Terry Pratchett’s Humanist Funeral

July 15th, 2015

Submitted by Kenneth Greenway

My name is Kenneth Greenway and I was given the honour and privilege of conducting the funeral for the talented and amazing author, Professor Terry Pratchett OBE.

When Isabel’s email dropped into my inbox On March 17th asking the funeral network to email her if they wanted to be considered for conducting Terry’s funeral, I was taken aback by such an opportunity. I was with my wife at the time I read the email, I looked at her and said “Terry’s family want a BHA celebrant to do his funeral and we’re being asked if we like to do it and why. Shall I go for it?” My wife simply said, “Do it!”  I thought that living in Essex and 160 miles away from Salisbury would work against me. So, if truth be told I spent no more than 10 minutes writing an email back to Isabel. I spoke of why Terry and his Discworld books meant so much to me and the meaning his work had to my wife and I. TP’s Discworld books were a hot topic of conversation on our first date. At our wedding we had a Discworld cake and our tables were named after locations on the Disc. I’ve personally been a fan since I first read ‘Mort’ about 25 years ago and I own every book, merchandise, maps, and all kinds of other stuff associated with the Discworld.

I discovered I had been chosen to conduct the funeral in the evening of the following day (18th March)  At the time the call came in I was bathing our two girls. My wife took the call as she wasn’t with me – she was recovering from an operation and couldn’t lift things. After the phone call she came running upstairs, in a very excitable state. I said, “You can’t run, you’ve had an op!” She was very excited and not making any sense. Once she’d calmed down she said “They want you!” Being a bit slow, my reply was “Who does?” She said “Terry’s family want you to do his funeral.  I’ve just spoken to Rob”.  I was immediately stunned in to silence and couldn’t quite believe it. My wife and I hugged and then I felt very overwhelmed, the feeling of responsibility was almost crushing. To be the person selected to help those closest to TP to say their last goodbye felt out of this world and a bit unreal.

I spoke to Rob (Terry’s manager and friend of 20 years) later that evening to discuss the funeral and begin the process of constructing the ceremony. He informed me that the funeral was to be held at Salisbury Crematorium in a Week. Goodness me, I had less than a week to write and agree the content for a double slot ceremony for Terry Pratchett, oh my goodness! No one in TP’s family had experience of a Humanist funeral and they’d been told a few untrue things about Humanist funerals from their FD – one being that we don’t do a committal.

Following the conversation with Rob, I emailed over a draft order of ceremony and some prompts about the kind of info I needed. It was then bed and work.  I still work full time and fit my funerals around a full time job and being a Dad to a 4 year old and 2 year old.

The next day at work was weird and I felt odd trying to comprehend the role I now had to fulfil. That morning I wrote to my network in Essex and informed them of the exciting news and asked them for some top tips. Everyone was super generous in their willingness to help and with their words of wisdom. I even spoke to Isabel, who was equally very helpful.  I had a particular busy day at work with a great deal of things to complete and extra pulls on my time. The fact I hadn’t had a chance to put my fingers on a keyboard was making my stress levels rise. I was aware of this and did my very best to contain it all and use the stress later on when I could use it to write the script.

It was such a relief to finally get my fingers on the keyboard and It was really satisfying that a draft outline of the script emerged effortlessly. After four hours work at the laptop I was happy to save for the night and hit the hay. This was my default behaviour for the next few nights. In my research I read through blogs, social networks, and the many tributes online and in the press, I watched again TV shows Terry had done.  I had a family meeting via phone with Rob, Lynn (Terry’s wife) and his daughter, Rhianna. As to be expected from all these sources I rediscovered bits of info I’d forgotten I knew about TP and learnt many new stories. There was so much I could add and wanted to add but I was very aware that there was five pieces of music and five speakers and only an hour, so it was all going to be very tight. Three of my speakers I didn’t have copy of what they were saying but I had been assured they’d keep things short and concise.

I had my first draft to the family for comment by the afternoon of the Sunday before the funeral. I had initial comments back to me by Monday, followed by long phone conversation with Rob and the script was returned to the family with further amendments that Monday evening.  At this point the script was pretty much complete, well, barring a couple of questions and a much-needed compromise over music length.  Tuesday my wife and I travelled to Salisbury, the family had paid to put us up in a hotel for the night in Chettle – at a place that Terry enjoyed visiting regularly. We arrived in the afternoon, checked in, unpacked, settled in, let Rob know we’d arrived, and then it was laptop on and another check through the script.   Rob came by the hotel later that day with Rhianna and her boyfriend.  When he knocked on our door I stood silent, looking at him, not quite believing it was him standing in our doorway.  We joined Rob and others in the bar, spoke through the plans for the ceremony and enjoyed many stories of Terry and the Discworld. We got to meet a chap who inspired the character of Dr. John Lawn – who is probably the only medical doctor in Ankh-Morpork actually known to cure or heal anyone. We also met the producer of the various Sky TV adaptations of the Discworld books.

Later on, Rob and I agreed the script, I got the compromise on music I needed and it was now ready to go, whew!

Script now agreed and complete, my wife and I had dinner, spent more time with other guests staying the night for Terry’s funeral. It was all very surreal hearing lots of personal stories about Terry people were happy to share; we were both made so very welcome.  Then it was off to bed to attempt to get a good night’s rest for the funeral.

The funeral wasn’t until 1pm, so a leisurely breakfast was had, shower, glad rags and off to the Crem. This was a private ceremony for those closest to Terry, his family, and his work.  It was closed to press, so security was onsite. Upon arrival we introduced ourselves to security and the crem staff, got set up in the chapel and then I went off into the grounds to read aloud my script, after which I had some voice exercises given to me by my wife who happens to be singer. Around 100 guests were in attendance and they all needed to be inside the chapel before the coffin arrived. I called the guests in and assumed my position at the front.

Sadly, I’m not allowed to share specifics of TP’s funeral.

The coffin arrived, arrival music played, came to an end, and I began. I had what I considered to be a very important opener, so I was grateful that my voice began strong and with confidence….a relief indeed!

The ceremony was filled with heart-warming stories, plenty of laughs and the odd moment of sadness. At various points I felt the audience wanted to erupt into a round of applause. I nearly lost my composure at one particular musical interlude (thankfully, it was a moment I was expecting to be overwhelmed)  I just looked at my wife and she mouthed to me “breath, breath’. In those two minutes I was able to regain my composure.

The ceremony was completed by the skin of our teeth. We needed to be moving out the chapel by 2:10pm and we didn’t start leaving until 2:20pm. I was getting a few panicked looks from my chapel attendant.

In the remembrance garden everyone was very positive and complimentary. We then went back to the hotel to join everyone for the wake. Many more compliments were given and a member of The Troggs told me I was doing his funeral even though he was a Pagan.

Terry’s bank manager said to me, even though I never knew Terry, to him it felt right that my wife and I were present and that I conducted the funeral.

We spoke to Neil Gaiman and many other people closely associated with the Discworld. At various points my wife and I could have both been knocked over by a feather. Words fail me in expressing the honour and privilege of the role I performed for Terry’s family. There was so many hugs and kisses from people who were complete strangers.

I have even been asked to play a part in the public memorial planned at the time of the release of new Discworld novel, starring Tiffany Aching called ‘A Shepherd’s Crown’ that Terry had finished writing during summer 2014.

The whole experience has been so very surreal, but also an immensely rewarding and enjoyable experience for a couple of massive Discworld fans.  It took quite a while to fully absorb and contemplate the whole thing!  I still find my mind wandering off at times reflecting on what I did and thinking ‘wow, I can’t believe it!’

The Discworld now holds within my wife and I a new and special relationship, everything feels to have with it more significance and importance.

Finally, I think all celebrants feel immensely proud of the role we perform for people at a very difficult time. I would like to leave you with the feedback I received from Rhianna, Terry’s daughter.

“Many thanks for all your hard work and support. It was hugely appreciated and you did a wonderful job of putting everything together. I think the service went really well and had it been for someone else and dad was attending he’d have wanted one just like it!”