Why the eulogy was perfect

Hillside setting.

Hillside setting.

Last week I attended a funeral. Not because I had to, but because I wanted to. My aunt had been a childhood favourite, a source of quirky wisdom and generous slices of cake. She didn’t laugh, she giggled – a wonderful deep sound that, to me, was one of her many wonderful distinguishing features.

Her funeral was being held in the heart of Yorkshire, where dry stone walls separate rolling dales into fields dotted with sheep and cows. The summer sunshine was colouring every shade of green tree brighter and each tiny flower more vivid. It was, in truth, a perfect day. The kind of day she would have embraced as particularly perfect for a long walk across the moors, perhaps stopping for a bite to eat in one of the numerous quintessential village pubs. But alas those days were over, and the time had come to say goodbye.

 

The view from the crematorium, high up on the hillside, was breathtaking. Family, friends and neighbours were beginning to gather when I arrived. Many were well into their eighties and some had travelled from afar. All were going to miss the lady who had loved life and had always lived it to the very best of her ability.

The priest was a burly, pleasant-looking man who could easily have understudied Santa. I wondered how he would handle the service, knowing religion did not play a role in my aunt’s life.

We sang Jerusalem – a hymn we had all sung at school and knew well. It felt very fitting to be singing about England’s green and pleasant land in such a beautiful setting. A family friend read a poem, and then we were asked to be seated for the eulogy.

The priest regarded his flock of mourners for a second before speaking. He did not know my aunt, so he was working from notes he’d made during conversations with her son, daughter-in-law and their children.

He started by addressing my aunt’s sister. A lady in her nineties sitting sadly in the first pew. He talked about their childhood, tenderly and with understanding, speculating about the outrageous antics they may or may not have got up to as teenage sisters. My other aunt was soon nodding and smiling and the atmosphere relaxed as we chuckled along with them.

He then began to talk about other events and hobbies my aunt had enjoyed as a young woman. Some of this information was news to me and I wondered for a brief second whether he’d got his facts confused. But the older generation were nodding in agreement and more laughter was aroused. I was fascinated, as I believe we all were.

He mentioned her husband and their life as newly-weds. Some of the trips they had enjoyed with their children, turning to her son for confirmation that a horse had indeed drawn their holiday caravan in Ireland back in the mid-seventies. More smiles and memories were evoked. I, for one, had forgotten that famous family holiday. The stories at the time had been priceless.

The priest then turned his attention to her two grandchildren. A teary teen nodded and then laughed when the priest referred to the genes my aunt had always tongue-in-cheekily claimed came from her – taking outrageous credit for the obviously impossible, as she, like the rest of us, knew she was only human and not all things to all men.

But she was a great deal to a great many.

And so it continued. The priest talking to those before him as he wove together the essential threads of her life – including the inevitable sadnesses – to create a wonderful rich tapestry that truly reflected my aunt.

When he was finished, I felt a huge sense of satisfaction. This, I thought, was the best eulogy I’ve ever heard. The priest had delivered a personal eulogy about her but had involved us, engaged us, and united a group whose only common denominator was my aunt. And by doing so, had provided some comfort in the best possible way. We all recognised some of the old and learned something new to take home and carry in our hearts.

We may have left her body behind, but her spirit came with us.

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