Earlier this week I led a funeral for a man (let’s call him ‘D’) who had no mourners there to pay their respects.
In situations where someone dies without assets and they have not family, their family cannot be traced or they are not able to pay for the funeral, the state meets the costs. The funeral is inevitably expected to be ‘no frills’, but equally provide a dignified send off to the individual.
As a civil funeral celebrant I aim to ensure every ceremony is individual and personal, usually reflecting the wishes of the family and/or individual. They usually know whether someone had religious beliefs, their taste in music, their achievements and interests etc. Where there is no-one to offer this information or guidance, the task of creating and delivering a meaningful ceremony rests with me.
Sometimes there is absolutely no information available about an individual. On this particular occasion I was lucky in that the funeral director had been able to locate a distant cousin in Ireland. She was able to give me some very basic information about D’s family, although he had left Ireland at 18 to begin a new life in England and lost touch with all of them. His link with her had only been reestablished within the last couple of years via social media.
My only other source of information was contacting the housing facility where he was living. The manager there was really helpful, although his knowledge too was very limited. He was able to give me some sense of D’s character and some of the complex problems he faced. He knew little about his history, but kindly took the time to look through D’s CD collection so we got a sense of the sort of music he liked.
On the day, the funeral director and bearers arrived with the hearse at the crematorium. There was no difference in the way they conducted themselves, as ever respectful and dignified. Although only hired to help carry the coffin into the chapel, the funeral director asked the bearers to stay on for the ceremony on a voluntary basis, which they did. Our ‘congregation’ therefore comprised the bearers, funeral director, chapel attendant and organist (who was not needed for the ceremony).
Having established D liked rock music and Bob Marley, we entered the chapel to “Stairway to Heaven”. After a short poem I spoke of what I knew about D, as well as acknowledging there was so much we did not know. I shared a hope that on his journey through life, as well as the problems and challenges he had faced, he also had the chance to experience love and happiness. After our farewell, we left to Bob Marley’s “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright”.
I don’t know what D would have thought of the ceremony; but I hope he would have appreciated that we did our best for him.