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Joyful or sombre ... what type of funeral we would choose

When Sky News presenter Colin Brazier's wife Jo died recently aged 55 following a five-year battle with breast cancer, he asked those attending her funeral to wear black, adding that he believed bright colours were unfair on children and risked turning the gathering into a fashion parade. Here, Karen Ireland asks well-known people if they agree and what they’d like to happen at their own funeral

Alliance Party Leader and East Belfast MLA Naomi Long (46) lives in Belfast with her husband Michael. She says:

I can completely understand where Colin Brazier is coming from with his wishes for his wife's funeral. As a child of 10 years old I lost my dad and it was a very distressing time. I remember all these people coming to the house and laughing and joking and I was very upset.

I spoke to my mum about it and she explained that while they were sad inside, they were sharing happy memories of dad and laughing and reminiscing.

I didn't understand that at the time as a child and found it all confusing.

It is hard to understand as a child how something so sad can be celebrated.

Losing dad was so painful for me and I didn't really understand or come to terms with how you can share happy memories until my mum died a few years ago and I got tremendous comfort from people sharing stories about her.

As an adult I saw it differently. Adults and children do not see death the same.

I am a Christian, so I believe death is not the end of the journey but there is hope beyond the grave.

I would like a religious service which marks and celebrates my life.

I would like people not to be miserable but to be comforted and uplifted by the service.

Church life is very important to me, so the hymns and prayers would be very important and I would like a part in picking them.

I had skin cancer a few years ago and at the time I thought I really should have a plan for my funeral, but instead of concentrating on that I began to take better care of myself.

I'd like someone to talk about me and my passions and what I stood for. The service should reflect the person. I helped my mum pick the hymns for her funeral and I'd like to pick mine.

Death is about consoling those who are grieving and coping with loss."

Charity campaigner and former MLA Jo-Anne Dobson (50) lives in Waringstown with her husband John and sons Elliott (27) and Mark (25). She says:

I completely understand Colin Brazier’s point of view and, as a father of six young children,  why he wanted to make his wife’s funeral sombre and respectful for them.

My children are older and I’d like to think my funeral would be a mix of a traditional service and celebration of my life.

I would like it to be a positive occasion at which John and the boys marked and celebrated the good things I had achieved in my life and a life which I enjoyed.

I would hope they would look back over a life I had lived which made them proud.

My son Mark’s kidney transplant experience has taught me to live every day to the full and to leave a footprint on the world.

I would like my family to know my wishes. I am a regular churchgoer and attend the Church of Ireland.

In that respect I would like a traditional service with hymns and readings.

My best friend Louise died two years ago when she was just 48. She had cancer and to me her funeral service was perfect. There was a traditional church service and her children read the lessons in memory of their mum.

After the service was over all the friends and family went out to a hotel for a meal.

The service was emotional and reflective but Louise had said she didn’t want people to be sad — so the meal was a joyous celebration of her life.

It was very uplifting and people shared happy stories and memories of her. It was a wonderful gathering.

I would like to marry these two elements in my own funeral and I hope my family would be beaming with pride.

I’d like it to be personal and about me. I’d like to have a mix of contemporary music such as Robbie Williams’ Angels and Bette Midler’s The Wind Beneath My Wings alongside traditional hymns such as Here I am Lord.

The chorus means so much to me: ‘Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord? I have heard you calling in the night, I will go Lord if you lead me, I will hold your people in my heart’.

I wouldn’t want my funeral to be private but to be open to everyone whose lives I have hopefully touched.

Everyone would be welcome and I wouldn’t care what they wore — but I would like everyone to wear a transplant pin.

I think it is important for people who are thinking about and talking about their funeral to consider transplantation and to make their wishes known to their family. It makes it easier when they are grieving to know what you would want and being a transplant donor can save up to seven lives.

But I hope all this is a long way off and that I continue to live a full and happy life and leave a really positive influence for people to remember me by.”

Actress and comedian Nuala McKeever (54) lives in Belfast. She is putting on her one woman show In The Window at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast on August 17-19. She says:

When my former partner, Mike (Moloney), died suddenly five years ago I wrote a list of 21 things I wanted to do before I died. I have done all of them except write a will and leave behind instructions for what I want at my funeral.

I haven’t done these things as it is not something I want to think about. No one does.

Fortunately, Mike had left instructions and we knew what he wanted. He wanted to be cremated. In fact, he told me that on our first date which I thought was a bit weird.

I would hate to die and be buried in a Catholic service which is something my family might do. Families can come to blows over funeral arrangements.

I stopped being a practising Catholic years ago and got into zen and Buddhism.

I meditate and practice calmness and wellbeing.

I would like to be wrapped in an organic woven burial sheet and burned on a pyre which is a kind of bonfire. People stand around and chant while the body burns.

When I used to be more spiritual I would lie awake at night and make myself sad by thinking of songs I’d like sung at my funeral.

Now I’d like it to be very calm and natural. I’d like it to be outdoors.

Funerals are very personal and the funeral of a young mum or a young person is very different to that of a 90-year-old who has lived life to the full.

I think there is room for both. I think your death should be celebrated as much as your life.

About 10 years ago I did some research with women who had cancer. There was a lot of black humour.

One woman talked about all the music she wanted played at her funeral and I remember her daughter saying ‘mum, it isn’t a priest you need, it is a DJ’.

My only sadness is that it will be all about me and I won’t be there to join in and be part of it. I would like the drama of being there.

Maybe I will die near the Twelfth and then they can just stick me on the bonfire and remember me and have a laugh.

Death is still very taboo here. We need to talk about it and open up and express our wishes.”

BBC NI broadcaster Noel Thompson (62) and his wife Sharon live in Belfast. They have two sons, Matthew (31) and Patrick (26). Noel says:

Thinking about what I would like for my funeral led to an interesting teatime conversation. It is not something people like to talk about or think about.

When my time comes, I would like to be cremated in a sustainable coffin.

I would like lots of music to be sung at my funeral. I’d like to think my operatic friends would turn up and sing something

special.

I would also like my friends from the choral society to sing For Unto Us A Child Is Born from Handel’s Messiah.

I would also like Belfast’s best soprano to sing Hear My Prayer, which is an anthem I have loved since I was a young child. I don’t care what people wear, as long as they turn up and celebrate or mark my life. They are allowed to be a little bit sad.

Funerals are more for the living and for those who are left behind than the dead. I would like my family to pick aspects of the funeral service which they believe sums me up.

I’m quite relaxed about the whole thing and whatever happens will happen.”

U105 and UTV Live presenter, Frank Mitchell (55), lives in Belfast with his wife, Helena, and daughter, Laura (25). He says:

When I die, I want to go home to Burren, outside Warrenpoint, where I am originally from.

I’d want the full works of a wake, with lots of people calling and a full house.

I would want a requiem mass with prayers and music and I hope people say nice things about me. I’ve been around long enough to have been to a lot of funerals — some are sombre and mark the occasion.

Some of those for young footballers whose lives were taken too soon have been very moving and very formal.

Sometimes, it is appropriate to be upbeat and have a celebration. The funeral of musician Jackie Flavelle was like that and reflected his personality with music.

It was a true celebration of his life and that worked.

I’d like my funeral to be respectful and formal. I wouldn’t tell people what to wear, but I’d expect the men to be in suits and ties and the women close to the family to be wearing black.

The most important thing is that they would say, ‘He wasn’t a bad fella’.”

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