The past few days I have felt absolutely exhausted, but better enough today to put fingers to keyboard and share with you what a wonderful service we had for Dad on Thursday.
My hubby, my sister and I planned it from beginning to end, and it was very hard trying to decide what to put in and what to leave out, because Dad lived such a full life with so many interests and skills, but I think in the end we did him proud!
The above photo was taken at his graduation from Manchester University in the late 40s. He looks so handsome! We put this on the back cover of the service booklet.
I designed the service booklet myself, and the funeral director submitted it for printing. This seemed so right, and it felt like a beautiful service I could perform for Dad, to put my design and layout skills to their best use, to produce something beautiful that would honour him, and that his friends and family would want to keep afterwards.
We asked our local organist, who is extremely gifted, to play a selection of J.S. Bach chorale preludes at the beginning of the service, and one at the end – Dad loved many forms of classical music but Bach was his first love (something he passed on to me), and these pieces were also played at our wedding. During the service we played recordings of other favourite pieces of Dad’s, and as his coffin left the church, carried shoulder high by four bearers (my hubby being one of them), “Syrinx” for solo flute by Claude Debussy was played. Dad used to play this piece often, and it is so haunting and atmospheric. You could have heard a pin drop. Throughout the service, Dad’s flute lay on his coffin. He played all the woodwind instruments during the course of his long life, apart from the clarinet and the recorder, and self-taught, achieved a proficient enough level to play each one at various times in his local symphony orchestra. The flute was his first instrument, which he took up when at Manchester Grammar School.
Also during the service we sang a selection of his favourite hymns. One in particular stands out: “Teach me, my God and King,” written by George Herbert in 1633. I wanted this hymn at our wedding, but since I had chosen every hymn and every piece of music, I thought it only right to let my poor hubby choose at least one thing! It was this hymn that had to be dropped, which I was very sad about. It is a most unusual hymn, written at the dawn of the Age of Reason when alchemy and superstition were giving way to modern scientific method and discovery. It contains references to both disciplines, and points to Dad’s many interests in the nature of the physical universe, and also describes his character – someone who did everything to the very best of his ability, for the glory of God. Somehow, not having it at our wedding was made perfect by having it at Dad’s funeral instead.
Teach me, my God and King,
In all things Thee to see,
And what I do in anything
To do it as for Thee.
A man that looks on glass,
On it may stay his eye;
Or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
And then the heaven espy.
All may of Thee partake;
Nothing can be so mean,
Which with this tincture, “for Thy sake,”
Will not grow bright and clean.
A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine:
Who sweeps a room, as for Thy laws,
Makes that and the action fine.
This is the famous stone
That turneth all to gold;
For that which God doth touch and own
Cannot for less be told.
The service consisted of exactly the right balance of solemnity, beauty, joy, fun and laughter. My hubby, my sister and I were all able to speak about Dad, sharing our own reminiscences of him, and there were many amusing anecdotes! My talk, which I entitled “My Inheritance” was a distillation of my blog post about the importance of objects as symbols, and I took along the objects described in that post and made a little display on a table at the side, complete with explanations for each one, and selected half a dozen to include in my talk.
In my sister’s talk, she included a reading of two of his favourite Hilaire Belloc nonsense poems that he used to recite from memory to anyone who would listen – having heard them so often over the years I have them by heart myself! She remembered things about Dad that I had forgotten – such as how he and she used to climb trees!
My hubby spoke about him after the reading of Psalm 1 (“Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly…”) which so summed up Dad’s integrity and righteousness; he spoke about Dad’s faith, and shared his own reminiscences. Between us, we included his diligence in his profession as a surgeon, his music, his engineering (and especially clock repairing) skills, his love of astronomy, his general eccentricity, his great sense of humour, his love for his cars, snooker, croquet, fencing, tennis and table tennis, and his enthusiasm for life and his constant desire to learn new things, which kept him forever young.
After the service, the pews were pushed back and we tucked into a splendid Devon cream tea, with sandwiches and lemon drizzle cake, and plenty of opportunity for further reminiscences. Lots of old friends and colleagues were there, and family members from as far afield as Yorkshire and Staffordshire – my only regret was that so many people had to leave so soon, as they had long journeys to make in the darkness and the rain, and I only managed a few minutes’ conversation with my cousins and Godmother, for instance.
In addition to the display of objects on the table, I also set up my laptop with a slideshow of photos taken throughout Dad’s long life, and this was watched with great interest by all and sundry. During the wake, a CD was played of further favourite pieces of music which Dad had loved.
The beautiful little country church was decorated ready for Christmas, with the candles lit, and the Nativity on the table to one side.
We chose a beautiful willow coffin for him. I have a thing about coffins – I really hate them! My hubby knows a wonderful local firm of funeral directors who offer “green” funerals and in their catalogue, they provide several different willow coffins, and also shrouds on a bier – we attended a funeral a couple of years ago when this was used, and it was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. They cannot use shrouds for cremation, though, so we chose the most natural-coloured willow one, which rested on two simple ash trestles. We chose beautiful flowers, all in white, with some greenery – Dad loved simple, unadorned things, and I think this would have pleased him immensely. As he was borne out, I had a thought that it was fitting that he should be in a Moses basket – just like at the beginning of his life! We had chosen his favourite clothes to be dressed in for his final journey, including the green velvet waistcoat with the silk applique ivy leaves which I had made for him many years ago.
When the funeral director returned to the church after taking Dad to the crematorium, he told me that on the drive there with Dad, the sky became very dramatic, with a huge dark cloud behind them, and shafts of sunlight ahead, which he said made the grass greener than he’d ever seen it, and the sheep more luminous! As he watched, a rainbow appeared. I believe this was a beautiful sign that God was smiling down on Dad and welcoming him into His Kingdom.