Becky Hughes, Community Co-Ordinator at Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors
Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors has served the community of Horsham, West Sussex, since 1855. The company now also has offices in Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint, and has a well-established reputation for delivering personalised services. Previously, Becky discussed how HRH Prince Philip had set a strong example for the rest of us, by discussing his funeral wishes with his family prior to his death. Following the funeral taking place on 17th April, she examines how inspiration may be drawn from the event…
As I mentioned previously, my hope is that the Duke of Edinburgh will have inspired others to discuss their funeral wishes openly. When I wrote my previous post, we didn’t know many details about the service, and a large part of the media focus was on who would be in attendance, given that COVID regulations stipulated only 30 mourners were able to be at the service. This was a moment of real common humanity for the Royal family – ordinarily, they can have almost whatever they wish – and I have strong respect for them abiding by this restriction, particularly given that it could be argued that, due to the size of the venue, it may have been safe for more mourners to attend.
As it was, only the very closest members of the family attended, and the youngest were adolescents. With two of the couples in attendance being new parents, this presented a particular challenge for them, and shows a real commitment from the family to lead by example.
To that end, much of the spotlight has been on the Queen, particularly the fact that she sat alone – none of her social bubble was present in the Chapel – and wore her face covering throughout, not receiving any direct physical comfort from her family even in the form of them sitting next to her. My argument would be that, even under normal circumstances, she would have been unlikely to receive physical comfort from those present, but I will leave a wider discussion of this to my colleague Abi, who will be posting on the topic of social distancing at funeral services soon. Reportedly, the Queen was carrying one of her husband’s handkerchiefs in her handbag, as well as a favourite photo – a candid, in fact – from their wedding day, as totems to accompany her. I think that this is a lovely idea, and to privately take small items such as these for comfort is another idea that members of the public can borrow for their own situations.
It wasn’t until the day of the funeral itself that it occurred to me how significant the venue is to so many of the attendees. Of those present, Prince Charles, Prince Harry, Princess Eugenie, Prince Edward, and Peter Phillips all had weddings or associated ceremonies there. It struck me that this could make it a more challenging experience for the attendees – I’m not sure how I would feel about being at a near-relative’s funeral in the same venue I got married in, and whether this would make me more sad, or bring me the comfort of familiarity and hopefully-happy memories. Many of our customers request specific places of worship, crematoria or chapels because they have previously attended funerals there, and spouses often request that their funeral take place in the same location as their partner’s. However, lots of people also express that they find it hard to return to the location of a previous funeral for subsequent ones. Ultimately, it is a decision which should be made on an individual basis, and only you will know what is right for you.
Further to this, the choice regarding how mourners proceed into the venue is open to preference too. Many outlets pointed out that the Duke of Edinburgh’s entrance to the Chapel was the first time that he has ever preceded the Queen, having famously followed two steps behind her for the entirety of their marriage. I suspect that, in the Royal family’s case, this was a further example of protocol being observed, and I would urge the general public not to accept this as essential.
We are often asked what the ‘right’ thing to do is in terms of when the coffin should enter the chosen service venue, and the answer – which generally causes much relief – is that there is no right or wrong, it is again preference. There are several options, though some may depend on your choice of venue and your funeral director will be able to advise you: mourners can lead the coffin in; mourners can follow the coffin, as the Royal family did; mourners can enter the venue first, and stand for the coffin’s entrance; the coffin can be positioned prior to the entrance of mourners; there can be a mixture of both, which is a popular choice when mourners would like to carry the coffin but for whatever reason this is not possible – similarly to how a wedding is set up, the majority of mourners can be seated, then stand for the coffin to be followed by a selection of mourners.
This is something which is important to many people, and can be highly symbolic, so it is again worth discussing as a preference prior to the funeral, and may well vary for different members of a family or friendship group.
Although a photo of the Duke was not displayed in the Chapel, his ceremonial garters were, having been carefully stitched to a variety of pillows to ensure that they remained in place. I thought that this was a nice way to express his presence, by showing objects which were familiar to many in attendance, and which had belonged to him, without the eye being drawn to his image. Many of our customers choose to have a photo of the Deceased person displayed in a frame on top of the coffin, or on an easel, or to compile what’s known as a Visual Tribute – a slideshow of images. I hadn’t previously considered an alternative visual display, but it’s now got me thinking that a collection of a person’s belongings could be equally as effective as a series of photos. Perhaps the Deceased person liked brooches, or scarves, or even sports shirts? In any case, it could be a fitting tribute.
The Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral would always have been broadcast on television, it became even more pertinent for his friends, family and other acquaintances, as attendance was limited due to social distancing. For those who are unable to travel for other reasons, it has also meant that they could view the service. Whilst funerals being livestreamed was not so long ago a privilege afforded to few outside of the highest of celebrity status, it is now something which is open to many more of us, and I think that this is one of the greatest gifts – if such a thing is possible – that the pandemic has given us. It has occurred to me that this is such a huge change within the sector that I’ll return to this particular topic in a separate post.
Funerals such as Prince Philip’s being broadcast on mainstream platforms do enable services to be demystified and further explored, which continues to be a positive of these occasions, and I think that this is another significant positive.
Following the conclusion of the funeral service, the next phase of the Royal family members’ lives may begin – just as for the rest of us, it is now time for them to continue without the person they have paid tribute to.