Funeral Celebrant

PART FOUR - Remember Me


Part Four - Music and Images

Meaningful Music

After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.
— Aldous Huxley

Music has the power to move us… and never more so than at a funeral ceremony, where song choices have a strong, emotional impact on people, not just in terms of tearfulness but also the ability to create feelings of joy, comfort, nostalgia, as well as reflecting a person’s character, interests or talents. I did a ceremony once for a ballroom dancer – his black patent dance shoes sat on top of the coffin – and when we played a waltz half-way through the ceremony his friends spontaneously partnered up and began dancing. That was beautiful.  As were the tears of laughter when people asked for ‘Let’s Do It’ by Victoria Wood or clapping along to ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams. There has also been live music – choirs performing for fellow singers, grandchildren playing assorted instruments for Nanny or Granddad, even a ukulele band with a rousing rendition of ‘You Are My Sunshine’.

Music can really set the tone for the ceremony, especially as it’s the first thing people hear before they’ve even taken their seat, and it will make all the difference to how they feel when the ceremony ends and they return to their own lives.  Music choices are usually made based on one of the following reasons; it was a favourite tune of the person who’s died, the sentiment of the song reflects how their loved ones are feeling, the lyrics have a fitting message and significance, or the song will cheer everyone up, make them smile and laugh. Whatever the reason, as long as the song has some sort of meaning to you or your loved ones – and not all about what others ‘expect’ to hear, or what you think ‘should’ be played – that’s all that matters. 

In terms of when they are played, it’s nice to have something to accompany you, your family and friends into the venue at the beginning, one or two songs to listen to during the ceremony itself – giving everyone an opportunity to sit and think about you – and something to see everyone out at the end (the cheerier the better). I’ve facilitated many a sing-a-long at the end of ceremonies, from ‘We’ll Meet Again’ to football anthems or ‘Bring Me Sunshine’ made famous by Morecambe and Wise. So its not just hymns that allow people to sing together.  And these sing-a-longs, together with other upbeat tunes, mean people take their leave of you with a smile.

We’ve already looked at music, of course, in Part One of Remember Me. So you can use the information from ‘The Soundtrack To Your Life’ to help you choose the music you want people to hear on the day. Songs performed, perhaps, by a favourite singer, or capturing the special times in your life.  Are there lyrics among those songs that reflect how you feel about your life and your loved ones? Do you want people to tap their feet, sing along, or even dance their way out of the room? Whatever your thoughts on music, even if you only choose one song by way of contribution… just knowing it was your choice will make all the difference on the day, and allow your loved ones to choose the songs that remind them of you, and what you meant to them.

Just a word of advice though – make sure your music choices are actually available. For example, if you went to see your favourite band in concert and request a song to be played specifically from that event, unless it was recorded on the night and released as an official recording, you won’t get your wish. The same goes for Youtube clips. So do check before you make specific requests, or alternatively leave a bit of wriggle room so your loved-ones can come up with the next best thing.


Photographs and Video

One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it’s worth watching.
— Anon

The funeral industry is slowly making friends with modern technology, and that’s a good thing in terms of having more personalised ceremonies. In addition to original recordings of music played through speakers during services (as opposed to an organist sat at the back) many crematoriums also have large screens which provide an opportunity for photographic slide shows or video footage. We’ve just talked about the impact of music on the day, but if you put music together with images you really do have a powerful combination. Some families produce their own presentations which are then downloaded, while others send individual photographs to the crematorium music providers in the order they want them and their music choice is fitted alongside – the time each picture remains on the screen is worked out based on the song length. Be aware that while music is included in the standard crematorium fee, slideshows or video can be extra. You can also pay to have your ceremony recorded onto a CD or filmed with a live link on the day.  All these options relate to crematorium ceremonies, where the audio-visual equipment is in situ. If you decide to have a funeral service at another venue or location, your family and friends might have to provide the equipment themselves. But I’ve done several ceremonies in village halls and function rooms where a lap top and screen link up have worked wonders!

As far as photographs are concerned, there is an opportunity to have images of you, your life and loved ones on the Orders of Service (little booklets showing the content of the ceremony), should you or they wish to have them. Funeral directors can get these designed and printed (for a fee) or some families produce their own, more personal versions.  You can also have photographs on display at the ceremony venue, as well as at the refreshments afterwards.  And, as I said earlier, there is an option for an on-screen slide show which could also incorporate video footage of you – perhaps at your wedding, on holiday, a sporting event or family get-together. I recently saw a visual tribute which ended with footage of a woman waving from a train while on holiday in the Alps in the 1970’s. It was incredibly moving…

You may not want images of yourself popping up all over the place on the day.  Alternatively, you may have some favourite photographs which show you at your happiest (you chose some of these in Part One) and you might want to make a note of them and let your loved ones known where they are.  You may want to go as far as recording a message for everyone to hear on the day.  This could be just a voice recording or a video of you (we’ll talk more about messages a little later).

A gentle word of caution about images, video and recorded messages

All these new choices are a wonderful thing and add a whole new level of meaning and memories on the day. But they can, of course, be highly emotive. I am often moved to tears by visual tributes – and that’s coming from someone who is not related to the person in any way. I tend to position myself so that I can’t be seen and make sure I pull myself together before I’m ‘back on’ as it were. It does help enormously if there is a happy song playing alongside rather than anything too mournful or heartbreaking. So my advice on this would be, if any of the above appeals to you, express your wishes but perhaps add a note for your loved ones acknowledging that they may want to decide how much they see of you on the day itself and how much they may wish to view privately as a family or in a gathering of close friends at another time. I’m not telling you what to do – this is, after all, all about YOU and YOUR wishes – I’m just sharing my experience. A life celebration filled with photos and film can be indescribably fantastic, it just needs a little bit of extra consideration – depending on circumstances – when the time comes.

All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.
— Susan Sontag