You don’t have to lead many funerals before you recognise just how powerful a reading can be. It can put words to an emotion that is otherwise hard to quantify, it can give mourners the space to laugh or to cry, and it can bring a community together.
Anything could become a reading: a poem, a line from a play, a sacred text, a political speech or—perhaps the most meaningful possible source—something written by the person you’re farewelling.
The world wide web boasts many many pages dedicated to readings for funerals, and my contribution is hardly mind-blowing, but here are four of my favourite readings.
Afterglow anonymous I’d like the memory of me to be a happy one; I’d like to leave an afterglow of smiles when life is done; I’d like to leave an echo whispering softly down the ways of happy times and laughing times and bright and sunny days. I’d like the tears of those who grieve to dry under the sun; And leave a little salty stain on cheeks out having fun.
When Great Trees Fall Maya Angelou When great trees fall, rocks on distant hills shudder, lions hunker down in tall grasses, and even elephants lumber after safety. When great trees fall in forests, small things recoil into silence, their senses eroded beyond fear. When great souls die, the air around us becomes light, rare, sterile. We breathe, briefly. Our eyes, briefly, see with a hurtful clarity. Our memory, suddenly sharpened, examines, gnaws on kind words unsaid, promised walks never taken. Great souls die and our reality, bound to them, takes leave of us. Our souls, dependent upon their nurture, now shrink, wizened. Our minds, formed and informed by their radiance, fall away. We are not so much maddened as reduced to the unutterable ignorance of dark, cold caves. And when great souls die, after a period peace blooms, slowly and always irregularly. Spaces fill with a kind of soothing electric vibration. Our senses, restored, never to be the same, whisper to us. They existed. They existed. We can be. Be and be better. For they existed.
FEAR NO MORE THE HEAT O’ THE SUN William Shakespeare (Cymbeline IV,ii) Fear no more the heat o’ the sun, Nor the furious winter’s rages; Thou thy worldly task hast done, Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages; Golden lads and girls all must, As chimney-sweepers, come to dust. Fear no more the frown o’ the great; Thou art past the tyrant’s stroke: Care no more to clothe and eat; To thee the reed is as the oak: The sceptre, learning, physic, must All follow this, and come to dust. Fear no more the lightning-flash, Nor they all-dreaded thunder-stone; Fear not slander, censure rash; Thou hast finished joy and moan; All lovers young, all lovers must Consign to thee, and come to dust. No exorciser harm thee! Nor no witchcraft charm thee! Ghost unlaid forbear thee! Nothing ill come near thee! Quiet consummation have; And renownéd be thy grave!
FUNERAL ORATION John Kinsella The grave is a gate you send flowers through, and the pink blossom frosting the northern hemisphere is, on closer observation, a confluence of species. There is a scent that’s as much about lingering as leaving, and it’s about time the ploughs were moving down there. The geographical centre fluctuates while the magnetic centre remains rock solid. Prayer goes somewhere and is not lost and expects nothing back. an old tree—a York gum—oozes sap like it’s something special in this genealogy. Most of the family is there and words are said and those who can’t attend wait for news of the dead as now it is all about memory.