Shining through the gloom

FUNERALS, by mere tradition, conjure a picture of mourners dressed in black and unrelenting graveside crying.However, a recent report claimed that Britons typically want a service of far more colour and joy than the ones of old.

By Debbie Watson

FUNERALS, by mere tradition, conjure a picture of mourners dressed in black and unrelenting graveside crying.

However, a recent report claimed that Britons typically want a service of far more colour and joy than the ones of old.

WHEN ever-popular bike enthusiast Colin Orris suddenly passed away earlier this year, his friends and family were determined that the 51-year-old should deservedly receive a fitting farewell.

They might, perhaps, have packed the village church in the pursuit of a sombre ceremony, or stood shedding tears at the graveside of a much-loved man.

Instead, true to Colin's own warm and witty personality, his final moment saw bikers from all over the country taking part in a 58-bike funeral cavalcade along the A14.

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The 'Faster Pastor' vicar provided the customised sidecar.

For Colin – and for the many friends and family who took part in the remarkable procession – this was truly the right way to mark his death.

He would not have wanted the tears, the black formal attire or the hushed traditional service at which so many of us have been present. This was his service, in appreciation of his life.

And Colin's particular funeral day is in fact indicative of an increasing trend toward modernising and personalising the mourning ceremonies that once were.

More and more frequently the traditional funeral is being updated to reflect the passions and personality of individuals.

A large majority of services now contain pieces of music favoured by the deceased, while the tradition for dressing in black mourning attire is very often being replaced by a preference for colourful clothes and an attitude toward celebration – not grief.

According to a new report from bereavement experts, this kind of modern revision is very much needed to help mourners cope with the events following the death of someone close.

Researchers claim that the individual input of relatives and friends, in which they can adapt a service or specify aspects like gravestone wishes, can greatly relieve the emotional pain of the grieving.

This latest study – carried out by a group of 11 national organisations entitled the Funeralcare Forum – showed that seven out of 10 people felt it was 'perfectly acceptable' to hold a non-religious funeral.

Chair of the Forum, well known agony aunt Claire Rayner, claims funerals are often failing to reflect the life of an individual.

"In a world where so many other service sectors have had to adapt to meet modern needs, it is clear that funerals have some way to go in meeting society's expectations."

If it's true that mourners genuinely want more scope and freedom when it comes to marking the passing of their loved ones, can it also be guaranteed that religious leaders will condone a more modern approach.

"There is very much a set service in the case of Church of England funerals, but as in all things, it's a matter of balancing the set agenda against individual choice," commented rector of East Bergholt and Brantham, reverend Sharon Swain.

"As ministers we have sworn that we will carry out those services authorised by parliament or the bishop. But that's not to say we don't encourage individual thought and input."

She said: "Our services are flexible and things can be introduced in to them. We realise that families will have strong feelings about the person they are grieving for, and will have very clear ideas about the type of hymns and readings that would best reflect them.

"I am personally very happy to hear poems read out or specific music chosen.

Within the boundaries of what I am authorised to do I would encourage anything that makes the mourning process easier.

"I also encourage families to bring an offering that is symbolic of the departed person – perhaps a toy, a football, or even a specific flower that they would wish to have placed on the coffin."

With attitudes like this being realised in churches across the region it becomes ever more likely that we will witness more personalised ceremonies. Even the greatest traditionalist would surely agree that any measure to help ease the strain of the grieving process should be embraced wholeheartedly.

According to information released by the Co-operative's Funeral Service earlier this year, this is the current Top 10 chart for Funeral Songs:

1. Wind Beneath My Wings - Bette Midler

2. My Heart Will Go On - Celine Dion

3. I Will Always Love You - Whitney Houston

4. The Best - Tina Turner

5. Angels - Robbie Williams

6. You'll Never Walk Alone - Gerry And The Pacemakers

7. Candle In The Wind - Elton John

8. Unchained Melody - Righteous Brothers

9. Bridge Over Troubled Water - Simon And Garfunkel

10. Time To Say Goodbye - Sarah Brightman

More unusual requests include Firestarter by dance group The Prodigy, Queen's Another One Bites The Dust and the Village People's YMCA.

Other odd choices include Wham!'s Wake Me Up Before You Go Go, She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain and the theme from ITV's News At Ten.