The gospel according to that most credible purveyor of celebrity news, The Sun, is that Simon Cowell has chosen the music which he would like played at his funeral. The Sinatra fan has requested the ubiquitous My Way, According to Dying Matters, he is in good company. Apparently, around one in six of us choose the Paul Anka classic – all of whom clearly feel that the song singularly reflects Their Way in a manner that no other song could.
Few of us choose to dwell on end of life issues sufficiently, but we seem to have fewer qualms discussing and having a view on our own funeral music. More than any other element, nothing is as emotionally resonant or creates the mood as music does. It, and the funeral at large, should fundamentally reflect the character of the deceased. The choices we make will, undoubtedly, be remembered long after eulogies are forgotten, particularly if the music is exceptionally unique. No matter what circumstances the death, it is the content of the funeral which determines whether the ceremony is an upbeat celebration of life or a self-indulgent lament. Does it raise teary eyed smiles amongst the congregation or, is there en masse mournful wailing?
Whilst I ponder further on my own choice of music, Mr Cowell’s choice does throw up a more pressing issue: the choice of secular songs in funerals. As our tastes and religious persuasions change, we are more likely than ever to choose music which reflects our own special trademark and which, for whatever intimate reason, means something to us. Lyrics which are befitting may bear personal significance or it may be that the musicality of an instrumental piece is simply achingly beautiful.
It appears, then, that the world is our musical oyster; lending free rein for us to indulge our every whim with scant regard for tradition or convention. Or is it? It seems not. Many clergy are today reclaiming lost ground and reinstating the values of the Church and their buildings as being sacred places of reverence, piety and worship; values which were in danger of being eroded by, amongst other things, the playing of music deemed unseemly at funerals. A church is, after all, a House of God and a funeral in a church is, in religious parlance, the deceased’s commendation to God.
The difficulty for the lay person is that clergy of each parish appear to set their own funereal boundaries, any or all of which will affect the content of a funeral. Whilst liberal clergy will permit music of any genre, presenting a catalogue of options to the funeral planner, others may tolerate classical music alongside religious music and more orthodox clergy will allow only hymns to be played in church.
But the limitations don’t just apply to music: many clergy are averse to draping the coffin with a flag, be it the Union flag, the tricolour or other, lest it offend. Further still, for some, football is the new religion, and those who would like their pallbearers to sport Man U’s regalia may have to reconsider where they would wish to have their funeral.
These clerical limitations are unlikely to affect everyone. Apparently, as a nation, we may not be church attendees but, according to the 2011 census, 33.2 million of us claim to be Christians. The chances are, if you have chosen to have a church wedding and have your children christened, you are likely to want a Christian funeral. You may be more than happy with the Lord being your Shepherd or by being Amazed by His Grace but, if restrictions imposed present themselves as flies in your funereal ointment, you may need to think again. If it is only the inclusion of a must-have song, there is always the option of playing it at the crematorium or the graveside.
The same 2011 census goes on to suggest there is a growing band of non-believers, with 14 million of us claiming to have no religion at all; disciples of Dawkins who don’t wish to go anywhere near a church. Clearly this offers carte blanche on not just musical choices, but also the content and venue for the funeral. It’s an attractive alternative for those with no religious concerns.
But, then there are the inbetweeners, those who are neither religious nor atheists; agnostics who neither practice a religion nor ridicule the beliefs of others; the greys between the polemics. They are happy to say the Lord’s prayer, alongside Jerusalem and have a cheery tendency to Look on the Bright Side of Life. Undoubtedly, these are religious floating voters who don’t regularly attend any formal religious event but probably consider themselves Christian. It is this merry band who will have to prioritise, make stark choices and who, census apart, undoubtedly constitutes the majority of us.
This may all sound like small beer, but the fact is that your religion and the level of importance you are prepared to give it, may impact on your funeral. What starts off as being a mere component, be it song choice, flag or football strip can soon, for the devotee, become non- negotiable and the deciding factor as to where the funeral is held.
This then is the crux of the matter: if the funereal content is seen as objectionable by clergy, at what point do you, or your funeral planners, decide to hold the service elsewhere, potentially forsaking family tradition. Worse still, if you aren’t around to assist in the decision making process, would your loved ones unanimously agree or would it be a source of angst and contention amongst them?
Would they know how much importance to place on the beloved red kit, the union flag or Freddie Mercury versus the family church.
'Fess up, which would take priority?
Do They Know?