Funeral for my Mother

The saddest blog I ever want to write

Two days ago I attended a funeral as a mourner rather than celebrant. This was my own mother’s funeral and I still find it hard to believe that it’s happened. I’m writing this not knowing whether I shall make it public or not (and, if I do whether anyone would read it anyway), but I need to get the feelings and reflections out of my head before I can get on with my day – to – day work as a celebrant.

Happier times; Mum’s 90th birthday party in front of her house.

My Mum died on Saturday 7th October aged 95. She had been in hospital for a month, not exactly ill but with shallow breathing and unable to return home as her balance had finally gone completely. She was booked in to a nursing home for the Tuesday after she died. Mum had managed to stay in the family home with the help of carers until this point, and she didn’t want to leave. The “family home” is a large Victorian house where she had lived for fifty years, so we shouldn’t have been surprised that she found a way to avoid seeing the door close on it for the final time.

Mum Went the Best Way Possible

On the morning of the day she died, Mum greeted one of my brothers and two visitors with her normal sunny smile but then slowly entered an ever deeper sleep. By night-fall she died, by then my older brother was also with her having driven up from London. There was no struggle, no pain, just sleep. I arrived some 30 minutes after she had gone. Do I regret not getting there in time? Yes, enormously but I’d seen her the previous week and on kissing her goodbye I think we both knew it may have been the last time.

My sister flew back from her home in Kenya and together the family (two brothers and two sisters, my Dad having died some thirty – eight years ago) started to think about a funeral. My family were brought up as Catholic, and I’ve spoken elsewhere about the need for ceremony that this has instilled in me. Mum was very much still practising, as are two of my siblings, so of course we would have a full requiem mass. My mother had identified the exact readings and hymns which she wanted, making life much easier for us. I recommend that everyone does this!

The Funeral

Two priests (the parish priest and an ex-parish priest whom Mum had requested) were available to say the mass and they did it beautifully. My sister took the lead on identifying what we wanted from Mum’s notes and arranged things accordingly. We were given special permission to sing “Jerusalem” before the start of the ceremony since Mum had been a very keen WI member during her time in Cheshire (50 years). There’s a tradition for this hymn to be sung before every WI meeting in England. My niece is a talented musician and, aged just sixteen, agreed to accompany the organist with her flute as we sung “Lord of all Hopefulness”. What a trooper, she did it beautifully. My nephews read the readings and my daughter and niece read the bidding prayers, which my brother had put together with his sons.

Normally in a requiem mass, the priest would preach a sermon, possibly with direct reference to the departed, but there will be no eulogy as such. As a celebrant, I find this very hard to understand but thankfully the parish priest gave us permission to present our own tribute to our mother and the four of us did so at the end of the ceremony, just before the final blessing. Mum really did pack a great life into her 95 years, so the main problem was deciding what to leave out. We took it in turns to read the words we’d decided on together. In rehearsing them my sister and I had thought we’d never manage without tears but on the day, we found strength from somewhere and all did Mum proud. I expect that seeing a sea of familiar faces looking up at us with real interest in what we had to say must have helped. During the mass, the priest who knew Mum best gave a lovely sermon in which he also referred to her life in the parish.

Mum as a Wren during the second world war. It was lovely that we, as a team, could give our tribute during the ceremony.

The Hymns…

Singing can be disastrous at funerals; not at this one! The congregation and family raised the roof, even the priest was moved to congratulate us all! At the end of the ceremony, Mum’s casket was given a final blessing with incense and the priest led the family out to the waiting hearse as we and the congregation sang “How Great Thou Art”. My family has been raised to sing with gusto and this is a beautiful hymn, so we kept singing “acapella” once we were outside and the thirteen of us made a surprisingly good noise as the coffin was lifted into the hearse. The congregation slowly followed us out and in time we went to the cemetery to take Mum to her final resting place with Dad. Once the priest had finished his graveside ceremony, we sang an impromptu repeat of the chorus “Then sing my soul, my saviour God to thee. How Great thou art, how great thou art….”. The priest, moved by the depth of love for this amazing lady then, with his arm around my shoulders, said the prayer “Hail Holy Queen” which had been a favourite of my Dad. Mum would have approved.

I haven’t attended mass for some years but I must admit that Catholicism in some form is still in me like print in a stick of rock. I found comfort in hearing the familiar words and responses, and knowing that we were doing just what Mum had requested was enormously significant. Having a Catholic funeral was how it had to be, and I wouldn’t have changed this for the world. I’m enormously grateful that the priest allowed us to put our own stamp on the proceedings, however. At the end of the day, many of us want to be allowed to make a funeral “our own”, and whilst this one was very different to the ceremonies I create, it was perfect.

Had I been asked to officiate a funeral for a family with this sort of story to tell, I’m afraid that at our meeting I may have been tempted to talk about “a good innings”, or a “long and fulfilled life”. If I ever have used those phrases, I don’t think I will again, or at least without the proviso, “but it doesn’t matter, she’s your Mum and you miss her”.  Rest in Peace, Mum. I love you.

The flowers were a mixture from the florist and Mum’s garden. The casket was from the Somerset Levels, an area which had significance for Mum.