‘Do-it-yourself’ ceremony

As Covid-19 brings more and more restrictions into our lives, ceremonies at a cremation or graveside are becoming more circumscribed. Many of you will choose to have a short ceremony initially, perhaps followed by a scattering of ashes ceremony or memorial celebration at a later date.

I am available to help with all of those different types of ceremony (charged appropriately), but I understand if it feels more appropriate to lead the short committal ceremony yourselves. If this is the case, here are some suggestions for different elements that you can build on and adapt in whatever way is appropriate for you and the person who has died.

Ideas for a ‘do-it-yourself’ ceremony

Acknowledgement of why you are here (sample wording):

We come together with sorrow and respect to mark the death of our loved one, to bear witness to our loss, but also to show our thanks for having known them. We welcome in spirit all those who are unable to be with us today.

Tributes:

You could then each say a few words about the person who has died and what they meant to you, their influence, the things that made them special and the feelings that you hold towards them. Alternatively, you may prefer to just say the three words or phrases that first come to mind when you think of the person who has gone.

Symbolic gestures:

If safe/reasonable to do so (having checked with staff), you may wish to light a candle, or pass round an object that was of significance to the person who has died, or place objects next to their photograph, or even share out some special food.

A time for reflection:

One or two minutes of silence give people time and space for private reflection (or private prayer for some). This could also coincide with a piece of music that is significant in some way.

Readings:

A favourite poem, or one that feels right (there are many funeral poems available online) for the person. Here is an extract from The Excursion by William Wordsworth that evokes the power of memories:

And when the stream that overflows has passed,
A consciousness remains upon the silent shore of memory;
Images and precious thoughts that shall not be
And cannot be destroyed.

This short poem about love and memory is by Percy Bysshe Shelley:

Music, when soft voices die,
Vibrates in the memory—
Odours, when sweet violets sicken,
Live within the sense they quicken.

Rose leaves, when the rose is dead,
Are heaped for the belovèd’s bed;
And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone,
Love itself shall slumber on.

And these words from Winston Churchill have a certain resonance:

Let us be contented with what has happened, and be thankful for all that we have been spared. Let us accept the natural order of things in which we move. Let us reconcile ourselves to the mysterious rhythm of our destinies, such as they must be in this world of space and time. Let us treasure our joys but not bewail our sorrows. The glory of light cannot exist without its shadows. Life is a whole, and good and ill must be accepted together. The journey has been enjoyable and well worth making – once.

Final farewell:

For some of you it may be a nice idea to list all the people who would like to say goodbye – whether they are attending or not – and their relationships to the person you are saying farewell to. It may be all the members of a family, or a group of friends or colleagues. For a cremation, these words can be used:

Give me no grave, who loved the summer sky
Not dark decay, but purifying flame
And set no stone to grieve the passer-by;
Let thought and substance vanish, whence they came,
Into the elements that build the star,
The breath of life and busy mind of man –
So shall my dust discover what we are
And win its deepest peace since Time began.

This poem by Mary Frye is popular, particularly for burials:

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there.
I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn’s rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there.
I did not die

And when the coffin disappears from view or is placed in the ground:

Into the warmth of our memories we commit you; into the eternal circle of life we free you.

Including others:

In some crematoriums you can bring others into the celebration by arranging for the ceremony to be screened online. But you may choose – or be obliged – to do something for those not able to attend after the event, when you are back at home. One way is to use one of the online meeting apps to join in a particular activity, such as drinking tea together, or raising a toast with something stronger, or just sharing memories of the person you have lost – whatever feels right to you.

Memories can be shared among a wider group without recourse to the internet. There may be other activities that have a resonance with the person who has died – singing a song, telling a joke, even playing a game,which you can agree to do simultaneously. People have already come up with lots of lovely ideas, one of which is to put together a playlist of music that everyone can listen to at the same time, wherever they are.