her hand on the corner and wishing a final farewell to him. Because the curtains did not close around the coffin we sort of lost our cue to get up and leave to see the flowers.
What was a nice touch was that as we left the room we were asked to take a feather with us.
The event was a marked difference to other funerals I have attended, indeed as we arrived at the local Crematorium to get parked we saw people setting up individual wicker boxes, each containing a dove to be released. The attendees were dressed in all colours and fashions [orange leggings, ripped faded denim jeans, half expected shorts and flipflops!]. It looked like the funeral for a young ‘Dad’ [there was a floral Dad wreath there], another marked contrast to the black and dark coloured guests for George’s service.
I am not a believer, I have no issue with people being so, it is just not for me, but the service felt strange, without its familiar cues and aspects. Without a hymn, there is no alternative song to be sung; often people chose poems in place of a verse, but it felt a little like a seminar.
Think, when I go, I’ll do without any service or occasion, just box me up and creamate me, scatter the ashes where ever.