Monday, February 18, 2008

The last Goodbye


Life is real! Life is earnest!

And the grave is not its goal;

Dust thou art, to dust returnest,

Was not spoken of the soul.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,

And our hearts, though stout and brave,

Still, like muffled drums, are beating

Funeral marches to the grave.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


We went to a neighbour’s funeral on Friday. Usually the funerals we attend are either held in one of the local churches or the Crematorium – sometimes both. This was held in the Funeral Director’s Chapel of Rest and it was an interesting and helpful experience. Our friend died just before her 90th birthday which was to be a joint celebration with her son who will be celebrating his 65th Birthday. On the Saturday of the birthday week-end, next month, there will be drinks at the Railway Station to be followed by lunch on the steam train journey (first class) to Bishops Lydeard. The following day there is a buffet lunch with drinks at their home

Our friend has suffered these last few years with osteoporosis which has precluded her from following her interests – especially gardening. They had decided that whatever happened the arrangements would go ahead and they would also be a celebration of her life.

Attending the Chapel, which is local, was much easier than the 50 mile round trip to the Crematorium and was appreciated by the, mainly, elderly mourners. My dilemma is that, although MTL and I are believers we do not attend church and I would feel a little odd having a funeral there. It was very reassuring to see this ceremony. It was conducted by a silver haired woman dressed in a black gown with a wine red scarf, who radiated peace and goodness. I’m not sure if she was a vicar or a lay person but she was just right. The small organ was played by another mature lady and there was also some taped music. At the head of the room was a modern stained glass window and beneath that was a cloth- covered table/ altar/ coffin which was covered with flowers and the floor beneath was also bedecked with flowers that her friends had sent. We all knew she loved them – especially yellow ones.

We sang a hymn, there was a reading from Ecclesiastes and then the silver haired woman spoke about the life and family of our friend. It’s a shame that one has to wait for someone’s funeral to really get to know their life. There was a reading that was read at the Queen Mother’s funeral which starts…

‘You can shed tears that she is gone or you can smile because she lived.

You can close your eyes and pray she’ll come back or you can open your eyes and see all she’s left…’

We could leave donations in her memory to the Cat’s Protection League which caused me to give a wry grin to MTL who daily curses the cat who leaves its calling card in our drive. I feel relieved that there is an acceptable alternative to the Crematorium and the Church which is simple and more like MTL’s simple Church of Scotland and my Unitarian chapel.


Rob Hopcott said...

It sounds as if they got the funeral ceremonies just right.

I'm afraid I'm a coward when it comes to funerals and, being an atheist, tend not to go. But, as I approach the big 60 years of age, it seems to crop up more frequently.

When my mother died, it was an awful experience.

At my tennis club, there is an old school bell on a shelf. When it rings, everybody stops playing in remembrance of a player who will play with us no more.

I'd be honored to be remembered by my tennis club friends like that.

R. Sherman said...

For those, such as your friend, who have lived a full and productive life, the term "celebration" is indeed fitting, in spite of the sadness we feel at his/her passing. Their souls are always with us.

apprentice said...

Sorry you've lost a friend. it sounds like she had a good life and an appropriate send off.

I know what you mean about wanting a suitable venue. The Crem is such a production line, and church would be wrobg for me.

I think I'll just use the wheelie bin lol :)

I loved whathisname the jazz singer's funeral last night on BBC2, with his paper coffin painted by friends and the walking jazz band a la New Orleans!

Casdok said...

The lsat Goodbye - what lovely words. Sorry to hear of the loss of your friend.

And thank you for your comment on my blog, you werent speaking out of turn.

PI said...

Rob: my mother was 90 when she died and it has taken a long time for me to come to terms with it. I think most men don't like to think of it and it is with the greatest difficulty that I can get my husband to discuss it. You are still quite young but I think it is a good idea to talk about what you would prefer, and then forget about it. I'm sure when the time comes your friends will toll the bell for you - but not for many years:)

Randall: I would hope also that at my age it would be a celebration rather than a mournful occasion. And I always maintain that whilst there are still people on earth who loved the departed, they are still with us.

Anna: I wish I had seen that - it sounds inspiring. Years ago,in Portugal I bought a lovely bright orange and yellow material- more a curtain size than a beach wrap. I have never used it but have just thought of a use for it.

kenju said...

It is nice to know that it is available for you. I am not sure what will be done for me, since I have once again quit going to the Sunday services I had attended for 4 years. I'd prefer no services at all to some by a person who has no first-hand knowledge of me.

Kate said...

Hello again Pi, just read your post - your comments regarding the death of your Mum struck home, I was exactly the same - that was the worst ever, although over fifty when my Mum died, I doubt if anything can prepare you for it. I railed against it and still find it hard ever 12 years later. Your idea about the celebration of life is much the best way to think about it. A friend also said recently that the way to try and accept a close one's death is to attempt to look at it as a life being completed no matter how short, rather than an interruption of a life. It seems to make sense to me more when I try to think about it like that - though acceptance is hard sometimes.

PI said...

Casdok: thank you on both counts:)

Judy: as far as I understand the person taking the service spends time with the family to get to know the deceased and acts as a conduit (this is just my interpretation)speaking for the family who are usually, understandably, in no fit state to speak themselves. I would sooner have someone as sensitive and caring as our own Zinnia, than some vicar I don't know. Maybe I'm being sexist? Yes probably.

Kate: it was a really bad time as she insisted on doing long haul flights to help my sister. No I mustn't go over it again. We have to get over it. Time eases the angst but I do understand the 'railing against.'

moon said...

Sorry for the loss of your friend. But this does spark a good discussion , not always easy. As you, my hubby and I are not *religious* I have faith but he is agnostic but we have spoken about what we expect or hope for. So many just avoid the subject. In our 40's, we have a good idea of what to do in the event of something happening. There are some good alternatives out there, instead of church thankfully.
Although , we are not church goers, if we know someone who has passed and has a a service in a church, we do attend, in respect for the family and the person who has died. At those moments, its not about our beliefs, its about the loved ones we are there for.

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

I LOVE these quotations Pat....So wonderful and perfect in every way.
I am so glad you found an alternative that gives you and your MTL such a sense of comfort...!
You know, I think people should be celebrated while they are still alive....People should honor all those special people in their lives and say all the wonderful things they might say at a funeral, while the person is still alive and can really enjoy a kind of Wake, if you will....!
And if people did that, you would get to know a lot more a=bout the people who are being honored and can appreciate them more while they are still kicking and! I am going to copy those quotations...And I thank you for putting them in your post, my dear.

OldHorsetailSnake said...

Uh.....tell me more about the drinks.

Sam, Problemchildbride said...

This newer tradition and acceptance of celebrating as well as mourning a life, particularly a long, well-lived life, is a welcome change, I think. It seems more healthy and turns our minds to gratitude for what we had, rather than sorrow at what we lost, and in the midst of mourning I think it's good to have your mind turned that way.

PI said...

Moon: I agree with that and further think the wishes of the deceased should be respected. Sometimes they are not.

Naomi: that's very true and we should try to overcome whatever it is that prevents us from getting to know people better. There is a fine line between being nosey and showing a genuine interest in a person.

Hoss we were invitd back for drinks but as they were many from far afield we didn't go but look forward to the train ;journey.

Sam: I certainly feel thanksgiving
for a rich and fulfilled life.

Kim Ayres said...