MY LIFE WITH DEATH
The Princess of Wales had a big impact on Britain, it’s often said, including encouraging us to share our emotions more and to help those in need. I was only nine when Diana died; older colleagues say that since her death there have been significant changes in funeral protocol, with tributes from family and friends and modern music now being much more common.
Of course, Diana’s funeral service at Westminster Abbey in August 1997 had hymns, including I Vow To Thee My Country. It also had some beautiful classical music, as well as God Save The Queen. But anyone who remembers that sad day will also no doubt remember Elton John’s special ‘English rose’ version of Candle In The Wind. It was very moving.
In fairness, however, not everyone likes this kind of sentimentality. In 2009 a Gloucestershire vicar actually banned popular songs at funerals after blaming the death of Diana for increasing numbers of mourners wanting music such as "My Way".
"It all seems to date back to Princess Diana’s death, when there was an outpouring of unbelievable emotion,” said Geoff Stickland. "The utter devotion was impressive, but we have changed to a culture that I find incredibly hard to accept. To stand at the door of the church and hear Frank Sinatra singing “My Way” as the coffin is carried in, and then to hear “Grandad” playing as they file out is not right.”
Mr Stickland, who was 68 at the time, said Victorians had an “immense conviction in the promise of eternal life”. But later, with fewer people with religious convictions, “people have to look back and pick personal moments, it is all just incredibly emotional.”
Mr Stickland and those who agree with him are absolutely entitled to their viewpoints. Vive la difference! But I see each week that funerals are becoming increasingly personalised, and not just with the music.
Preplanning many aspects of a funeral is very common now and people often choose coloured coffins, coffins covered with pictures (I had a lady who wanted cats all over hers, like this one, above), coffins painted by artists or in special shrouds. Some of us are buried in forests; more of us are choosing eco coffins made of materials like bamboo, willow or even cardboard.
Some deceased are transported in motorcycle sidecars, even in rubbish carts. (I am currently doing up a Daimler that was used in the gangster Ronnie Kray's funeral in London in 1995). Other people choose to spend their money going up in a firework display or having their fingerprints made into jewellery; Claire Edwards from Lasting Memories in York makes some amazing pieces, like this one, below!
One could argue that all this choice is the ultimate in consumerism and the ‘me’ culture. But I would argue that fully engaging with what happens to us immediately after we die inevitably helps us to be more accepting of death, which, of course, no one can escape from.
Choosing a coffin, choosing burial or cremation, choosing whether to have a green funeral or not and choosing a few pieces of favourite music - all of these acts help the ‘pre planners’, the dying and their loved ones to engage with who they are and with their own mortality. And that ultimately, I think, helps us to carry on living and to make the most of every day.
Until next time,