Last week I conducted 3 funerals for 3 different local families.
As mourners exit the chapel at the close of a ceremony, I always stand by the door thanking people for attending as they pass by. For me, I feel it’s the polite thing to do.
Some exit wiping their tears away, avoiding your gaze, others lost in thought. Last week, like many times before, I had brief exchanges with some of the mourners. Now, I’m not naturally someone who likes to blow their own trumpet in all honesty but the comment I often get in this scenario is, ‘thank-you, that was really good’. A comment which is almost always accompanied by a look that resembles total surprise mixed with relief!
It strikes me frequently in this job, that by and large, people’s expectations of a funeral ceremony are quite low. Yes, they expect to feel sad, perhaps overwhelmed or numb, bored even but they really don’t expect the ceremony to be ‘good’ and that frustrates me. We should all expect a good experience from a funeral ceremony and it’s my primary motivation for the families I now work with.
I’ve sat though funeral ceremonies for some of my closest and most loved family members and felt gutted at how impersonal the experience was. One in particular, stands out. There we all were, dressed in our best, ‘a good turnout’ as they say, all united in our very raw and recent sadness. Yet the ceremony delivered seemed to bear very little resemblance to our loved one, my Nan.
There were hymns, yet she never liked hymns. Lengthy bible readings, which seemed liked overkill for a woman that only ever went to church for weddings and the occasional midnight mass and very little in the way of a life story mentioned. Plus, there was nothing of her character and the kind of woman she was in the words delivered that day. Now that’s disappointing because she was a really cheeky, warm, sociable, canny old bird, loved and known by a great many people. She had hobbies, catch phrases and a tendency to speak her mind and keep her handbag firmly shut! Her life wasn’t extraordinary but it was certainly interesting and most importantly we, the mourners, her family and friends, would all have LOVED to have had a recap on the many highlights of her 94 years of life.
It would have been comforting and uniting for us all to hear her story, reminiscing together, smiling at memories retold, grieving together for our collective loss.
I came away that morning thinking, not good enough. Not good enough for my Nan and a bad experience for me.
Unfortunately, I am not alone with my experience and I think it’s high time standards were raised by all of us that have the privilege of delivering funeral ceremonies.
There is no excuse in my mind and I would urge anyone who finds themselves in the position of planning a funeral ceremony with a celebrant or minister, to insist it is relevant, personalised, heartfelt, honest and respectful. That it truly reflects the person passed and the feelings of those that mourn their loss.
Life is complicated and so are relationships. It might be that your relationship with the deceased was very difficult, distant, estranged even. It might be that the circumstances of death are tragic and unexpected. In these instances, I feel it is even more imperative that the ceremony delivered is deemed ‘good’ for all the right reasons.
Because, getting it right can make all the difference.