I had occasion to officiate at the funeral for a woman who died at the venerable age of 98. Most of the funerals I conduct are for the very elderly and, as I sit in pre-funeral conference with the families, I am privileged to hear the minutiae of the lives of those they have lost.
What fascinates me is the detail and complexity of so-called ordinary lives. There is immense pathos in the carefully preserved greeting cards, pressed flowers from forgotten occasions, family sayings and faded photographs of beloved pets. Slowly, the anecdotes begin to flow, laughter and tears alternate and the conversation becomes a small celebration in its own right, offering a rare glimpse into the secret world of family memories.
Even on those rare occasions when the only mourners are staff members from an aged care facility, it is still possible to glean morsels of information – to gain insight into another, precious life. The most casual phrase: “He loved music” or “She knitted constantly” can dispel the anonymity of death. The monochromatic depiction of Client X is replaced, painstakingly, with a rich spectrum of complexity; even if the facts are sparse we can ask, albeit rhetorically – “what were his dreams?” , “why did she leave Scotland in the 1930s?” In the very act of speculation we restore humanity, become fully present to the immediacy of what Mary Oliver called, so poignantly “one wild and precious life.”
The goal is not to recite a litany of facts, but to bear witness to the one who has died. It is a sacred trust, combining the role of companion to the living with guardianship of the portal of the dead. It can be tragic, harrowing, hilarious and joyful – it is always a gift.
loving words in faded ink
pressed flowers, forgotten joys
dog-eared snaps, beloved pets.
laughter, tears and celebration
family memories, secret world
bright daisies on a tomb.
© Angela Moore 2013