I read a book some years ago called The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I have recently watched the film of the same title. It is a story about a young thirteen-year-old living in New York, who survives an explosion that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, he is cared for by the family of a friend. He is utterly grief-stricken and clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a miniature painting of a Goldfinch that draws him into the underworld of fine art as an adult. It’s a captivating story about grief and loss and love.
It’s in fact, quite normal when you’re grieving to come across something that catches your eye; something that takes you back to a moment in time or puts you back in touch with the person you mourn. Often, when you find that something, you can suddenly realise that you can see a little further in front of you because you have something of them which remains - it could be a photo, a book, a video, or indeed a painting.
For me, after losing Grandma, it was her golden cup and saucer. I can remember, as a child, how captivated I was by that cup and saucer. It seemed to embody her ideals, her tastes, and her way of life. I can still see how her lips, laden with pink lipstick, would curl around the edge of the cup, and she always left an imprint of her lips on the side of it. I can still hear the click of the bone china as she placed the cup on the saucer. When she died at the age of 90, she still used the same cup and saucer. It was the one thing I felt I needed to take with me as a keepsake. There is something almost eucharistic about it. Something of the past becomes a present reality. It is now much more than just a cup and saucer – it’s grandma.
I think Donna Tartt captures the essence and nature of grief in her story and how we often invest so much in something which may seem unimportant to others. I encourage families to bring a few things with them to the funeral of a loved one, representing the life we are celebrating for this reason.
I remember one young man who tragically lost both his parents within a few days each other, writing a little while after the ceremony to thank me for suggesting precisely this. When I met him, I remember him referring to an old conker and a two-pound coin. The conker took him back to a cherished time he went conker picking with his dad, and he often reminisced that his mum would always give him a two-pound coin when he lost a tooth. At their funeral, he placed them on a table next to a lit candle.
The conker and the coin now take pride of place in his room. They are the parts of his mum and dad which remain. The conker is no longer just a conker, and the coin is worth a great deal more than its physical value.
“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift, which is why we call it the present.” ― Bill Keane
Tell me, what does your life look like? How do 'they' hear it? What are your tastes? How does it feel? What makes you laugh, and what makes you sad? What are your dreams, the things you yearn for? Where do you come from? What did you do? ... Let me in.
Who am I to assume that privilege, you may ask? Well, firstly, this is what I do. I was nurtured and encouraged to be your voice at your funeral many years ago by family, friends, colleagues, and universities.
I believe in life before death and that every memory is a gift - a part of you which remains. Above all things, I believe in Love with a capital 'L' - Love makes the world go around. I'm a dad to four grown-up children and a teenager—a husband to a wonderful wife and a man with a mission. I hate suppressors, and people who are quick to judge. I love Classic FM and afternoon teas and chill out times with Bella, our Rottie.
Ralph Waldo Emerson writes that "to the poet, to the philosopher, to the saint, all things are friendly and sacred, all events profitable, all days holy, all men divine." I trust these words implicitly, and I suppose this lets you in on my mission - to help create sacred spaces and crossing places. With dignity and a sense of occasion, I retell your story. Our paths cross. In much the same way as when your path crossed the midwife who assisted with your birth. As the midwife communicates those first few words of joy, "it's a girl!" or "it's a boy," I am the one who speaks those sacred words of commendation, "he is gone," and "this is what she was like."
Feel for the people we most avoid – strange or bereaved or never employed.
Feel for the women and feel for the men who fear that their living is all in vain.
Feel for the parents who’ve lost their child,
Feel for the women whom men have defiled,
Feel for the baby for whom there’s no breast, and
Feel for the weary who find no rest.
Feel for the lives by life confused, riddled with doubt, in loving abused;
Feel for the lonely heart, conscious of sin, which longs to be pure but fears to begin.
- John L. Bell
"Life is about rhythm. We vibrate, our hearts are pumping blood, we are a rhythm machine." - Mickey Hart
Everything has a rhythm - a beat. Discovering the rhythm and beat in a funeral or a wedding ceremony helps me be more 'in tune' with the participants, as well as with the ritual and words I speak.
In music, 'rests' are very important; they serve more purpose than just separating the notes. They also create atmosphere, and without them the piece can become overwhelming and clumsy. They also make the piece sound a little more put together and interesting, as they help create mood. They are something to be felt and heard.
The art critic John Ruskin writes:
"There is no music in a rest, but there is the making of music in it.'
"How does the musician read the rest? See him beat the time with unvarying count, and catch up the next note true and steady, as if no breaking place had come between..."
The very essense and spirit of the occasion can be missed entirely if we endeavour to just play the notes.
This is why I tend not to use 'scripts' - I use only bullet points for accuracy of information, but as for delivery, I work better being in the moment, with the people - finding the rhythm; sharing in the joy or the sadness of the occasion.
I compose and facilitate, and decide therefore, not to lead and read, but instead, to simply be a congenial presence... serving to the rhythm of the beat.