When I was supporting young people in the loss of a much loved teacher, it was important that the students expressed their own, personalised, tributes to this very special woman who had listened to them and encouraged them in their journey toward adulthood and independence. My role was to co-ordinate the inclusion of a large number of grieving students into a big, two-stage funeral honouring her public life as well as her family’s private loss. The young people did her proud, finding their way across London and then having to find cramped places to stand for a long time in a packed out crematorium. They produced some wonderful, heartfelt compositions and tributes, some of which went into the book of remembrance, and others which were placed on her coffin in a formalised act of remembrance.
Here is an extract from a short eulogy I composed for a woman who had been a pioneer in post-war London, attaining a senior management role in the Department of Employment in the 1950s.
Pat, you were a woman of clear cut deeds
Not one for soft soap or clinging needs.
You had utmost energy to the very end
It was never for you to have to depend… …
… …Life, for you, was a long, busy day
In your name, and ours, we will forever pray
That you live on with us in spirit and mind
Looking to the future, and never behind.
This faith funeral I arranged, from a distance of several hundred miles co-ordinating with a range of services and people. I chose Nearer, My God, to Thee (Sarah Adams, 1841) as a testament to a devout, nonagenarian lady who had emigrated overseas in order to serve her faith. Given the many pet dogs she had loved and raised, we also sang All Things Bright and Beautiful. I organized a wake in the crypt at which more spontaneous tributes were made.
D was a warm hearted, outspoken person and a strong, fearless character. To have lost such a figurehead, this family, this week, has been a rudderless ship. He bore his final days with courage and grace. It was these qualities that made him such a reassuring father figure… …
D’s wife, B, says he professed not to have a soft side but this was not so - for example, he used to sing her Irish folk songs, which she found irresistible. To her, he was romantic as well as strong. He swept her off her feet and became a husband and father driven by his sense of duty and family… …
His son, D, remembers him stepping outdoors at night to gaze up into the sky, identifying the constellations of the stars and sensing his own smallness in a largely unknown universe. He never saw himself as others did, his brother J provides another viewpoint: “I remember taking him to school in Belfast. He was my younger brother, so I took him down the street by the hand.”
… …I learned of a loving and protective family man who I know would not want to be remembered in sadness but in your fondest and happiest memories, and always with love.
Although he was born into a Church of England background, S went on to develop an open mind on spiritual matters and the question of afterlife. However, on hearing his story, what came to my mind was the following quote from John 14.2, “My father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?”
And so, I would like to walk you through S’s life in the shape of the house he provided for his family.
First, we come to the front door and entrance hall, the part of the house that visitors see, and the place of welcome. From their busy family home in Welling, S and D forged long standing relationships with neighbours and colleagues alike… …
So, having walked through the noisy goings on in the downstairs of the house, we climb the stairs to where parents can be together to share well earned rest at the end of a long busy day, when the children are sleeping and all is silent and well… …
K, it was a privilege to meet you and to hear about your family. I know you feel numb without someone whom you told me was ‘Everything you could want from a dad’ but I know you will honour all that he passed on: his devotion to family, his gentle kindness and his sense of duty as provider. These are the solid values upon which your family has thrived.
It is now up to you, B, and you, L, to pass Grandad’s spirit on to the next generation.
Therefore, I would like to close this tribute with a quote from a poem by Audrea Harvey.
Follow your dreams
Reach for the stars
But never forget
where you came from.
Please be assured, I do not publish details of my client families' funerals. These notes are from training, work experience and friends and family's funerals. They serve as examples of the work that lead me to become a celebrant.