Brian, an old friend of Dad’s, offers to lead the funeral service. He is a lay reader at the local church. The church where Mum and Dad got married nearly forty-nine years ago and where we went to services with the Brownies and Guides and met a lot of our childhood friends.
We are overcome with gratitude – and relief. We are baffled by the amount of decisions that need to be made in the days after Dad’s death. The meeting at the funeral parlour alone was exhausting. We knew Dad’s wish was to be cremated, but other than that we had no idea what he wanted. He was not an overtly religious man and had merely told me, ‘Do what you like with the service. I just don’t want to offend anyone.’
In the end we went with our gut and tried to make choices that best represented the kind of man he was. Hence a coffin out of bamboo – the nearest thing to a boat – instead of some dark, sombre wooden box. And the flowers we chose were sunflowers and agapanthus. The resulting arrangement is reminiscent of my sister’s wedding bouquet.
There is much in the organisation of Dad’s funeral which reminds us of a wedding: drawing up a potential guest list; finding a venue for ‘the party’ afterwards (we find we are calling it this rather than ‘the wake’); choosing food and wine; choosing music.
It is in choosing the music that we have most fun. We are sitting in the dining room, which has become our Chamber of Central Communications where all the paperwork is laid out in terrifying columns. We are drinking coffee and talking about Dad’s love of singing and poetry, and Brian is remembering a particular limerick Dad wrote about Brian’s surname, ‘Buck’.
‘He deftly managed to avoid the more obvious rhyme,’ he says, grinning.
We realise that we can’t simply go for the safe options for Dad’s big send-off. He was too joyful, too full of life, laughter and mischief for us to say goodbye via quiet music and dirge-like singing.
‘You know, he loved Monty Python,’ Brian says. He gives a pretty impressive impersonation of the well-known line from ‘The Life of Brian’, ‘”He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!”‘
And that is how we come to choose the recessional piece.
‘Do you think . . . would it be appropriate to have “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” to walk out to?’ we ask.
Brian beams. ‘Yes! It sums your dad up perfectly.’
Later, back at home, I download the song to discover that the word ‘shit’ features very clearly. I debate saying nothing about this, but in the end I ask my son to bleep it out, thinking that even Brian would possibly not allow that in church. We cannot find a suitably quiet ‘bleep’, so my son uses the sound of a sheep bleating to cover up the offensive word. This makes us laugh and laugh every time we play it through.
Hopefully, as Dad requested, we did not offend anyone. If the smiles I saw on my way out were anything to go by, I don’t think we did.
“Always look on the bright side of life
For life is quite absurd,
And death’s the final word.
You must always face the curtain with a bow!
Forget about your sin – give the audience a grin,
Enjoy it, it’s the last chance anyhow!
So always look on the bright side of death!
Just before you draw your terminal breath.
Life’s a piece of *BAAAAA!*
When you look at it.
Life’s a laugh and death’s a joke, it’s true,
You’ll see it’s all a show,
Keep ’em laughing as you go.
Just remember that the last laugh is on you!”