Two very different funerals
Suzanne Rich of Age UK shares a poignant story of why it's important to let your loved ones know what you want for your funeral.
Lilian and Ronnie, pictured right, centre, with family members at Ronnie's 80th birthday, had been married for almost 60 years when Ronnie went to the local shop one Sunday to buy a newspaper and on his way home collapsed with a heart attack and died.
Lilian was totally bereft: suddenly she was organising her husband’s funeral. Luckily, her daughter had talked to Ronnie a few months before and knew exactly what his wishes were. She knew he wanted funeral cars - not for his sake but so that Lilian could travel in style, as she liked to do. She knew what music to choose, what clothes Ronnie should wear and what memories and stories to share with the vicar for his address.
Lilian’s daughter knew that her father would not have wanted the Royal British Legion standard bearer to take part - Ronnie did not like formality and ceremony - but she also knew how important it was for her mother and that Ronnie would understand, so the standard bearer was there.
Between them, Lilian and her daughter organised a funeral which all those who attended described as “so very Ronnie”. "So Ronnie" when the vicar talked about him with anecdotes that amused everyone and illustrated Ronnie’s sharp wit; "so Ronnie" not to have told people his middle name; "so Ronnie" to choose Glenn Miller’s 'In the Mood' for music at the end of the service so that they all left smiling; and "so Ronnie" to have the Cats Protection League as his chosen charity.
After the service, everyone went to a private room overlooking a lake at the local golf club, a tranquil setting that Ronnie would have greatly enjoyed. Lilian remarked afterwards that it was “as if Ronnie were there”, with people sharing their memories and the room filled with warmth and a fair amount of laughter. Ronnie would have been delighted as he loved making people laugh.
Ronnie’s funeral gave tremendous comfort to his family and friends and the memories they held were positive and comforting. Afterwards, Lilian told her daughter and son that she wanted the same music for her funeral, and she hoped that when the time came people would be left with memories as good as the ones they held from Ronnie’s funeral. The whole occasion had been incredibly sad, but it was comforting to know it was everything Ronnie wanted and 'a good send-off'.
Lilian lived on her own for the next six years. She had good family and friends, but was still very lonely. Sadly, she distanced herself from her daughter and came to rely more on her son. Lilian died in hospital after a short illness. Her daughter wanted to help with the funeral arrangements but her brother would not let her, saying he knew what Lilian would have wanted. This surprised Lilian’s daughter as she remembered Lilian saying her son would never discuss her dying as it was “not going to happen”. Lilian had always found this very frustrating as she was nothing if not realistic.
Her daughter went to see Lilian in the Chapel of Rest. She couldn't believe her eyes when she saw her mother in a shocking pink shroud; Lilian had always been so smart and had lovely clothes including several suits she had often spoken about as being “Okay for my funeral”. But here she was in an impersonal shroud; she would never have wanted anyone to see her like that.
Then Lilian’s daughter noticed that the name on Lilian’s coffin was spelt incorrectly. Her brother said it would be okay as “no-one would notice”, but it was wrong, and Lilian would have been horrified. Lilian’s rings had been removed; her daughter knew that Lilian wanted them to stay with her always. There were no funeral cars for Lilian’s funeral; the collection was for a charity Lilian had stopped supporting; the music was not the same as at Ronnie’s funeral and it was music that Lilian would not have chosen as it was used for a very popular TV advert, which Lilian would have thought “rather common”. When the vicar talked about Lilian, her family were saddened to hear several factual inaccuracies, and Lilian would definitely not have been pleased.
After the funeral everyone went to a private room in a local pub. People were very subdued and not sure whether to talk about the funeral or not; the atmosphere was very uncomfortable and no-one lingered.
Lilian’s funeral was very distressing for her family and friends: it was just not as she would have wanted, which was the most important memory they wanted to have.
I really want to encourage everyone to use the new My Funeral Wishes leaflet. If only Lilian had been able to complete one so much pain and distress could have been avoided and, most importantly, Lilian would have had the funeral she wanted and deserved, and her loved ones would now hold positive memories.
Thank you for letting me tell you about Lilian and Ronnie – I know they would have been happy for me to share these experiences with you because they were my parents.