I don’t like funerals. They mean the loss of family, friends, or patients, none of which I welcome. But sometimes a send-off works out really well. Here’s how we did it.
1. Great weather helps. Rain is all very well for cemeteries in TV thrillers, but in real life you don’t want frizzy hair, steamed-up glasses, or trench foot while standing at the graveside. Result # 1: the weather turned out to be amazingly sunny for the end of winter.
2. Black is drearily Victorian, and charcoal is frankly a cop-out. When in black, I look so bad I may as well be dead already, so I was only too pleased to comply with my mother’s wishes: wear bright colours.
3. A good turn-out. Funerals are frankly dismal when it’s just five people rattling around a crematorium. I’m so pleased I went through her entire address book.
4. The major coup? Getting a good spot in the cemetery. Not just near the parking and the tap, but a prime plot right next to Granny’s grave! I was bursting to share the news with my mother, who was sure to be as excited as me. Unfortunately it was a little late for that.
5. A smidgeon of ceremony. In this case, two bearded priests with what looked like saucepans on their heads, plus a bit of incense, a lot of chanting, and the sign of the cross made from right to left. It was all Greek to me. Still, that’s what you get in a Greek Orthodox church.
6. An uplifting venue. Outside, it looked a nuclear bunker. Inside, the walls were covered in icons.
7. A personal touch, in this case The Grandmother Tree, a moving poem written and recited by one of her grandsons.
8. A hint of altruism. What’s the point of a mountain of blooms or the word MUM spelled out in white chrysanths? Whether it’s in a newspaper announcement or an email to friends, it’s getting more common to ask for charitable donations in lieu of flowers.
9. Peace. Memorable punch-ups sometimes break out at weddings, but funerals should be more decorous. I’m especially grateful to my husband and ex-husband who hadn’t met until the day itself, and were both charm personified.
10. Light refreshments at home afterwards, surrounded by all the things that illustrated my mother’s life: the books she had written, photos of her grandsons, and above all her exuberant paintings of cats and dogs, hanging in haphazard fashion on the walls of the flat where nothing matched. She had meant to rehang some paintings and replace others, but no lifetime, however long, is enough to finish everything.
A funeral shouldn’t be an occasion of pain and regret. It should reflect the person’s life. I feel fortunate that my mother’s death came at the end of nearly 90 years lived well, and creatively. How much harder it is for those who lose someone suddenly, prematurely, or violently.