Reading of the experiences of other RevGals has reminded me of a funeral that was the mother of all funerals in my experience. This was my second year ordained, I had gained a deal of experience during training and was fairly sure nothing could faze me. It was also a summer when I had a new student on placement with me. This was her first funeral.
The phone call came to see if I was available; the family didn’t live in the parish, but the old gentleman who’d died did. We were given directions and travelled off to meet the family. It was a tiny wee house; the gate broken, the garden littered with broken garden tools, bits of bikes and generally decidedly unkempt.
The knock on the door prompted a raucous volley of barking and loud shouts, “quick! It’s the minister, get those dogs away into the kitchen!!”
The door was opened and we were ushered into a crowed sitting room, crowded with furniture rather than people. The lady of the house was the daughter of the deceased, and she had the bleary-eyed look of someone who had consumed more than their fair share…. her partner was only slightly better….
As she showed us to our seats she turned to sit back on the ample sofa where her partner was. Somehow she missed! She disappeared down the side of the sofa, feet in the air, and we tried really, really hard to pretend we understood….
The visit continued, accompanied by the ferocious barking of the dogs, and the occasional dispute regarding the accuracy of dates, history and the story of the old man.
As we left, I reassured my poor student that this was not a normal funeral, and this sort of thing did not happen often!
The day of the funeral dawned. It was being held at the local parlour rather than the church. The funeral director met us as usual, and confirmed we had all the details correct. I was surprised to note that there were no family representatives waiting to greet the mourners; according to the undertaker, they had decided to arrive just before the service. Unusual, but not unheard of.
The small group of mourners arrived and were ushered into the chapel, and we waited for the limousine to arrive with the family. As the car pulled up I was surprised to see the driver had his window fully down. He jumped out and opened the door to let the family out. The partner and a son appeared, and we looked expectantly for the rest. The driver gave me a veiled shake of the head, and a curious look.
I turned to the partner who was suddenly chief mourner. “Sorry, love,” he boomed, “she’s too upset today!” As he spoke a blast of pure alcohol hit my face, and suddenly I totally understood the open window, and the degree of despair reached by the daughter.
We escorted them to the family room and had a brief discussion about whether coffee might help the situation. They eschewed the offer, not thinking there was anything unusual about their condition (maybe this was normal for them?)
The family were escorted in to the chapel, and the service began.
Prayers and readings followed without too much fuss, and I began the tribute. As it drew to a close, it is our tradition to thank everyone for their attendance, to give instructions for getting to the cemetery, and to extend an invitation to the reception venue to continue the remembrance.
Thus I began, but as I issued the invitation, the partner rose to his feet and bellowed, “No love! It’s not the Cotter Hoose, we’ve moved it to The Cats Whiskers!”
He then turned round to the assembled mourners and proceeded to invite them for a drink at the pub.
I raised my voice slightly as I announced the hymn and invited them to stand.
The service drew to a close and we followed the coffin out. In the car, as we drove in the cortège to the cemetery I speculated that surely nothing else could happen now!
At the cemetery we made our way from car to graveside, with the funeral directors team carrying the coffin, and we gathered round the grave. The committal was almost finished, and as I began the final blessing I began to relax….
Before I proclaimed the benediction, the chief mourner began to sway. Out of the corner of my eye, I tried to understand what he was doing, when suddenly he produced a cheque book, which he proceeded to wave in my general direction.
“Best #%*%# funeral ever! She’d be really happy; here love, how much do you want?!”
The funeral director placed himself between the man and the open grave, and firmly suggested this could be done later, and perhaps we should let the minister finish…
I proclaimed the benediction, and made my bow to the deceased and began to step away.
Surely I could relax now?!
The assistants brought forward the floral tributes to place at the side of the grave so everyone could see, at which point our dear drunken chief mourner looked down, and declared, “Well you’re back with herself now mate, hope you have a good one!”
The funeral director tried to stop him, I tried to stop him, finally, with just one wreath left, we managed to get his attention, and the only thing that saved that last wreath was the suggestion that once his partner was “feeling better” she might want to see the flowers too.
I promise you. This is how I remember it. I have never since had a funeral like it, and I pray I never do. But I freely admit it has become my party piece, and a story I share whenever we gather round a table of colleagues!
~Julie Woods (A Country Girl)
Thank you, Julie, for this week’s story! Readers, if you have a funny story from ministry that might lift the spirits of your colleagues, please submit it to firstname.lastname@example.org.