Thursday, 31 March 2011

a family funeral

Yesterday we buried my sister-in-law Martha, who had died at the age of 83.
She was a cheerful and uncomplicated soul, mother of two daughters, with grandchildren, nephews and nieces. She had come to England from her native Montserrat in her twenties, to work first as a seamstress and then as a hotel chambermaid. You might imagine that her funeral would be a low-key affair. But no, West Indian funerals are major events.

One of my jobs was to prepare the service sheet for the funeral. To the copy shop’s surprise, I ordered 350 copies (for most funerals in London fifty is more than enough). That was a mistake. Supplies were exhausted twenty minutes before the start of the service. I ought to have ordered 500. It was standing room only in the church, and some people were not able to get in at all but had to stand outside in the rain. Everyone who knew Martha or knew any of her extended family was there.

We sang The Lord’s my Shepherd, How Great Thou Art, The Day Thou Gavest, and And Can it Be. A great-niece and a great-nephew read lessons from the Bible. The church choir sang an anthem. A nephew provided the formal Eulogy that is expected on such occasions. My partner Gabriel, Martha’s brother, sang a moving tenor solo. The officiating minister, who knew Martha well, gave an appropriate address, the superintendent minister prayed. I read aloud two poems that I had found on the web: “Do not stand at my grave and weep” and “She is gone”.

Then we proceeded to the cemetery for the interment. The bearers, eight younger male members of the family, lowered the coffin into the grave. The gravediggers did their work, heaping earth over it. We sang more hymns. The minister (who is originally from Guyana) reminded us of our own mortality:
ɝːt tə ɝːt, dʌs tə dʌs
Requiescas in pace, Martha. May you rest in peace.

13 comments:

  1. Wonderful description, very moving - condolences to you both.

    ReplyDelete
  2. My heartfelt condolences, John, to you and your family!

    ReplyDelete
  3. My condolences. - Paulina H.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Heartfelt condolences to you and your family, John. May she rest in peace and may you and yours find solace.

    ReplyDelete
  5. My condolences, too, John, and they're more than usually etymologically appropriate: my mother has just died at 95. There must be some mistake. The human mind cannot frame the concept. She was immortal – a mighty force of Nature. What a character! What a multiplicity of characters! But she went out with all guns blazing, at a shocking rate of knots, for which I suppose we must be grateful, as also for the fact that she has made elaborate arrangements to take me with her.

    The website you link to is a helpful (and therapeutically tearful) source of ideas for readings at the interment – she was a militant atheist, so no funeral and sadly no hymns.

    ReplyDelete
  6. My condolences in return, mallamb.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thank you for being there so soon, John

    ReplyDelete
  8. My condolences -- to you both.

    ReplyDelete
  9. John, please accept my sincere condolences; ert to ert, duss to duss, this is very true, so it is...

    ReplyDelete
  10. Sincere condolences to you. And what marvellous hymns. Peter

    ReplyDelete
  11. Many condolences. It may not be terribly consoling but at least she was blessed with a long life.

    ReplyDelete