Readings for Memorials

Image of white lillies and the title "Readings for Memorials"

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.

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,
gnaws on kind words
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and 
our reality, bound to 
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their 
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their 
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold

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.
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!
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.

Click here for more posts on funeral planning

Feature image by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Published by Trevar Alan Skillicorn-Chilver

Trevar Alan Skillicorn-Chilver is an authorised celebrant, a playwright, a teacher and quite a few other things!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: