Friday, 24 February 2017

Coffin Talk


I missed Gay Gordon's funeral service.
I fell asleep on the couch and woke up in my uniform with a pair of surgical forceps poking into my nether regions.
I was annoyed at missing it, for I suspect it would have been an interesting bun fight.

I have only been to one funeral service that could have been described as entertaining. It was the funeral service of a nursing colleague which had been choreographed by a talented humanist speaker who knew just how to balance pathos with mirth. He had the congregation eating out of his hand.
Most of the other fifty or so services I have attended have promoted feelings which have been a mixture of profound sadness, dissatisfaction and disappointment ( I shall explain this in a bit) and of duty and respect.
A few have been somewhat surprising ( for all of the wrong reasons ) one, I remember was gut wrenching and overwhelmingly emotional and one ice cold memorial featured just two mourners ( including myself) and three crematorium staff.
I have given eulogies at three funerals and was slightly drunk at one other after too many nips from a friend's hip flask. I have been present when in a family funeral car we were sideswiped by a lorry a minute from the church and I have walked into the wrong service at a crematorium in Sheffield  which ran two ceremonies at the same time.
Abide with me has, I think, been the most common of hymns sung.
The funniest piece of music played, I remember hearing was the theme from The Benny Hill Show and at one funeral of a long term psychiatric patient I once nursed, the order of service was almost halted by strangled laughter after another patient kept yelling  IS HE DEAD? continually through the prayer section.
The worst funerals, I always think, are those that fail to capture the essence of the deceased. I often blame sub standard clergy for this one, vicars that fail to do their homework before opening their gobs.
One Priest, who looked as if he was doing the congregation a favour, said of a long standing and successful nurse I once knew that her life " was full and interesting because she enjoyed the archaeological tv show " Time Team" and crossword puzzles!" 
I could have bust him in the mouth for that one.




51 comments:

  1. one of the problems is that people who want a church service but do not go to church. How are the clergy to give them a proper eulogy when they don't know the person? Gone are the days when everyone attended a church. The whole concept of what happens when someone dies has changed now. To my mind it's a case of anything goes.........

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    1. I may write my own blog post on this and will link back to you John.........

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  2. Will Gay Gordon's family and the villages not be offended that you did not attend the funeral?

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    1. I didnt know Gordon's family ..i hope no one minds me not being there

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  3. At the funeral of an aunt- Gwen, the arse of a priest constantly referred to her as " Our dear brother,Ken". unfortunately her brother -Ken, was fit and well and in the front pew. Not knowing whether to laugh or cry, we did both!

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  4. Sorry you missed giving a farewell in person to such a significant character.
    One of the 'saddest' funerals I attended was that of a German friend who died at the age of 40 (from the big disease with the little name). He'd been sacked by the R.C. Church where he'd been employed as a counsellor after acknowledging to them that he was HIV positive (this was in 1986). Though both his parents were devoutly religious when his condition was fairly advanced he told them that under no circumstances did he want a religious funeral. A secular, humanist short ceremony was his wish. You might guess that when the time came his own parents' desires over-ruled his own and he was given the full Requiem High Mass, incense-filled send-off. Not only that, but a month later there was a further Church commemoration service for him, complete with another Mass. I fear that around that time, and still at present in places, a similar scenario was not uncommon - and even worse, sometimes the deceased's own partner is purposely excluded from attended the funeral. At least in my friend's case that didn't happen, but even so it was still pretty unforgivable.

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    1. I always felt that funerals were for the living and not the dead... but i can understand why those who loved him would be upset...

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    2. To be 'fair' I think that in such circumstances the parents see that a religious funeral is one further helpful step in their wish that their loved one will get into Heaven. Well, that's the way I rationalise it.

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  5. John, you have had an interesting life, & just think, it isn't half over!

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  6. On tricky ground here, but I think I can recommend YouTube: John Cleese Eulogy for Graham Chapman.

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  7. Gay Gordon may come back to haunt you for not attending his funeral service. If you see the shadow of a mobility scooter moving slowly upon the church wall on a moonlit night you will know he's there.

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  8. The funeral of Kenny, one of the first 1960's musicians I interviewed comes to mind. He died suddenly in the mid 1990's - before most people had emails or mobile phones, and it just so happened to be the week I was moving flat and BT, despite plenty of notice left me without a phone for a couple of weeks.

    So it wasn't until I got back to work and saw his obit in the Guardian I discovered the news. I phoned a mutual friend and found out the funeral was the next day, so got time of work and went.

    One of the band's best known quotes was "Our music is red with purple flashes", and with the exception of his family and his local pub, every single floral tribute had that red and purple colour theme - I remember his old drummer arriving with his bouquet, feeling slightly embarrassed by his choice until he realised everyone else had done the same thing.

    After the service, we all went to the reception at a function room at the nearby golf range. A stage was set up, with drum kit & assorted guitars, as well as the usual tables and buffet. I think it was a prawn chucked at the singer during the marathon version of Johnny Be Good that started the mass food fight, but this was a gathering at least in part of ageing rockers recalling their youth, so perhaps it was to be expected. But I doubt Kenny would have wanted too much reverence.



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    1. As I left, I could hear several people trying to use the golf range. In the dark. Whilst drunk. With no sense of direction.

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  9. I'm pretty sure it didn't bother Gay Gordon one bit.

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  10. I don't know whether to laugh or cry at this John. I agree that at some funeral services you wonder if the vicar is talking about the same person that you knew! I hope you didn't do yourself any great damage with the surgical forceps. Watch the second to last episode of the second series of fortitude - the one with the nude shaman in the shower cubicle - it will make your eyes water and make you cross your legs for a week!

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  11. I haven't been to many funerals in my life... is that good or bad? I haven't had alot of death touch my life... and those that did i was far far from home.. and reasoned with myself that if i had not made the journey to see them in life then why make it in death... But i have been present for the funerals of my husband's parents.. and i remember feeling that both funerals felt so benign.. Here was this preacher speaking but the words he spoke felt vague and foreign and not like he really knew them or even tried to know them...none of the children felt comfortable speaking and it just felt like a sad little ending to two wonderful lives..... Hugs! deb

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  12. When one of my best friends died (and she was in my arms when she went), the preacher was so damn horrible and stupid that I took a crying baby out into the hallway that I didn't even know as an excuse and a way not to start screaming at the pastor. He'd never met her. Ever. Her parents had arranged the service of course.

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  13. My ex-husband lost both of his parents to colon cancer, about four years apart. I went to his mother's funeral but was living too far away to go to his father's. I'm glad I wasn't there because my kids told me that the pastor at the gravesite service mainly spoke about getting right with God now or suffering eternal damnation later and not much about the person lying in the casket. I would have been pissed.

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  14. That is a lot of funerals to have attended, John - not much wonder there were a few "incidents" along the way!

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  15. I'm sorry you missed it, for your sake, as funerals can provide a sense of closure. I'm sure Gay Gordon checked in on you, saw you sleeping and said, "Sleep well, Flower."

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  16. I'm sure he wouldn't have minded, knowing how hard you work.

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  17. The best song I ever heard at a funeral was "Viva Las Vegas" by Elvis Presley.

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  18. AT my Step Dad's , we went out to the strains of The FLoral Dance. Made everyone smile.

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  19. I cannot stand funerals & funeral services. the dead person don't care.

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    1. I totally agree and won't be having a funeral. I will simply be cremated and my son will scatter my ashes in a spot that I have already chosen.

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  20. We really should write what we want said, I'd like mine to be sarcastic and funny. My aunt was 15 minutes late to her funeral, for Edith, that was early - she was always the last one to arrive. The minister - who had never met her - talked about her be married to Lysle, Lysle is her son. She liked a good laugh - I think she would have found it funny.

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  21. Have been to NO funny funerals. So I am determined it will be funny, and take it on the road. My relatives live across the states, so why should they come here? I'll be cremated, travel in the carry-on section, etc. What do you think?

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  22. Recently went to a funeral where the family hired a red route master bus to take the family and friends to the service. What I didn't realise was they also put the coffin on the bus as well and had to open the emergency window to get it out.....

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  23. Going out on a limb but I think here the majority of funerals are now conducted by celebrants. The celebrant for my step father's funeral was ok, but the woman who hired him as a gardener also spoke and she was just brilliant and we could have saved on the cost of the celebrant. We attended a friend's mother's funeral and the music as we filed out after the ceremony to the refreshments area was Wish Me Luck As You Wave Me Goodbye. We really struggled to not break up laughing. It seemed so inappropriate, yet a couple of years down the track, I remember the moment fondly.

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  24. The day following my late husbands death . . . the minister came to the house for a visit. At the time I was not feeling laughter, levity or anything frivolous . . . but I sure have smiled, giggled many a time since then when I remember back to me sitting there grief stricken and him telling me that at his first funeral as a minister, he "stepped back and fell in the grave." . . .
    Enjoyed the video piece and your "Coffin Talk."

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    1. I am afraid that would have finished me off, I would have been helpless with laughter.
      My husband made me swear that he would be cremated, even though we both wanted that, he said he wanted to be sure that if he went first, I would see to it.
      The hard part is what to do with the ashes after ..

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    2. The wife of a friend of ours said that when her husband died she was going to put his ashes in her douche bag and run him through one more time. They divorced later and he's still up and kicking, so I guess that's not going to happen. :)

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    3. I wrote a will once that included sending the cremated remains to an ex-spouse with a note attached saying "you said you would get it all in the end, here is all that is left."

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  25. I went a funeral about 15 years ago. It was absolutely tragic. A young guy who died. There was a horrible burial scene where everyone was in a state. I stood there hoping it would soon be over when my eye was drawn to the head stone on the next grave. And I am not makin this up, his surname was Coffin.
    JP

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  26. I never liked the idea of perfect strangers giving eulogies or performing a funeral service .. It doesn't have to be a set piece, like a wedding ceremony ... according to certain rules and things you must say .. a funeral should be admiring of the person that is gone, even if no one can think of anything that was admirable about them ... it is a send off. A final goodbye .. it doesn't hurt that much to do it and feel good about it after it is over.
    My husband made me swear if he died first 1- no funeral 2- cremation. Sadly he got his wishes.
    Now I have to count on my son to do the same thing .. for me.
    I can't even discuss what to do with the cats.

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  27. My brother-in-law died very suddenly last spring, and my sister wanted people who knew him to go up and speak- but she didn't want it to be sad! Which is hard, because we all loved Bryce, and he was suddenly and unbelievably gone forever. So I spoke at the funeral and got everyone laughing about how he used to tease me. I even had props (gag gifts he had given me). Afterwards, my sister thought I did a great job! And I thought, that was like comedy routine! Should I really give a comedy routine at a funeral? And then I thought, I wonder if I could make a business of this? Would people pay me to get laughs at funerals? And then I thought, I am an awful person.

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  28. I don't think Gordon would worry too much John, he knows what a busy life you lead, but I hope he doesn't come back to haunt you !
    We have both decided that we shan't have funerals, we'll just be cremated and that's it.
    The funeral I still remember, from years ago, was that of a work colleague who tragically committed suicide in his early forties. He was not religious, so no clergy were involved. The deceased's partner, family, and friends led the service, with readings of favourite poems, excerpts from favourite books, anecdotes from his life, and his favourite music. It was probably the most intimate, emotional, and if such a sad event could be so - beautiful - funeral.

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  29. My friend went to her aunt's funeral last year. The aunt died at the age of 98. Her 97-year-old sister (best friend) was there. The priest, a bit of a jerk, said they were honoring Maria Teresa. Everyone stirred in their seats. The surviving sister yelled, "Where did you put PIlar?!?!"

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  30. My dad taught us kids and grandkids how to make paper air planes so at his funeral we all made paper planes and gave him a fly-past. It was a lovely, personal way to say goodbye. Afterwards my son said 'I suppose Grandma's funeral will be nothing like that'. He's right. She is a devout catholic and the service will be geared towards making us feel worse.

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  31. The bastard ex Navy Chaplain who my mum had to discuss my step father's funeral told her it was " a sausage factory " when she gave him lots of information for the funeral. ( ie no time ) Mum wrote to the Bishop but he did not apologise.

    The saddest funeral was my 40 year old cousin's. She battled with various forms of cancer for years. It was bitter / sweet as her three year old & five year old daughters wore their party dresses. There was a cardboard coffin & all the children covered it in pretty stickers. My cousin's sister read a story told at the hospice to help bereaved children. We were greeted with a glass of wine before we went into the service at my late cousin's invitation.

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  32. As someone who started to conduct funerals in the last year, I have sympathy for the families who have to turn to us in their most vulnerable and horrible hours. I do my best with what I am given, but the last funeral I conducted in January had me visiting friends of the deceased around the village to get more information about her life because those who were arranging the funeral gave me very little. I had known the dear lady but not very well, and I was determined to give her the very best send-off that I could. Some families will give us eulogies that they have written, and if there is no one from the family who is able to read it on the day, we will read it for them, but I always make it clear that the family has provided this and that I am just reading it in those circumstances. I arranged my late husband's funeral in 2014, and one of my daughters and I read the eulogy, although the minister had a copy so that he could read it if we were unable on the day. We did it, but plenty of people said that they wouldn't have been able to do it on the day.
    My late husband's cousin is now dying of liver cancer, and has asked me to conduct his funeral, because he can't bear the thought of having someone he didn't know to conduct it. He said to me, "Our vicar hasn't been near us!" to which I replied, "Yes, but have you been near him?" and I got the response that they had not seen him since their marriage 50+ years ago! They are not church-goers, and so cannot reasonably expect "their" vicar to know anything about them or their situation.
    I completely agree that the eulogy should be delivered by someone who knew the person where at all possible, but those people are not always able to do the job in the midst of their grief on the day. It is a very hard balance.
    I never take conducting a funeral lightly: it is very important to me that every detail is perfect as this is the last chance to say Goodbye to that person, and I take my responsibility for that very seriously.
    My late husband entered the church to the Bond theme and went out to Dambusters! There is always the opportunity to personalise the service if you would like to do so, and we had a slideshow running throughout his service of photos of him throughout his lifetime. It was a good funeral, and I was very proud of my children and the way that they took part in the service, and contributed to its arrangement.

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  33. Funerals is what I do. Every day. Oh, the stories I could write, and have. It is sad when the deceased is barely mentioned by the clergy. I can almost see the reason behind the trend of having no service at all. But it's like we're just tossing our loved ones in the bin; never to be spoken of again.

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    1. With all due respect for what you do, I don't think not having a funeral constitutes "tossing loved ones in the bin; never to be spoken of again." Neither of my parents wanted a funeral (or to be buried, for that matter.) They both had paid for cremation well in advance, so my brother and I didn't have to arrange that. The Neptune Society in the U.S. scattered my dad's ashes at sea and our family got together a few months later (from different states in the country) for a memorial at my parents' home, complete with one of his favorites: pizza. My mother's ashes were sent back to California where my parents had lived in Laguna Beach and my son paddled out a mile off their favorite cove where he scattered her ashes there on a beautiful calm morning. He took a photo for me from that spot looking back at the shore. There are send-offs and there are send-offs. To each his own.

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  34. The best funeral I ever attended was for my husband's Great Aunt Maude, age 100. She was known for her wit even after her sight and most of her hearing were gone. The minister who conducted the service told about the joy of knowing her. His best story happened when he had traveled from Michigan to Kentucky to conduct the service for Aunt Maude's last elderly friend. She told him, "I don't know why I can't just be buried today, too and save you having to make another trip down here." And she had laughed.

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  35. I see attending funerals as a "taster" of what's to come. Unfortunately most are so sombre and disagreeable, I've been put off death completely.

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  36. Barry, I have never thought of it that way.
    I will put it off too, completely.
    I will see you on our 150th anniversary of not dying .. hows that ? :)

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  37. My parents died 10 days apart. Mother first. I spoke at each's ceremony. It was extremely difficult. The most amazing and beautiful service i attended was when my great aunt passed. Her husband my uncle predeceased her. He was a violyn maker and a symphony conducter. She was a registered nurse. The entire orchestra played the service. It was beautiful. I have no idea what was said the music was amazing and the town was there to show thir live and respect for this gentle lady. Now what was sad was cleaning out after and all the "friends" coming buy to tell my father and i what they had been promised and what they walked out of the home with.

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  38. Thank you all for your comments, i didn't have time yesterday to reply to them all

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  39. Dying something we all have to get used to. But frankly I'm all for delayed gratification.

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  40. Sister going through her 'New Age' period said the soul never leaves until after the funeral. Ex husband's elegy was disgraceful as though he had never known his own mother. As he finished someone out in the foyer dropped a tray of cups and the crash echoed through the Chapel. Believe me you can never stuff enough tissues in a mouth to stop laughing when you're on a roll.

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  41. John I have officiated at four funerals- all for poeple I either knew or i knew their families. I agree entirely with you and I think the problem lies in who they talk to about the deceased. For women, it is often their husbands who frankly haven't a fucking clue who their wife was and it really is up to the officiant to wheedle out who else they should be talking to. And many of the clergy and officiants don't know that which is a bad reflection on them.
    The last funeral I did was for the husband of a friend who was a major football fan. The "hymn" was You'll Never Walk Alone. The funeral director and I both tested the musical backing file but it cut out half way through so I shouted, "Come on guys, if Liverpool fans can do it without music so can we!" and we kept going in great rousing voice. The funeral director was very impressed. I think you would make a great funeral civil officiant, John, because you have that gift of seeing what matters to people. Not sure how tings work over there though. Here, many people prefer a civil funeral either at the crematorium or at the funeral home. I've only done the latter so far. It's a massive privilege xo

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