Content for services

This is not particularly well organised, but the first section is a list of links to useful sites, and then there's three favourite poems, a sample service I've actually used, some more bits and pieces of script and poetry, including part of a service for 'Gwen', and another sample service, this time for an online, streamed event.

The Good Funeral Guide is for the consumer, not the professional supplier of services, and is excellent. It can also be a bit overwhelming at first, especially if time is of the essence and you're not able to plan ahead. so start, for our purposes at the 'planning a funeral' section, which is aimed squarely at the those interested in a secular service. Some of this will be irrelevant due to the public nature of the suggestions, but there is a great deal here that is both useful and informative. The GFG is a not for profit company whose resources really helped me in my first faltering steps into officiating at funeral services. It's not affiliated directly with the funeral industry but has a watching brief which is incredibly useful and has been a great help in highlighting dodgy practices and profiteering. Its directory of ‘good funeral directors’ is worthwhile and trustworthy for UK residents.

https://www.goodfuneralguide.co.uk/two-compare-fundraising-websites/

There are now many websites devoted to what is called ‘The Death Movement’. Here are just a few. Google is your friend when it comes to finding particular varieties of celebrant, although local funeral directors - the good ones - will have lists. Almost all the below have social media feeds.


The Death Café website (www.deathcafe.com) is comprehensive and worldwide, with a guide to events and cafés happening near you no matter where on the planet you live. There is also a host of carefully curated material which anyone interested will find helpful and informative.

Dying Matters ‘Raising Awareness of death, dying and bereavement’ - (dyingmatters.org) also contains a host of useful stuff.

There’s the great Caitlin Doughty, undertaker extraordinaire, and her Order of the Good Death, which is particularly good from an American point of view on the ‘Death Positive’ movement. (orderofthegooddeath.com)

Final Fling is, as you’d expect, blunt, bright and breezy (‘Sort Your Affairs!’) but full of both good humour and sensible advice, as well as excellent links to other associated organisations. Not everyone will want to call their funeral a ‘final fling’ but if you do, there is a comprehensive set of guidelines on how to organise it. It’s based in Scotland, so be warned - it has a Fling-a-Bongo Game and a Coffin Club. Deep frying may also be involved. https://www.finalfling.com

And there’s Life, Death, Whatever (www. lifedeathwhatever.com) hosted by Anna Lyons and Louise Winter - Anna is a ‘death doula’, someone who works with the dying and their families  in the final days of a life. A social worker of the last days. Louise is a funeral director. There is a lot of excellent material on funerals and the whole process of what they call “an initiative to redesign the dialogue around death.”


Down to the nitty gritty, and here are some sample scripts for Humanist funerals:

https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Sample-funeral-scripts.pdf

This is good by an Irish Humanist celebrant:

https://sheelanagigcomedienne.wordpress.com/diy-funerals/


The whole Funeral Helper website is good - this gives an example of a 'semi-religious' service:

http://www.funeralhelper.org/how-to-officiate-a-funeral-resources-officiant-phrases.html

Nancy Jean Whitehead is a Presbyterian minister in New Zealand and this is is  really useful and comprehensive 'kit' of material, including sample services. Obviously, it's mostly religious stuff but towards the end is a useful list of secular poetry and readings.

http://www.hestories.info/funeral-service-kit-compiled-by-nancy-jean-whitehead-july-2003.html 



Content I have written or used

First, it's always best if people who knew the person well speak. Briefly. The intimate, personal recollection is always powerful and moving - but someone should always have a backup of what they're going to say, as emotion can take over.

A service should be long enough to be dignified, but not so long that it becomes a burden (particularly if there are old folk present).

I've always loved these three poems - but one of them is by a living poet and using it at a funeral may cause James Robertson some concern. I do not know as I've never asked him.

Requiem
By Robert Louis Stephenson

Under the wide and starry sky  
  Dig the grave and let me lie:  
Glad did I live and gladly die,  
  And I laid me down with a will.  
  
This be the verse you 'grave for me:         
  Here he lies where he long'd to be;  
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,  
  And the hunter home from the hill.

 (as inscribed on his own grave)

On My Own Friend And My Father's Friend, Wm. Muir In Tarbolton Mill, 1784
By Robert Burns

An honest man here lies at rest 
As e'er God with his image blest; 
The friend of man, the friend of truth, 
The friend of age, and guide of youth: 
Few hearts like his, with virtue warm'd, 
Few heads with knowledge so informed: 
If there's another world, he lives in bliss; 
If there is none, he made the best of this.

The Bird that Was Trapped Has Flown

In memoriam Vicky Patterson
By James Robertson

The bird that was trapped has flown
The sky that was grey is blue
The bone that was dead has grown
The dream that was dreamed is true
The locked door has been swung wide
The prisoner has been set free
The lips that were sealed have cried
The eye that was blind can see
The tree that was bare is green
The room that was dull is bright
The sheet that was soiled is clean
The dawn that was dark is light
The road that was blocked has no end
The unknown journey is known
The heart that is hurt will mend
The bird that was trapped has flown

By James Robertson


JOHN - a service

I've found it difficult to reproduce the scripts for real folks' funeral services. Even though they were public events, it seems like an invasion of the privacy of those who may still be grieving. This particular one has been radically changed - all names, locations and occupations are altered.

This was a (quite lengthy) graveside service for 'John' who had lived a fairly troubled life. The final committal uses quotes from Marcus Aurelius (the Stoics are very quotable at funerals - try this for  thoughts on death itself https://dailystoic.com/14-stoic-quotes-on-death/ and this for general Stoic quotes.
https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/stoicism



When I am Dead, My Dearest
by Christina Georgina Rossetti
(1830-1894)

When I am dead, my dearest, 
Sing no sad songs for me; 
Plant thou no roses at my head, 
Nor shady cypress tree: 
Be the green grass above me 
With showers and dewdrops wet; 
And if thou wilt, remember, 
And if thou wilt, forget. 

I shall not see the shadows, 
I shall not feel the rain; 
I shall not hear the nightingale 
Sing on, as if in pain: 
And dreaming through the twilight 
That doth not rise nor set, 
Haply I may remember, 
And haply may forget. 


 Welcome to this service of farewell and remembrance for John. We’re here to stand with his family as they say goodbye, to support them and acknowledge the sometimes difficult life he led. But also to remember how his local community held him in affection, how he could be a great worker, how he was independent, and proud, and kind.


This is a poem called ‘Release’

Is this the end 
Of all the pain, the happiness, 
The trouble caused?
Friend, a life’s effects don’t stop
They only pause
Now, we must say goodbye
And try 
To learn
To move
To leave
Believing that our love for you
Stays true 
It’s love 
That will sustain us
Through the darkness and the light
It’s love that let’s us say goodbye, goodnight
Now, be at peace
For we release what once was you
As you release us too.

John Truman was born on the 18th of April 1942, to parents Iain and Cressida, from the rural village of Failsham in Kent.  His sister Irene is here today, but John was the last of four brothers - Fred, Campbell and Richard all passed away before him. 
Irene has happy memories of their childhood in Kent. Ian left school at 15, and had  a part-time job working for well known local man Keith Clement, who ran a grocery and kept deep litter hens. It was Ian’s job to look after them.
One Christmas Eve, Irene remembers, the young John struggled home with a Christmas tree, the last one in Clements’ shop and the first one the Truman family ever had. But when it was erected in the house, it was about four feet too big, and Iain had to cut it down to size.
The children had great fun playing in the Failsham countryside, making  soapbox carts  and racing each other and the neighbours’ children too. During rationing, sweeties were hard to come by and Irene remembers John heating the residue of a tin of syrup in the open fire, then adding National Dried Milk Powder. It wasn’t much, but it was a sweetie! That fire provided toast, too, and the bairns loved using a toasting fork in front of the flames.

John was always interested in farming, and worked for Derek Gittin at Little Hemlock as well as for Peter Johnson at Mertonfield and in the stables at Keithside. He worked for a  time in slaughtering and butchery, and was a driver too, delivering  meat to, among other places,  the Rainham army camp But farm work was his passion and he was very good at it, especially ploughing. Everything he put his hand to, he excelled at, or as one of his workmates said “he was better as most folk.” He also worked  for Andrew Bairnson at big Brainham farm
He was married in the 1960s, to Rose, and had two children  - Kate and Norman. Norman died tragically young, but through Kate and Norman John had four grandchildren and one great grandson.

John lived a troubled life, plagued by alcohol, a life  which saw him sometimes in difficulties with the police. 

He moved to Hittlesham, outside. Tonbridge, and lived there for many years, losing touch with his family and on occasion drinking heavily, which led to him giving up work. But latterly his life calmed down considerably and people in the village today remember him with affection, and took care of him when they could. He was proud, and would never ask for help, but folk were glad to help him, because they liked him.

One of his neighbours told me: “He was a cheery man, always good humoured and he would always wave at you if he was looking out of his window, or if you met him in the street he’d ask after you and after your children and grandchildren. He had been a working man and was always self sufficient, until the last few months of his life when he had a home help. He had good neighbours who liked him and looked out for him.”

John walked to and from the Hittlesham Stores, regularly, almost daily when he was able and it wasn’t too rainy, as he didn’t like the rain, and would always have a smile and a story for the staff there. Sometimes he would sing to them, and they would arrange a taxi to take him home if he wasn’t able to get back up the road to his sheltered house under his own steam. “He was always lovely to us” said one member of staff, who remembers, many years ago when she was a child, him walking past the Hittlesham School each day , the children waving to him and him waving back. “We thought he was old then,” she says today, 15 years or so later. “He’ll be a miss.”

John grew increasingly frail over the past few years, but still managed, almost every day, to get to the shop for his half bottle of Bell’s Whisky and, sometimes a couple of cans of Special Vat cider. He would go home and listen to his radiogram. He never had a television. Latterly, after having difficulty looking after himself, he had social work help from Eileen Turnbull, to whom his family remain very grateful.

He was friends with Mitchell Fairly, who lived nearby, and who lent him a radio when Ian’s radiogram broke. Mitch had a car and would take John shopping, to the Asda in Fordingham , and for runs to Tunbrdige Wells and other scenic parts of the county. “He was always keen to go for a run” Mitch says. Mitch would take him the local paper, and it was Mitch, not having seen him for a few days, who was first to find John after he died.

John loved a story or two, a cup of tea, and something stronger too, Mitch says. He was good at telling stories, and remembered parts of his own past with sadness. He liked just looking out the window, and sometimes he would come round to Mitch’s house for a yarn.

John’s death was not unexpected, but death is always a separation, a rending, a final parting of the ways. For in the end, although our paths lead in different directions, we are all connected. And he will be missed. Here are two poems written on that subject.

Departure (Ian MacCalman)

And who are we to say
That you were wrong to live that way?
Maybe you chose that life
Or it chose you.
In all the strife
There was nothing we could do

And there were times of joy
There always are, they cannot be destroyed
Small things: a smile, a wave
A drink, some stories
Before the grave
We live for little glories

Regrets, harm, even disgrace
Amid the loss and sorrow take their place
But come the reckoning
It all stops here
The end is beckoning
Hard, sharp and clear

For all who tread the earth
To death from birth
Each life is to be treasured
Great or small
Who would dare to measure
After all?

So, it's almost time for us to leave
Whatever we believe
We'll go from here
Altered, I think that's true
Holding you dear
For you are us. And we are you.

START (Oife Johnson)

We stand here, in the presence of the past
In sorrow, love, despair. They will last
But will fade with the pain
'Til in the end, only the love remains

Love, gentle and forgiving, always kind
Conquering despair, but never blind
The love that sees so clearly, love that knows
Walks, hand on shoulder, wherever anger goes

And murmurs when you say you can't go on
You will go on, you must, when hope seems gone
Life is for the living; embrace it. Fill your heart
With hope. And now. Now is the time to start.


And now it’s time to say goodbye to John

There may be things we want to forget
But also things we want to remember
His kindness. His concern for others
The esteem his neighbours held him in.

And we should remember too
That tears are for the washing away of grief
Hope is for the building of dreams
And love is the tender life force which conquers death

There are many things in life which we can’t understand
And many things we have to accept
As we say farewell to John
Let us never to give way to bitterness
But grow to live with
More tenderness
More courage
More purpose
More positivity, caring and gentleness
Than ever before

May this be true for us all
For in the mystery of love
Life springs out of death

In its presence, we must continue to sing the song of life. We must be able to accept death and go from its presence better able to bear our burdens and to lighten the load of others. Out of our sorrows should come understanding. Through our sorrows, we join with all those before us who have had to suffer, and all of those who will yet have to do so.

Let us not be gripped by the fear of death. If another day be added to our lives, let us joyfully receive it, but let us not anxiously depend on our tomorrows. Though we grieve the deaths of our loved ones, we accept them and hold on to our memories as precious gifts. Let us not bury our love with death.

Now, in the presence of the living and the dead
We commit the body of John
To be reunited with the ground
Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust
Confident of the final victory of love 
over suffering, injustice, ugliness, bitterness and death


BENEDICTION

May the love which is stronger than death
and which binds us together in the unity of life
energise our spirits and provide us with stillness and peace
Now and forever more


Here are some extracts from other services:


DEPARTURE: A POEM

When the moment of departure comes
Despite the knowledge of pain finally relieved
The sadness of those left comes like a flood
An overwhelming tide of grief

Now, hold fast to memories, the lasting
Tokens of the life you shared
The joys and sorrows, triumphs and defeats
All that was built, all of the love and care

For in the end, hers is the victory
The gifts she gave will never fade away
And we stand proud, in honour and in praise
Remembering, celebrating her today

Closing elements of a service, and then a private graveside service

Thank you for coming. Thanks to all those who have been listening to the service outside, and in the buses. The burial will be in the new cemetery, and there will be a bus for those from inside the hall who want to travel there. Family and invited guests will be returning to the hall afterwards. There will be no formal lineup for hand shaking at the cemetery.

Now, let’s remember Gwen

And remember too
That tears are for the washing away of grief
Hope is for the building of dreams
And love is the tender life force which conquers death

There are many things in life we can’t understand
And many things we have to accept
May our memories of Gwen
our love for her and  and for each other
Encourage us never to give way to bitterness or despair
But grow to live with
More tenderness
More courage
More purpose
More hope, positivity, caring and gentleness
Than ever before

May this be true for us all
For in the mystery of love
Life always springs out of death

EXIT MUSIC:

John Lennon: Imagine


GWEN

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep. 

I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glint on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain. 

When you wake in the morning hush,
I am the swift, uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starlight at night. 

Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
(Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there, I did not die!)

Death leaves a heartache nothing can heal
Love leaves a memory no-one can steal

Here, in this beautiful place,  in the presence of death, we must continue to sing the song of life. That is what Gwen would want us to do

We must be able to accept death, and go from its presence better able to bear our burdens and to lighten the load of others.

Out of our sorrows should come understanding. 
Through our sorrows, we join with all those who have had to suffer, and all of those
who have yet to do so.

Let us not be gripped by the presence of death. If another day be added to our lives, let us joyfully receive it, but let us not anxiously depend on our tomorrows. Though we grieve Gwen’s death, we accept it, and hold on to our memories as precious gifts. 

We will not bury our love with death.


When we are weary and in need of strength,
When we are lost and sick at heart,
We remember Gwen.
When we have a joy we crave to share
When we have decisions that are difficult to make
When we have achievements that are based on hers
We remember her.
At the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter
At the opening of the buds and in the rebirth of spring,
We remember her.
At the blueness of the skies and in the warmth of summer
At the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of autumn,
We remember her.
At the rising of the sun and at its setting,
We remember her.
As long as we live, she too will live
For Gwen is now a part of us,
And so we remember her.


Now, in the presence of the living and the dead
We commit the body of Gwen
To be reunited with the ground
Earth to Earth
Ashes to Ashes
Dust to Dust
Confident, in the continuing cycle of life, of the final victory of love
Over suffering, injustice, ugliness and death

As we leave this place:
May the love which is stronger than death
And which binds us together in the unity of life
Energise our spirits
And provide us with stillness and peace
Now and forever more.

A DIFFERENT GRAVESIDE COMMITTAL

Death cannot kill love
And we will always love

Death cannot prevent forgiveness
And we will always forgive

Death cannot kill your stories
And we will always tell them

Death cannot kill your songs
And we will always sing them

Death cannot kill memory
And we will always remember

And now, remembering, loving, grieving
But trusting each other
Standing on the hope and affection  Fearful provided
Looking to a future
Where Feargal's  presence, example and pride in us 
Remains and sustains

In the presence of the living and the dead
We commit the body of  Feargal Henderson to the ground
Earth to earth,
Ashes to ashes
Dust to dust
In the certainty that
love will endure
And daily conquers injustice
Ugliness
and death itself.

Now as we leave this place

May we recognise that love is stronger than death
May it bind us together in community
In the unity of life
May our spirits by energised, uplifted
And may peace reign within us
And because of us
Now and forever more




AN OPEN ONLINE SERVICE FOR EVIE

The difference between a streamed service - which can be private, but which essentially is hosted from s single  location - and a closed 'conference call' event, is down to participation. With Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts or other services, everyone involved can take part. So family members or friends on the other side of the world can contribute. YouTube Live has a steeper learning curve, but offers a public live stream which can handle up to 10 contributors in different locations. I haven't used it.

It's possible to have remote contributions to a streamed event, the whole thing being handled by a professional online events company. That's a  wee bit beyond where I want to go with this, though.

So, for Evie, I would anticipate that we have a group of close family or friends, no more than half a dozen, in one place. That the smartphone, tablet is securely set up in landscape mode, preferably on a tripod, and that you've tested everything twice or three times, particularly for sound. Also, that you've rehearsed moving people in and out of shot. Maybe just three people on a sofa will be enough Central, though is one person who will lead the service. One person should handle the camera, music and technical aspects and remain out of shot.

Everyone has been alerted to the time and online location of the webcast. through Facebook (Evie's own page or one you've set up specially) you've asked for contributions and memories from her friends around the world, saved them and printed them out for Carolyn to read.

That Facebook page should be kept open for folk to leave messages and condolences before, during and after the funeral service.

You should start with some of Evie's favourite music, and a shot (or montage) of pictures of her. Have at least five minutes of this from the appointed start time to allow for folk to get themselves sorted as they log in.

Write, revised and rewrite what will be said. No speaking off the cuff. Make sure everybody participating has read the other participants' contributions.

EVIE

MUSIC: Rolling Stones - YOU CAN'T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT
(camera shows montage of pictures or static shot of Evie)
FADE MUSIC

PETER: Hallo, and welcome to this online service for our beloved Evie, who died at the age of 78 last week from complications caused by the Corona Virus. I'm Peter Jensen her younger brother, and I'd like to thank you, on behalf of the family for your presence with us today, and for all your messages of support and love.

With me here on the sofa is Evie's daughter Celia and my wife Carolyn. Celia's son Ernie is handling all the technical aspects of this webcast. he knows about that stuff.

Evie loved the Rolling Stones, and while Let It Bleed was her favourite album, she had very wide tastes in music, an that even included The Beatles. You'll know also that she loved nature, wildlife of all kinds and especially birdwatching, so let's all listen to the Beatles song Blackbird. In her last days, she used to love watching the birds on the table outside her window, and the song of blackbirds in the morning was something she loved to hear.

MUSIC: the Beatles - BLACKBIRD

One of the things that everyone who knew her recognised about Evie was her unconquerable spirit, her love of and joy in life, her bravery in dealing with illness, pain and all the difficulties that life threw in her path. She had no time for religion, and she was always ready to take responsibility for her own actions. "I am the captain of my soul" she would often say, and Celia is going to read the poem that phrase comes from, and then say a few words about her mum.

CELIA:
Thanks Peter. this is Invictus by WE Henley

Out of the night which covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeoning of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Mum was born in Wick, Caithness in 1942, to her parents Murray, a fisherman and Marie, a net mender and union activist who profoundly influenced Evie's politics. All her life she campaigned for the rights of the underdog, equality for women and, it must be said, for having a good time and enjoying loud music at inappropriate times of the day and night. Somehow, she was always able to get round the neighbours who came to complain, usually be offering them a glass of her home made parsnip wine.

She and my long-suffering dad but beloved and lovely who left us in 1998, liked nothing more than a political argument, a bottle of decent Rioja and a party with some deafening rock'n'roll music. And maybe that's why I've been left with a love of the Clash and the Buzzcocks, both of which I introduced mum to...

(Celia relates the rest of Evie's life story, then says...)

I'm going to hand over to Carolyn, who's been handling all the social media and online stuff along with Ernie, and she's going to read out some of your messages.

CAROLYN: Thanks Celia. I just want to say another thank you to everyone who's been in touch and for all your messages. Before I read them out, or just a tiny fraction of the dozens we've received, I'd like to pay my own tribute to Evie, who welcomed me into the Jensen family even though I was always a country music fan...she was a loving grand, a great inspiration and supporter, and generous to a fault. She was the best and of mother in law, and I loved her dearly.

(Carolyn reads messages)



PETER: Thanks Carolyn

When the moment of departure comes
Despite the knowledge of pain finally relieved
The sadness of those left comes like a flood
An overwhelming tide of grief

Now, hold fast to memories, the lasting
Tokens of the life you shared
The joys and sorrows, triumphs and defeats
All that was built, all of the love and care

For in the end, hers is the victory
The gifts she gave will never fade away
And we stand proud, in honour and in praise
Remembering, celebrating her today


Let’s remember Evie

(Pause - brief silence)

And remember too
That tears are for the washing away of grief
Hope is for the building of dreams
And love is the tender life force which conquers death

There are many things in life we can’t understand
And many things we have to accept
May our memories of Evie
our love for her and  and each other
Encourage us never to give way to bitterness or despair
But grow to live with
More tenderness
More courage
More purpose
More hope, positivity, caring and gentleness
Than ever before

May this be true for us all
For in the mystery of love
Life always springs out of death

Folks, wherever you are in the world, we know you'll remember Evie with love and stand with us as we learn to live without her. We're going to raise a glass to her now, a particularly nice Rioja which she always said she was keeping for a special occasion, and never opened, and we invited you raise one too and drink with us.

(BOTTLE OF WINE OPENED EARLIER AND IS POURED)

To Evie! (drinks)

Thank you all. please add your messages to Evie's Facebook page and share with with anyone you know who knew her. We'd like to thank the medical staff who cared for Evie from the local GP practice and the hospital, and Gracies Funeral Services for all their help at this very difficult time. Please, when this crisis is over, come and see us. Evie will be cremated, as she wished, and her ashes will be scattered in QueensPark, Glasgow, at the flagpole on top of the hill. Visit us, and but if you take a walk up there, think of Evie. Now Ernie has arranged  a wee montage of pictures of Evie in her prime, and as we say goodbye to you and her, we're going to listen to Warren Zevon's lovely Keep Me In Your Heart

MUSIC: Warren Zevon - Keep Me In Your Heart.

PETER CELIA AND CAROLYN leave the sofa, and place a picture of Evie there. Followed by a montage of old pictures of her. After the song finishes, fade to black.



























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