A good place to live...

Friday, 29 January 2010

A Quaker funeral

We went today to the village where we used to live, to be part of a farewell. No experience of a Quaker funeral before this, imagined silence and wondered how it would work as a funeral...

Arriving with friends, we found chairs, and had time to look at what had been prepared. The village Hall, with chairs arranged in concentric circles, grouped so people could walk between, and in the open centre, a table. Small objects with an unknown significance - a pleated, white shell; the dark length of a fir cone; the Bible, a Quaker book of quietness; subdued flowers in purple and blue in a tall glass; a pot of bulbs.

The folded 'service' sheet had pictures of Carol, clear, bright and full of her character. There was her favourite hymn "In the bleak mid-winter" space for a Quaker reflective period, then her other favourite hymn "Be thou my vision" (my 'key' hymn: chosen for my Licensing with the Bishop of Edinburgh, and for my eventual funeral).

People began to arrive: the clusters increased to streams; Grassby's gently moved people to the back, then to the stage, then more and more... until finally there were about 300 standing and sitting (in a Hall licensed for 120 sitting, OR 180 standing!)

A wonderful and unsurprisingly varied group of people: padded patchwork jackets, cotton skirts, warm skirts, male earrings, vertically-high heels, long hair [men] longer hair [women] - and none of us felt 'out of place'.

The service began with an introductory word from the Rector, who probably wasn't entirely comfortable with this informality - and we sang, with great strength and clarity "what can I give him...give my heart" knowing that was the reason Carol had chosen that hymn.

I thought again of the heavy weight of words that occupy a funeral service; that comfort some [those who must cry] and almost crush others with the solemnity, and continuous statements: for an older generation this was a comfort, and who would deny them.

The silence gently introduced by the Quaker 'leader' was interspersed with short readings: we were reminded that the Quaker tradition is to keep silence for 2 minutes after each person has spoken, for reflection on what has been said.

It was a transforming experience: never-to-be-forgotten.
Everything about the words felt like another piece of a shimmering mosaic; We heard 'My friend' from Khalil Gibran's 'The Prophet'; small comforting verses; a few words from one ('I think of her as like the Cheshire Cat, the last thing you see is the smile, and that will stay with me always') and then another - someone spoke of going to an exhibition and seeing Carol with rainbow-coloured silk scarves - and thinking of her always as rainbow coloured... and BOTH those rang true for us too. I wished I'd heard the friend [?Cath] and the one which quoted Blake; some were inaudible, some were written out, some spontaneous, some were spoken through tears, but the overall impression was of a most joyous gathering of memories; of friendships; of laughter.

It was so totally different from any Church funeral, let alone the chilly neutrality of a Crematorium, that it could only be comforting. I wish I could capture in a few words, the sense of uplift, of spirituality, of unsentimental love and affection.

For us there has been a sense of lightness, of deepened friendship through the reflections of people we might never meet again, united through knowing one person. And the awareness of a personality with far more dimensions than we had ever encountered (something we both hugely regret - why had we missed having those conversations, and discovering that she loved that hymn/poem, that I knew well...) but all will be well - all manner of things will be well.

There was such an overwhelming sense of Carol's presence: of her own satisfaction that everything was right; of her companionship all through the day. If we felt it, her family were inspired by it to be the centrepoint holding everything.
Our sense of the huge blessing Carol has been to so many people, but in the end the sense of Dave, Paddy and Chris's own generosity as a family, in sharing so much of her with others.

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