It’s your funeral

Aug 29, 2017

You don’t expect things to go wrong at a funeral, do you? After all, everybody goes to great lengths to ensure that things go smoothly. Funeral Directors put themselves out to ensure that needs are met. The staff they use (celebrants, crematorium staff, etc.) are professional, dedicated people.

So you have every right to expect a fitting funeral service.

And, to be fair, you usually get one.

But crematoria have machinery. And, even more significantly, funerals involve human beings. With the best will in the world, things that involve such variables can go wrong.

Sorting out a difficult situation

Last Sunday, I was booked to conduct a funeral at Golders Green Crematorium. As is my custom, I arrived about an hour early. I soon received a phone call from the Funeral Director. The power supply at the Crematorium had been cut. They could supply no music and the coffin would not be able to pass into the cremator.

Somehow, at such short notice, a switch was arranged. The venue became St Marylebone, East Finchley, a few miles away. Two Golders Green staff transferred across, as the ‘home team’ doesn’t work on Sundays. One staff member would operate the cremator at the end of the service and the other would assist with the music and getting people in and out of the chapel.

When we arrived, someone realised that flowers had originally been sent to Golders Green, and were still there! The only way to retrieve them was for the chapel assistant to start the music, shoot back to Golders Green, collect the flowers and return in time for the final piece of music about half an hour later!

It didn’t quite work! Traffic! Luckily, the Funeral Director had been briefed and was able to play the music at the end (and the assistant arrived with the flowers only a few minutes later).

Most people had no idea what had been going on behind the scenes!

A glaring blunder

Sometimes people can’t help but notice that something has gone wrong!

A little bizarrely, a family had asked for us to include a rather unusual and quite difficult hymn that they didn’t themselves know.  There would be an organist, but then hymn was so unfamiliar that I felt I couldn’t lead it. Moreover, most of the guests wouldn’t know it and be able to join in. Potentially embarrassing.

So it was decided to play a CD of the hymn, and we might be able to join in with that.

On the day, I went through the service in advance with the crematorium assistant, so that he’d know what music to play, and when. He’s been working there 25 years now, and really knows his stuff, so I had no concerns there.

When it came to the hymn, I asked people to stand and join in and waited for the music to start. Nothing happened. I therefore announced it again and waited. Nothing. So I had to move on, apologising for what I assumed was a technical fault. As we rose for the exit music, the hymn suddenly sounded!

What had happened?

The assistant had simply forgotten that the hymn was to be cued up by him (rather than played on the organ), and had gone out (to show the Funeral Director where the flowers would be taken at the end).

Who could have predicted that?!

Fortunately, out of the 125 funerals I have so far conducted, those two incidents were the only times that things didn’t go as smoothly as we would have liked!