Faded Ink

daisiesI 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
laughing echoes
dog-eared snaps, beloved pets.
laughter, tears and celebration
family memories,  secret world
bright daisies on a tomb.

© Angela Moore 2013

The Grief of Family Pets

sad pupIn my practice as a funeral celebrant, I encounter many different manifestations of grief, including stoicism, anger, dissociation, overwhelming sorrow, gentle acceptance – each response as individual as the person who experiences it.

The bereaved are generally supported by family and friends but, occasionally, in all the turmoil of arranging a funeral and caring for the living, it may not be recognised that family pets are also grieving. This was brought home to me in a very moving way at a recent family conference.

I arrived somewhat early and, as I waited, observed the scene around me. The mourners seemed isolated in their grief, unable to comfort one another.

I had been greeted at the front door by a beautiful little dog of indeterminate parentage and engaging personality. As I sat in the armchair, it approached me again. I bent forward, extending my hand to allow it to catch my scent and, somewhat to my surprise, it reared up, wrapping its front paws around my wrist, gazing into my eyes with an expression of eloquent pleading. We spent some minutes together and I stroked the small silky head, whispering words of comfort, while its paws continued to clutch my hand. There was a deep sadness in its brown eyes as it rested its head against me, savouring the closeness. Eventually, its craving for solace satisfied, it bumped me with its nose, released my hand and wandered off to sleep in the sunshine.

Preoccupied as we are with our own affairs, we humans often overlook the grief of animals and their sense of loss and abandonment when faced with the death of someone they love. They need our reassurance, the consolation of a gentle touch, the warmth of affection – to know that, although the person they loved has gone, they will not be left to mourn alone. It was a rare privilege to have the opportunity to comfort this beautiful little soul. I am grateful for the insights it has given me about the inner life of our companion animals, with their capacity for unconditional love.

©Angela Moore