Suffolk Humanists

For a good life, without religion

The literature of death and bereavement

Posted by Margaret on Saturday, Aug 23, 2003

A talk given at Ipswich Crematorium’s Open Day by Margaret Nelson in 2003

My mother died suddenly at a party at my sisters on Christmas Eve, just after shed demonstrated how to do the can-can to some children. I dont what they thought about a woman in her mid-70s doing high kicks, but she was very proud of being able to kick her own height. I told her it was time to go because I still had things to do for dinner the next day.She fell with an almighty crash as she lifted her arm to take her coat off the hook by the door. She was dead within the next ten minutes or so, having had a massive cerebral haemorrhage. It was a great way to go, especially after wed nursed my dad through cancer that same year hed died six months earlier and shed said she didnt want to die like that, but wanted to go like her mum, quickly, without fuss.

A little while later I found a poem in an anthology called The Long Pale Corridor, published by Bloodaxe Books, and although the circumstances were different, the dramatic exit it described reminded me of mum. I told a client about it a while ago her mum had made a similarly dramatic exit in a dentists waiting room, and since shed been an attention-seeker all her life, my client thought she could almost have planned it. Anyway, this is The Going by Bruce Dawe, which he wrote for his mother-in-law, Gladys.

Mum, you would have loved the way you went!
One moment, at a barbecue in the garden
the next, falling out of your chair,
hamburger in one hand,
and a grandson yelling.

Zipp! The hearts roller blind
rattling up, and you, in an old dress,
quite still, flown already from your dearly-loved
Lyndon, leaving only a bruise like a blue kiss
on the side of your face, the seed-beds incredibly tidy,
grass daunted by drought.

Youd have loved it, Mum, you big spender! The relatives,
eyes narrowed with grief, swelling the rooms
with their clumsiness, the reverberations of tears, the endless
cuppas and groups revolving blinded as moths.

The joy of your going! The laughing reminiscences
snagged on the pruned roses
in the bright blowing day!

I like the bit about laughing reminiscences. We often have laughter at Humanist funerals, as people are told stories about the person whos died. Thats as it should be; laughter and tears are close at times like these.

We use poetry in our funerals because it often expresses human experiences so well, in ways that people will recognise and identify with. Sometimes people might say theyre not poetry people, until we point out a poem that they like,

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