Monday, 16 November 2015

To speak or not to speak - that is the question? | Funeral Celebrant | Eulogy

David and Ruth Archer (Timothy Bentinck and Felicity Finch)
When selecting our viewing (or listening) choices, it is said that we are drawn to the soap opera that is closest to our own life experiences. We will - according to this theory - choose to follow fictional lives in imaginary environments that most closely resemble our own.

It is, therefore, no surprise that - as a farmer’s daughter from the rural county of Norfolk - I should be an Archers’ addict. I have followed the comings and goings of life in the Radio 4 village of Ambridge wherever I have lived in the world and for as long as I can remember.

Putting aside the obviously absurd and far-fetched story lines which crop up all too frequently these days, sometimes a script writer will accurately broach a topic which really hits its mark - one that will resonate with many listeners.

For example: Ruth being torn between the impossible demands of being with her husband and children, work at Brookfield Farm and caring for her elderly, sick  mother living in Northumberland, spoke to many of us members of the “in-Between Generation”.

And, when her mother died, how many more would have been reminded of the death of a parent and the complications of the subsequent paper work and funeral arrangements. When it came to the difficulty of deciding whether or not to speak at the funeral service, I found myself wishing that there had been a qualified celebrant on hand to guide her.

He was my north, my south, my east and my west - John Hannah (playing Matthew) brilliantly reads WH Auden's Funeral Blues in "Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Archers’ fans will recall that David - Ruth’s husband - regretted not speaking at his father’s funeral; and I don’t doubt that many bereaved relatives feel the same. They decide not to take an active role in the ceremony believing it to be too stressful and due to a natural concern that they might break down in the middle and be unable to continue. 

Don’t misunderstand, there is absolutely nothing “wrong” with this - I certainly had no desire to speak publicly at my father’s funeral - and it is perfectly fine to have your sentiments and words read by someone else - perhaps a friend or the person officiating. 

I would just like to let it be known that there is a third option; and one that I like to offer to bereaved family members who feel that they want to say something but are not sure that they will be able. It might be that they have written a piece about their special, individual memories of times spent with the deceased; or perhaps there is a favourite reading or poem that they would like to share.

Earl Charles Spencer speaking at the funeral for Princess Diana - his sister
So, here is my suggestion: first make sure that the Celebrant has a copy of what you would like to say, and then wait and see how you feel … not only on the day itself, but even after the start of the ceremony. It might be that with her opening remarks, the Celebrant has put you at ease and you feel brave enough to give it a go. You actually don’t have to decide until the very last moment before your piece is scheduled. 

When organising the order of service, I will place these contributions near the beginning so that the speakers can get their part over with as early on as possible. In the moment before, they can simply indicate with a nod or shake of the head how they are feeling - in my experience, at this late stage, all have decided to speak. I should also add, that it has previously been agreed that should they suddenly break down, I will gently step in and take over. After a few moments - if they are able to continue and want to - they can carry on at any time.


So, when faced with the dilemma - to speak or not to speak at a funeral for a loved one - my answer would be: prepare your words, and then wait and see.