It was an old lady in her 90s who had died, who had lived to meet great-great-grandchildren. She hadn’t known much of what was going on in the last few years though, but was quite happy in her own world and did still know her family. She had chosen the hymns for her funeral some years ago, which I very much liked, particularly because she had noted the reason for each choice. The first was played at her Confirmation, the second at her wedding and the third was simply her favourite hymn. What good reasons, she must have taken pleasure in remembering those happy events and it was something lovely for her family to come upon after her death.
I’ve played at a good many funerals over the years and attended a fair foo, as we say in Norfolk, as you’d expect by my advanced age. And it always seems a pity when the same old hymns are pulled out time after time – not that I object to someone’s favourite being played, even if it is All Things Bright And Beautiful. More often though, the reason is a vague memory of Sunday School seventy years earlier. I don’t care if I never hear B&B, Crimond, The Old Rugged Cross or Abide With Me ever again, unless chosen for a reason. On the other hand, I do approve of going for well-known hymns, because they’re generally quite easy to sing and have a pleasant, pick-uppable tune, and that quite matters at a funeral. I remember some years ago attending a funeral where, not knowing what to select, they’d gone for the hymns sung at the lady’s mother’s funeral a few decades earlier. One of them was a complicated tune that no one knew. I couldn’t attempt the first verse, but thought I’d have a go at the second, if only to encourage the organist. Unfortunately, he pushed in most of the stops (making it much quieter), probably hoping to hear someone sing. It had the effect of unnerving me because I didn’t want my not-very-good singing voice and uncertain grasp of the tune heard too loudly, so I kept quiet and so did everyone else.
It was a lovely funeral today actually. Barry pitched it just right, with warm memories told him by the family, a touch of humour – a very old woman had breathed her last: she was mourned but it was not a great tragedy – and there were enough people there to make it apparent that she was remembered fondly, though she had not been out and about for several years. It’s a great comfort, such an occasion, and of course it can equally go badly wrong and really upset someone who has been bereaved if something jars. Even something that would normally be discounted and forgotten can cause a lot of unhappiness.
I’m sorry – this isn’t meant to be a gloomy post at all. A funeral should comfort and sustain friends and family, even if those most affected are dazed and grief-stricken. In fact, one of the most upsetting in some ways – a friend in his forties with a wife and teenage son – was so skilfully run by his brother-in-law, a lay preacher, that we all laughed and felt thoroughly uplifted and strangely comforted.
Oh, and I haven’t mentioned the other sort of sustenance. A good bite to eat afterwards goes down well, especially if people have travelled a long way. I became quite terse with a friend of a bereaved friend some years ago – the family had gone on to the crematorium and everyone else had gathered at the house to wait, and she was determined that nothing should be eaten until the widow returned – the most hospitable of women, she would have been dismayed. In the end, I mentioned that some people had travelled from York to Kent that morning and missed lunch because of the funeral, so perhaps handing round a plate of sandwiches might be in order?