Something that has amazed and inspired me as a funeral celebrant is how some people can find their way through the grief to pay a powerful vocal tribute to their loved one with a funeral speech.
From simple poetry readings to personal and family eulogies, these moments add a dimension to an occasion that is already loaded with emotion, and serve many purposes. At their most fundamental, they give the family a voice, and this is so important, especially for children. When somebody dies, families go into a whirlwind of activity. There is so much to do – sorting out paperwork, sorting out relatives, arranging the funeral – but it’s generally done (of course) by the adults. Children cannot get involved with these things, so when they are encouraged to take part in the funeral service with maybe a funeral speech they finally feel as if they have a purpose. Just two weeks ago, the nine-year-old granddaughter of the deceased came up to the lectern and delivered a poem she’d written for her beloved grandmother. The delivery was faultless yet heartbreaking, and in that one small act of public speaking, she had said it all. There wasn’t, as they say, a dry eye in the house.
On other occasions, siblings have come to the front and spoken together. Sometimes, one will speak and the others just stand with them, supporting silently. And this might be in front of 200+ people …
At one recent funeral service I invited the deceased’s son to come up as arranged and deliver the eulogy he had written. Stepping away from the lectern, I gestured to the microphone. ‘No,’ he said, ‘I’ll do it from here.’ He stood, squarely, on the steps in the centre of the chapel and spoke with a clarity and purpose most would envy. For approximately five minutes he reminisced, joked, mourned and eulogised … he had the audience laughing and crying and laughing again, and even handled his brothers’ heckling with ease. This is the kind of thing that makes a funeral service stand out as a fitting final event in the deceased’s existence, and yet this guy did no public speaking in his everyday life. He’d even warned me that he may not be able to do it as ‘public speaking was not his thing’.
And then, only last week, the biggest surprise of them all. I’d been told that the grandson of the guy we were saying goodbye to ‘might sing’. I have to say that I was doubtful, partly because I’d never experienced a 14-year-old boy singing solo at a service before, and partly because, if public speaking at your loved one’s funeral service is a big thing to consider, public singing may just be a bridge too far.
How wrong I was.
At the required moment, I announced that we had something special to listen to, and called him up. Up he came, and sang, unaccompanied, one of the most beautiful songs for his grandad that I’ve ever heard.
Isn’t it amazing what we’re capable of? Isn’t it amazing what the human spirit can achieve when the occasion requires it? All of those described here will always know what they did for their loved ones and their families … how a simple act of public speaking enhanced an already loaded event. That’s quite something to take forward at a very difficult time.