Monday, March 12, 2007

Funerals - Celebrations of Life

It seems that I have come to that time in my life when I am often a funeral participant. I hadn't been to a funeral in years it seemed, but, in the last year or so, I have had quite a few opportunities to be a mourner. With the exception of two very close long time friends, most of the departed were not close friends but my connection with them demanded a show of respect and an appearance at the funeral. Some of them were quite elderly and not well and the sorrow was tempered by the fact that they had led long satisfactory lives. On the other hand, some of them were the same age as I and this was sad for me, while some were considerably younger and this was indeed tragic.

It seems that certain things have changed at funerals since I last attended one. For example, there is usually a large photo of the departed displayed prominently. Sometimes it is a portrait of the person and sometimes a happy family group and often there are informal collages of photographs at the reception. The flower arrangements are simpler nowadays with many families requesting no flowers, but donations in lieu to the charity of one's choice.

But the innovation that I like best of all, is the PowerPoint musical slide-show presentation that is almost the norm now at funerals. True celebrations of a life, displayed for all of us to see what a fine life this person has led. Since I am an immigrant, I met most of these people as young adults or even middle-aged individuals. So I discover all these interesting things about their early lives that perhaps I didn't know before, that they had never told me. I love this part of the funeral and am disappointed if there is none. The eulogies by friends seem to have become less formal, with funny stories being told so that there is joy in the atmosphere as well as regret. Now many people want to speak at funerals and sometimes they are very long. The funeral for my dear Hungarian friend, who died this past year, was two and a half hours long, since so many people spoke and there I found out he had been shot during the 1956 revolution, which I didn't know.

Just over a year ago I gave the eulogy for a very close Scottish friend. It was a memorial service and since she had died at Christmas, it was held in early January. I wrote my eulogy and was terrified that I would break down and cry in the middle. However two days before I developed viral bronchitis and my voice almost disappeared. No one would agree to read the eulogy for me so I was forced to croak away into the microphone and was concentrating so hard on speaking that I did not lose control until the last.

If you knew me, you would know that I am a micro-manager and always have to do everything myself with lots of double checking involved. So I keep thinking that I should prepare my own funeral celebration. I know which photograph I would like enlarged, a simple candid shot taken at a dinner when I was about 50. It's my favourite photo of myself. I'm not photogenic at all, I fear. I have already asked a friend's son if he will play Amazing Grace on the bagpipes for me, but hopefully it will not be for a long time. I don't know much about PowerPoint but if I can learn blogging I can learn PowerPoint. So I'll have to start looking through my photos and borrow PowerPoint for Dummies from the library. After all, I want my mourners to enjoy my funeral presentation as much as I have appreciated the celebrations of life that I have attended lately.

The bagpiper is Jimmy Mitchell, from Texas, who plays Amazing Grace at funerals.


mhr said...

Power Point presentations at funerals! I'm flabbergasted :)
What next? A posthumous blog?
Mind you, I haven't been to a funeral since 1981 (my young then brother-in-law died in a car accident), and I suppose funerals are very different from one country to another.

A difficult subject, treated with originality and a touch of humour!

PS: Amazing Grace is a wonderful piece of music, and I'm partial to bagpipes anyway!

jmb said...

Of course I'm half Scottish so I should have the bagpipes. My maiden name was Gray, part of the Royal Stuart clan long ago.
I think if you saw one of these presentations you would like it. The one for my Hungarian friend was lovely, pictures with his wife and children and our children grew up with theirs.

Liz said...

I've never seen a powerpoint presentation at a funeral but it sounds like a good idea. And planning your own and picking the best photos is definitely a wise move!

My great-uncle died in February ( and I found out at his funeral that he had been part of the exclusive 617 Dambusters squadron. He never talked about it and, apparently, he was still having nightmares 20/30 years later.

jmb said...

Hi Liz,
This must be a very North American thing. I just assumed it was the new thing everywhere. Perhaps some churches are more picky about it and of course you have to have the technology to do it, that is a special projector.

Linda said...

My brother passed this past June. His children prepared a Power Point presentation to honor and celebrate the full life he led. There were baby pictures, him playing football in high school, my arrival, his marriage, children and grandchildren, and photos of the many trips he made to the Holy Land. He was a Baptist minister. The slideshow gave me and other family members comfort in knowing what a wonderful life he had.

jmb said...

Hi Linda,
I'm sorry for you loss.
I think these PowerPoint things are fabulous as I said and I'm so glad you found them a comfort. I can see how they have been taken up so quickly. Well maybe they've been around a while, I just seemed to have started recently on the funeral circuit.
I was a bit worried that someone who had suffered a recent loss might find my post offensive. It was never meant that way and I'm glad you agree.

Lee said...

I notice a protea in the flower arrangement. I was picking them all morning and selling them out the front of this property to the passing traffic (well, the drivers, at least!).

A friend of mine told me the other day he'd just attended a funeral wherein there was a PowerPoint presention.

I love the bagpipes!

jmb said...

Hi Lee,
That's why I chose that arrangement, for the proteas. I love Australian wildflower arrangements.
I'm glad that the PowerPoint slideshow has arrived in Australia. As Linda said, even the family loves to see their loved one in the happy times of their life.

Cathy said...

The bagpipes are beautiful at funerals. My Sister had them when her husband died and it was breathtaking.

Isn't it strange how funerals come in splurts? I haven't been to any for a while now but I know when they start it is going to be a chain reaction. My Father (who has been deceased for 17 years) still has 7 of his brothers and sisters, and some of their spouses still living. They are all in mid to late 80s and some in their 90s.

jmb said...

Oh dear Cathy,
It sounds as if you could have quite a few funerals coming up at any time. What a shame that your father didn't share the long lived genes that the other siblings have.
The consolation will be that they have lived long full lives.

ipanema said...

I just attended the second funeral 5 months ago. One where I went through in a daze and rattled my world.

My husband's interment was a traditional one in my country. It's my only 2nd funeral service I attended. First was my father over 20 years ago.

jmb said...

Hi Ipanema,
I'm sorry for your loss. I started reading your blog after this event and I had to go back and find the entry.
I hope my post was not offensive to you, I wondered about it for someone who had suffered a recent loss.
But being relatively removed on the emotional side for most of these funerals I hoped to give a more detached review of what I liked about the modern funeral.
I hope your husband's was a great celebration of his life, cut short so sadly.
Take care

ipanema said...

No, your post isn't offensive, jmb. The more I talk about it, the better. It helps. My blogfriends helped me a lot. First with their kind words. Secondly, with their patience reading all my heartaches.
It starts in my November post I think.

And yes, your post is aptly titled. It is indeed a celebration of life.

I love bagpipes and Amazing Grace. During my father's funeral service one of my aunts sang Amazing Grace and Rock of Ages. It was moving.

Marcia said...

My British husband cannot listen to Amazing Grace without emotions welling, he tries to hide it, but. . . I have attended few memorials or funerals, none recently. The movie, Love Actually, has a scene with a similar presentation. It was so moving.

jmb said...

Hi Marcia,
Amazing Grace, a mixture of beauty of thought and melody. Perfection! How can one not be moved to tears? No matter what version, it touches me but somehow the bagpipes render it best for me.