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Mourners at the funeral service

12 October 2012


From the Revd Charles Howard RN
Sir, - Since Four Weddings and a Funeral, it seems that members of the immediate family of the deceased feel obliged to say something, or read a poem, at funerals.

I would never prevent anybody's doing this if he or she were utterly determined on it, but it does seem that we are missing the main aim of a funeral, which is to care for the immediate family, and allow them to make an important step along the way of grief.

It has always seemed back-to-front that when you call to help and care for a grieving family, they invariably start by caring for you with chairs and cups of tea. Nevertheless, for them to control their emotions (not always successfully - and who can blame them for that?) in order to care for a whole churchful of people, by reading something, seems to carry this concept too far. It brings the risk that the funeral will not work for those whom it is most designed to help. It can be an excruciating ordeal for all the others present.

It is often helpful if a friend of the family can read a eulogy, as many mourners will only know one aspect or period of the deceased's life. Perhaps the most helpful compromise is for the family either to draft the eulogy, or at least contribute material for it. At the service, however, let us leave them free to grieve, and to be cared for by the funeral liturgy.

The registers record that one of my 18th-century predecessors as Chaplain at the King's Chapel in Gibraltar buried his wife, who had died of the plague, on a Thursday, and took the usual three services the following Sunday. I do not believe that either would be acceptable practice today.
The Vicarage, Church Lane
Chichester PO18 9LH

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