Friday, 6 May 2011

First ever British funeral

Our neighbour died recently. 

She was a lovely lady and really, not unhealthy or old enough for this to happen. Only days before she suddenly dropped dead, we saw her looking healthy and happy, chatty as usual. And, without any warning, one Sunday afternoon, her husband returned home from a short trip to his favourite allotment, to find her dead on the floor.

It was very shocking and sad, and since the couple was our personal favourite on the street, we felt we should attend the funeral to pay our respects. 

My first British funeral experience, of course, involved a church service. Despite not being religious, I find most of the churches quite pleasant. I said most because I’d once attended a wedding in some type of Anglican Church where the walls were decorated with spooky heads of scary creatures, or demons of some description. Which, I thought, was very peculiar.  

This little church was cute and very pretty. No demons, which was also kind of relaxing. Unfortunately, it barely had enough seats to accommodate us all, as the neighbour lady was very popular. Fortunately for me, someone we knew offered me her seat. She stood up in the isle, but took her copy of the order of service with her. And then I made a mistake. I was curious what was written in what I later described to Husband as the programme. I asked a lady sitting next to me if I could have a glance through hers. Of course, she said, and we can share it later. No, I thought, really, there is no need to share it. Looking through the order of service, I quickly realized that there was quite a lot of standing up and singing the hymns together. A bit like at the Royal Wedding, which I am sure you all watched in great detail.  Of course, every time we got asked to stand up and sing, the lady next to me opened her little brochure and held it up close to my face. I had no choice. I had to pretend I was singing along. It was pretty awkward, not only because I felt incredibly hypocritical, but also because I neither knew the melody, nor understood most of the words. 

I have to say, I expected more tributes to the person who we all gathered to say goodbye to. After all, it was a celebration of her life and how nice she was. But there was only one personal speech by the member of the family. The rest were all prayers for the Lord, hymns for the Lord and other tributes related to the greatness of the Lord. I suspect the Lord had to be presented with a certain amount of worship so he would accept the soul for eternity. 

As I sat there glancing through the programme in between the singing, I noticed some useful information.  After the service, it said in small print on the back cover, the family would attend a short private ceremony at the crematorium. And, after that, everyone was kindly invited to share refreshments at the nearby pub.


Suddenly, I was wide awake and alert. You have to understand my desires at the moment are pretty primal. Good time=food. Good mood also= food. Good company= food. There should be no surprise then that a good funeral for me right now would = food. I made a wild guess that the word refreshments might have meant food as well as drinks. It was lunchtime after all.

So, leaving the church, I asked Husband if we were going to the pub with everyone else. Husband did not think it was appropriate for us to go. ‘We did not know her that closely’, he said. But I was not prepared to give up. Excuse me, I pointed out. I just paid my respects by not only showing up in that God’s establishment heavily pregnant, but also by singing along to every single hymn for almost an hour. I need those refreshments.
It was a pleasant experience, if it is at all an appropriate word for funerals. Everyone gathered in the pub’s garden, sipping white wine and eating buffet food. It did feel like a celebration of her life. Which is a complete opposite to what I am used to back home.

I don’t know what is better for the family. Is it better to cry and wail in front of everyone, sit around the body in a circle in a quiet room, staring and whispering? Or is it better to sing hymns and then get drunk on white wine and eat buffet food in the pub garden? While smiling and even laughing?  Is it better when you have to wash the body in a Mosque by yourself, or let a caretaker do whatever the preparations are in this country? I think that the grief and the shock are probably the same; however you choose to part with someone you lost forever. However, whatever the scenario, one important aspect remains the same. Everyone needs some decent food afterwards.


  1. I guess that whatever makes the family confortable and conforted is what is correct.
    Here in Peru we use to mourn at a special room in churches, where friends and family go during the day. You pay respects for the dead, give the relatives your sympathy and after that there are two options: you leave or you join the funeral procession to the cemetery. Then, only the closest ones get together on someone's house. We don't use to go to pubs nor have big meals for lots of people. Relatives and close friends mourn privately.
    Each country has its own uses.
    By the way, I can imagine the impact of your neighbor when he found his wife like that. Not a pleasant way of getting back home.

  2. @Gabriela: This topic was clearly not popular. :) One comment!
    I keep thinking how awful the husband must have felt, too. I wonder also, if he kept thinking ( as you do whether it is logical or not) what would have happened if he had not gone out....etc.
    very sad.

  3. A couple of years ago, after a friend's very tragic death at a relatively young age, a group of us were invited to paint her coffin. It was a cardboard one, so it provided a good painting surface. About half a dozen people turned up, and although it was initially very highly stressful and emotionally charged, once we got into the painting it was actually very calming. Certainly seemed exactly the right thing to do under the circumstances.