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The funeral

I was amazed at the turn-out at the crematorium yesterday – standing room only! Thank you so much to all who were able to come, some of whom I know drove long distances to be with us. I really appreciated the efforts you all made, and I know that Chris would have too. And thank you too to those who sent me messages of support but were unable to attend yesterday. It meant a lot to me.

I tried to say thank you in person to everyone yesterday, but I know that I didn’t get to see everyone. I wasn’t up to holding a big “wake” with all our friends and family after the service – it was difficult enough holding myself together at the crematorium. But I think I had more hugs yesterday than I would normally get in a decade – so thank you all.

It’s surprisingly hard work planning a funeral – even though we could see this one coming. You have to make lots of high pressure decisions in a very short space of time. So I thought I would blog about how I came to the decisions I did – it will help me get it out of my system, and who knows may even be helpful to someone else one day.

Chris and I had the Big Conversation several months ago, in the middle of his chemo, about what he wanted for his funeral. It was the hardest conversation we ever had, but it was important to both of us that I knew and understood what he wanted, and that guided everything subsequently. He said that he wanted to be cremated, and to have a completely non-religious service to celebrate his life. If we were up to it, he would like me and a few friends to speak about how we saw him.

We’d been to a few humanist funerals, and were struck by the fact that, although the services were very tasteful and fitting, the celebrant had never actually met the deceased. It was important to me that the person I chose to lead the service wasn’t a complete stranger to Chris. We did joke about walking together into a funeral directors and planning it together, but that was a step too far.

Fortunately, yet again, the hospice had the answer. The chaplains there make a point of getting to know each of the in-patients and talking to them as individuals. And I was surprised but very pleased to learn that, even though all the chaplains I spoke to were C of E, they are equally happy to conduct non-religious services. I was told that they see themselves as chaplains first, ministering to the individual needs of the patients and families, and licensed ministers of a particular denomination second. I had a long chat with one of the chaplains, Rod, when he happened to turn up at Christopher’s bedside when I was there. Rod and Chris had already had several chats over the previous week, but I gave Rod some “homework” to get to know Chris a bit better. Unfortunately, that was the Sunday that things started to go rapidly downhill, so he didn’t have much of a chance. But at least they did get to meet and chat together before things got really bad.

I had several chats with Rod afterwards, as we planned the service together, and I really liked his style and the way he took on board my strong views about how I wanted things to be.

One of the other big decisions I had to take was the type of coffin. I really considered it a waste of money to go for the top-end range offered by the funeral directors, especially since it would cost thousands and only be on show for 45 minutes before being cremated (ever practical!). But the cheap ones looked just that – cheap and rather tacky. But the funeral director came up with an idea I leapt on – a woven bamboo coffin. More eco-friendly than a traditional coffin, looked a bit unusual, reasonably priced, and (in my view at least) not at all tacky.

For those of you who couldn’t be there, this is the order of service.

Music on entry:  John Williams playing the 2nd movement of the Concerto de Aranjuez (chosen because Chris had absolutley loved seeing him play it live at the Malvern Theatres a few years back)

Welcome: Rod Waugh, St Richard’s Hospice

Tributes to Christopher:

  • Gillian – talking about how we met, and giving a brief picture of what he enjoyed doing and what he was like as a person
  • In his own words – Rod reading “If not “fighting” then what”
  • Friends – Richard, Mike and Neil each speaking a few words about their friendship with Chris. I know they each found it very difficult and emotional, but I am really touched and grateful that they felt able to pay tribute to Chris in this manner – on behalf of all his wide circle of friends
  • The Librivox Community – the Librivoxateers put together a very moving audio compilation of them saying goodbye to Chris which we played on CD

Poem – The Jumblies by Edward Lear, read by icyjumbo. That was quite spooky, having his own voice ring out at his funeral, but somehow very appropriate. He read the poem to bring out the sense of seizing the moment, and taking the opportunities that life offers you, rather than waiting 20 years and then thinking “I wish I’d gone to sea in a sieve”

Farewell: Rod Waugh

Finale: The Jacques Loussier Trio playing Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor – again chosen because we had thoroughly enjoyed seeing it played live.

We had  retiring collection in aid of St Richard’s Hospice, which  is open c/o the funeral directors for another month. At the end of that period I shall match the total with a donation from Christopher’s estate and forward it all to the hospice.

{ 12 } Comments

  1. Lucy_k_p | 18 August 2010 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    It sounds like a lovely service. And the number of people attending is a tribute to Chris’s generosity and kind nature.

    My thoughts are still with you. Take good care of yourself.


  2. David Allsopp | 18 August 2010 at 4:29 pm | Permalink


    I thought it was a wonderful celebration of Chris’s life and a fitting send-off.

    The tributes were very moving (and I learned a few new things about Chris and his talents!) and it was indeed spooky but pleasing to hear his recorded voice, and a great idea from Librivox to send in their voices from around the world.

    I thought your own tribute was absolutely perfect; we’re all so impressed you could hold yourself together (better than most of us there!) and deliver it so well.

    Best wishes,


    PS. Agree with you entirely about coffins; we thought the bamboo was very sensible yet elegant.

  3. Kara Shallenberg | 18 August 2010 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    It sounds like a truly beautiful service. Thanks for writing this post so those of us who couldn’t be there can imagine it. I’ll be thinking of you! *hugs*

    Kara from Librivox

  4. Q&J | 18 August 2010 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    I can only echo the sentiments of David above, and agree what a wonderful tribute it was to Chris. And also thank you for sharing your thoughts and plans in the blog above.
    While this may show my ignorance, can I ask if there is a copy or a link to the poem that Rod Waugh read later in the ceremony? I am interested in poetry and wondered about its source.
    Very best wishes

  5. Gillian | 18 August 2010 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    Thanks very much Qolin. It is “He is gone” By David Harkins.
    It was Rod’s suggestion, but I thought it very appropriate for the occasion.

  6. Mantina Ahlijah | 18 August 2010 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

    A very befitting service for a wonderful man.
    The coffin was very nice if one can say so.

  7. Ryan DeRamos | 18 August 2010 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

    The service sounds like a perfect celebration of Chris’ life, with a fantastic musical selection, too. I can’t get enough of the jazz trio arrangement of ‘Toccata and Fugue’! 🙂

    Ryan, also from LibriVox

  8. Neeru | 20 August 2010 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    It sure sounds like a beautiful service. Thanks for posting this here. Standing room only – not at all surprising, considering what an awesome man Chris was.
    And do take care of yourself. *hugs*

    Neeru, one of the LibriVoxateers 🙂

  9. Juliet and Mike | 22 August 2010 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    We were both thinking of you on Tuesday and it sounds like it was a great send off to a great man! We were sorry not the be able to attend but it was lovely to read about the service. Hopefully we’ll see you soon and as always our thought and love are with you at this time

    Love and best wishes

    J and Mike

  10. Kate | 23 August 2010 at 2:00 am | Permalink

    Just a short message to say I have been thinking of you. I only met Chris for a short time and it was easy to see how much he loved you. I am glad the end was peaceful and I wish you well.

    Love Kate
    (the night HCA)

  11. Gillian | 25 August 2010 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Kate. I well remember the long night we spent nursing Chris, and your permanent patience and good humour.

  12. Rod Waugh | 23 August 2010 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    Gillian, it was, as I said at the funeral, a privilege to have met Chris and yourself and to have taken some small part in the ceremony. Best wishs to you and all Chris stood for. Remember all of us at SRH are still there for you, just call.