Saturday, 22 August 2015

Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone

I went to a secular funeral recently. It was for a perfectly decent bloke, a distant relative whom I'd not seen for 10 years or so.

He'd had a child. He had a job. He had a heart attack so he had slowed down a bit.

I believe it was a secular funeral because that's what the undertakers like around there. The celebrant was bland, moderately cheerful, working on thin material. She had no great promises to offer, no need to make us fear our own eventual judgements, no decent corps of scripture and tradition to lean back on. When her own words failed, in between the Country and Western songs, she fell back - without acknowledging it - on the words of Old Ecclesiastes himself. She told us there is a time to live and a time to die. Didn't mention there being a time to lift my hands up high. Don't suppose she knew that song either.

She also didn't mention that the whole thing is vanity, and a chasing after the wind. Which is a shame.  As at least that would give everyone something to talk about while consuming the funeral tea. But a secular funeral is always gonna be retrospective, I guess. There's nothing to look forward to but egg and cress sandwiches and a glass of sherry.

My uncle when he died had a Christian funeral. At the end we heard a piece of music he'd chosen specially for the occasion (before he went - there was no funny business going on). "Please don't Talk About me When I'm Gone". Which seems a pretty good one for a secular funeral, ironically. Better than "My Way", at any rate.

This was all sparked off by reading Giles Fraser's piece on Cilla Black's funeral Mass. I hate it when I agree with Giles Fraser about something. But there's a sense of responsibility in a Christian funeral. You're going to answer for what you did, or didn't, achieve with your life - just like everybody else.  If you've always depended on your own resources, and not shared with those who can't depend on their own - you may discover your resources are pretty thin-stretched to last eternity. If you've heard and responded to the cries of those in need, you may get a shock when you you discover that, without realising it, you've actually been recognising the Creator. And the rest of us, if we cling in the shadow and stability of the Rock, may escape as those who have been pulled from a fire.

A secular funeral depends on the good character and interesting deeds of the dead person, and the oratorical skills and empathy of the celebrant. A Christian one, on the character of the One who sent us, and to whom we will be accountable. And I know that truth doesn't depend upon the story that is better. But it's still a better story. When it's my turn, I hope I'll cling to that Rock. And hope Mary will pray for my soul.

Take it away, Willie...


  1. I've been to some pretty grim rent a clergy funerals at the crem in my time (notably my grandma and grandad - we would have done much better being left with my cousin's fine summing up, and without All Things Bright And Beautiful). And today alas it is the task of my tribe to create the best atheist funeral ever for my brother in law, a lovely man with a tendency to spontaneously send his skint relatives money when pissed). I am eyeing both Auden and Dawkins' Ancestors Tale as a starter for ten, though we all need to talk. And I think we'll be much better off without the implication of hell which is clinging to the tail of your penultimate paragraph.

    Yes, I'm sure a fine Christian funeral is possible. But you shouldn't assume you have the monopoly on them.

    1. Oh there's definitely 3 hints about Hell in that post.

  2. I see a Christian funeral as a statement of hope in the promise made to us all of eternal life with the son of our Maker. Sure there will be some gloss on the life lived, but essentially, the Christian funeral is a celebration of the life to come.

    I too have been to several secular funerals, one latterly for my 92 year old, war veteran Uncle. Who said that he couldn't believe that God could forgive him for the things that he'd done during the war, essentially kill or be killed. But he bore the burden of that guilt, and nothing I was able to say to him about a merciful God could turn him from that belief. Note, he wasn't denying God existed or that he believed in him, he was a man of faith, very much aware of the consequences of a lifetime lived, and apprehensive about whether or not he qualified to be part of God's eternal kingdom in the next life.

    His son decided that this was evidence that a secular funeral was appropriate, to the distress of his fathers long time partner, and others off us, who were given no say in the decision

    The funeral was totally devoid of hope and some of the facile pronouncements by the civil celebrant about him 'being up in the stars, running with his favourite Dog' were a contradiction in terms to my mind about there being no life after death.

    Giles Frazer got it right, and so have you. My recent experience of verging funerals has given me a little bit of insight into those deceased, and the hope that the Christian funeral has given to those left behind. And long may it be so.

  3. Funerals these days are about the living, exclusively. Hence the long orations by family members (my heart sinks when I see the third or fourth relative stepping up with a tearstained sheet of A4). It is a comfort to many, that death is the end and that there is no retribution to be feared, and it is a looking-back, nostalgically.

    On the other hand....

    "After this it was noised abroad that Mr Valiant-for-Truth was taken with a summons.....When he understood it, he called for his friends and told them of it. Then said he, 'I am going to my Father's, and though with great difficulty I am got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get it. My marks and scars I carry with me to be a witness that I have fought his battles who will now be my rewarder.' When the day that he must go hence was come, many accompanied him to the riverside, into which, as he went, he said, 'Death, where is thy sting?' And as he went down deeper, he said, 'Grave, where is thy victory?' So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side."

  4. And what sort of funeral did Kirsty have, Archdruid?

    1. Humanist, then her ashes scattered with the flying fishes.

  5. My uncle had a Humanist funeral. Not knowing what a Humanist is, I sat through it attentively, and am none the wiser, and therefore still puzzled as to why, of all the jazz music they could have chosen, the family played him out with When the Saints Go Marching In.

    1. Intriguing. As it's clearly an Introit.

  6. I hate it when you agree with Giles Fraser about something, too; I already have enough difficulty telling you apart.


Drop a thoughtful pebble in the comments bowl