Oct 302009

It’s been a packed day and sets the tone for the next few days in fact.

This morning started off with a pre-funeral visit and it was good to be observing only at this stage. Definitely a visit that provided plenty of insights into the task of planning a funeral. Biggest insight was to ‘listen very, very carefully’. I don’t mean just for the details, but when you are being told things in a deadpan manner but with a twinkle in the eye you could easily end up accepting a story at face value and saying something that would entirely inappropriate. It was also good to see yet another approach to gathering information and I’m somewhat in awe of my supervisor’s ability to remember names and details without notes. I see the value of developing that skill because my note-taking was sometimes the subject of some comment and I could see that it might be distracting. That said, I wouldn’t want to rely on my memory for a list of family names and key dates.

I’ve written up my own take on the tribute so it’ll be interesting to compare notes and styles. Crafting the tribute itself was in interesting experience. You obviously want to cover as much as possible and add colour to bare facts. But by the same token you can’t include all the anecdotes and memories – and nor is it appropriate to do so. Those are often very specific memories, special to the person or group relating them to you. But the stories hold the essence of the person you are speaking about. It seems t me that the task of the minister is to distil out that essence and present it in a way that is still recognisable as the deceased and is detailed enough to trigger the memories and thoughts that bring the story to life. Distilling it too much risks losing something of the character of the person; not distilling it enough risks cheapening the tribute as a simple series of anecdotes.

And then there’s the language. Should it be pitched high or low? Should it be my ‘voice’ or should it suit the setting and the people who are there? If I use my own phrasing for something or pick words I would like to hear then I’m risking alienating those who are listening. But then what are the expectations? I’m meant to be the one with the words, the means to express what would be difficult or upsetting for another to say. And sometimes that means an expectation of using ‘proper’ words, respectful words, educated words. And if I lapse into colloquialisms and slang then it’s not me, not my true voice. There’s an assumption there about the order of the relationship, but it also applies the other way up as well.

Anyway, plenty to think about. The funeral is early next week and I’ll be participating in a small way. It’s easy to trot out the trite phrases about what a privilege it is to be alongside others at such a time, but at the moment I’m simply aware of the burden of responsibility we carry to speak words that are meaningful and to be true to the stories that have been shared with me/us. Just as well we’re not in it alone.