Why Do Good Funerals Matter?
When I meet people who I don’t know for the first time in a social setting and I say what what I do for a living as a funeral director and celebrant, they often tell me about a funeral which they remember. Usually it’s a family member like a parent or grandparent or less frequently a sibling or child. Either they are good funerals or a bad funerals.
Good funerals clearly leave a lasting impression that the person who died somehow received the right kind of send off. Bad funerals are the opposite and even after many years have passed, they stick like grit in the memory. “The minister got my brother’s name wrong.” “They played a version of the song we had chosen which wasn’t the one we specified.” “The vicar kept referring to God and the saving of sinners when my mother wasn’t a religious person.” “There was way too much religion and it was such a grim day.”
Good funerals I have witnessed both in a professional and a personal capacity invariably carry what I would call an emotional charge which allows everyone there to connect with the occasion and share in an uplifting experience of grief and celebration. The funeral not only celebrates the life of the person who has died but allows the mourners to say good-bye. It’s like crossing a threshold or walking through a doorway.
In the first few weeks, it’s hard to digest the impact of someone’s death and we need ritual or rites of passage to help us make the emotional journey involved.
What’s the key to a good funeral?
Good or bad, the success of a funeral often turns on detail and mood. At my father’s funeral we were blessed with a sympathetic vicar who had a sense of humour and a touch of theatre. He took on board the fact that my father was agnostic and the family was not religious.
The funeral took place in the village church. I think his three children all spoke but what I really remember is the March weather of sunshine and showers and clouds scudding across the sky, a full church and everyone singing his favourite hymn (“For all the Saints”) and the un-muted peal of church bells which rang out across the churchyard just after we had carried his coffin to the graveside. Although it was a sad day in lots of ways, my memory is one of joy.
My father was a good man, a bit of a maverick, and he got the kind of send-off he himself would have relished.
As a funeral director and celebrant, I am very aware that we are only given one opportunity to honour someone’s death and it feels very important that we get it right. If we do then it is much, much easier to pick up the threads of our lives without them.