One of the greatest blessings I have heard of was the cleric who received a visit from a family member who come to say that they'd never realised who the deceased really was until they'd heard their life story contextualised by them. How cool is that - and what an example of what it is that we who do funerals should be aiming for.
One of the biggest challenges comes in the form of note-taking and this is not always easy. The prospect of a grieving wife whose sum total of information regarding her lost husband came down to: 'He was my husband!' So what are you going to do with that? After all, the people at the service will be expecting more in any eulogy than, 'Here's nnnn, he was nnnn's husband (and potentially someone's father and grandfather too)!' It's not often that the twenty minutes afforded in a Crematorium is enough to do a life justice is enough but to find it's far too much is an even greater nightmare.
The answer is simple - you play detective. You knock on doors, find workmates, members of the same clubs and you dig. And yes, I know that takes time, but what else do we have but time when it comes to a pastoral need? You take the bob - you do the job - simple, innit?
The little details are all too often the biggest points on which memories are hung and so nothing is too small or irrelevant. A 'for instance' has to be the passing comment about the wartime church organist and the funny way they played a popular tune as the couple left the church after their marriage. A piece of gold amongst what the family thought of as 'Gran's ramblings' that led to the family leaving to that tune that meant nothing to them and allowed a woman who had been snatched by Alzheimer's to be reached by the service.
Whilst music is on the menu, it's probably worth a mention that regardless of our own preferences, the family's choice is usually what you go with. I know this can be a but dodgy; after all I'm the bloke who found himself standing by a coffin, curtains closing, as a Gangsta rap tune assaulted our ears! Not bad for an eighty something, turned out that the great grandson had changed it because he and the dear departed used to listen to it together - aargh! There are some limits but we advise and comply.
Hopefully those who read this find so etching if value in it and for those I've been discussing the issue of funerals, I hope it draws things together a little more.
What's the worst / best / weirdest music you've had at a funeral service?