“Someday soon, perhaps in forty years, there will be no one alive who has ever known me. That’s when I will be truly dead – when I exist in no one’s memory.
“I thought a lot about how someone very old is the last living individual to have known some person or cluster of people. When that person dies, the whole cluster dies, too, vanishes from the living memory.
“I wonder who that person will be for me. Whose death will make me truly dead?”
― Irvin D. Yalom, Love’s Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy
This quote wasn’t actually in my mind when I arranged Abbey’s first memorial service, ten years ago. But, when I read it later, I realised the annual event serves a dual purpose.
When someone we love dies – whether it’s expected or suddenly, with no warning – we experience a shock which numbs us.
Many people drift through the first few weeks after bereavement in an altered state, not really taking in what is happening around them. Even in our western culture of funerals held far later after death than elsewhere, these are still likely to take place during this period of disassociation.
People have told me they don’t remember the funeral of a loved one: it all just seemed to happen around them.
‘It’s a blur; a dream; something that is happening to somebody else, but not to me.’
That’s why we host our annual memorial service. It gives our client families an opportunity to do what they would have wanted and needed at a funeral service but can’t always achieve: help find peace, solace and closure.
Our service is always held in the summer months: May or June, usually before term ends and the holidays get under way. This allows family groups to attend together: children as well, important because so often they are excluded from a funeral.
The service is completely interdenominational, with secular readings and music as well as hymns and prayers. Every faith and none is catered for.
Each family lights a small candle. to sit on the altar with a photo of their loved one.
This year we were joined again by the Tunbridge Wells Orpheus Male Voice Choir who sang to us and with us. We are so lucky to have, through my late Father, a long time association with the choir.
The service simply would not be the same without them.
Clergy from other local churches came along to take part and everyone stayed for tea and cakes. It became a very jolly affair. Our retiring collection for our charity Friends Together raised £157, which will be put to good use.
We made my husband, Jim, give up his stash of cakes when we caught him red handed making off with a couple of plates.
Our staff members give their unpaid time. They are not forced to attend: they do so willingly. Of course, there is the added draw of the cakes …
Some of our families return year after year, using the occasion as an anniversary. We love seeing them again, enjoy witnessing their recovery and catching up with their news – which they love to share with us.
“Another new grandchild? How wonderful!”
“Granddad would have been so happy.”
We all get a huge buzz from this day. It’s a real joint effort: a family affair in every sense.