Sunday, May 13, 2007



It used to be that a Cremation Service consisted of a Christian service of Committal, a few hymns, an address and personal recollections of the deceased. Though this continues to be the standard form for most of the services, there are changes in emphasis as more and more of the deceased and the bereaved are only nominally Christian. The generations that were brought up knowing hymns is fast disappearing. In effect it’s reduced to a handful of tunes – The lords my shepherd, - Abide with me – All things bright and beautiful – Amazing Grace – The Old Rugged Cross – Love Divine. Some of these we will hear two or three times a day, seven days a week. The sickly sentimentality of All things B&B now causes a barely suppressible gag reflex in myself.

A growing number of services are Humanist, Civil Services or family run. The style of these services varies, but a common trend is to use the choice of music to somehow capture aspects of the decease’s character. I’ll warn you now, that if you want specific music played at your funeral stipulate it in your will. Otherwise you will be pray to the musical whims of your remaining relatives, which may not accord with your own. I’ve born the coffins of ninety year olds in to the accompaniment of tunes by Metallica or Iron Maiden. Now even in enlightened and liberally hip Cambridge I find this incongruous and hard to believe. Ministers have entered the Chapel reciting the opening lines of the Christian Committal, drowned out by the sound of Status Quo’s –Down, Down, Deeper and Down. Irrespective that I’m a Buddhist, I found this disrespectful not only to the minister, but to a sense of what is appropriate or dignified. Though I did also find it funny, because it was so patently ludicrous.

Leaving the Chapel after the service seems to provide an opportunity for ranking up the emotional volume or for a defiant concluding statement. The soulful power ballad, such as The Power of Love, by Jennifer Rush, anything by Queen, Tina Turner or Eva Cassidy singing Somewhere over the Rainbow, occur with astonishing regularity. Now a funeral is an emotionally fraught occasion, it doesn’t really need this level of emotional manipulation. As the curtain goes round the catafalque, the air of finality, the final moment of parting is all too palpable. I’ve come to the conclusion that a sort of self pitying sentimentality reveals itself in this choice of closing music. The cloying aspect of grief is made public in musical form.

Other music is more a two fingers up to death, a defiant gesture of the bereaved towards death. We regularly get Monty Python’s - Always look on the bright side of life. I think its thought irreverent, but actually, these days, its just sad and predictable. The all time most popular choice for leaving music is Frank Sinatra’s – I did it my way. Almost every day we get it. I was saddened to hear, on the radio, that it was played at the late Alan Ball’s funeral. Now Alan Ball may indeed have played some of his life his way. Most of us rarely do so, life is often a painful choice between what we’d like to do and what reality deems possible. The choice of – I did it my way – really is saying even though death got me in the end, at least I did life my way. I doubt that most of the deceased were really that fulfilled as men ( yes, it is largely men who have Frank’s aged crooning ) I sincerely doubt they did much their way, but I guess it’s comforting to think of what might have been, or just being remembered will do, surely ! Is there something wrong with being remembered for simply being caring and kind. Death really is not the place for valedictory statements – no one does it entirely their way, unless they were a completely insensitive bastard of course.

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