Inspirational readings for a funeral

When my father Peter was at the stage of life when there are more funerals than weddings, he used to report back on these events - who was there, who spoke and how long the sermon was. This gave me the opportunity to ask him what kind of farewell he might choose for himself - and I kept a note of his answer.

About a year later he died suddenly, before I had a chance to say goodbye. It was a relief that one element of the funeral needed no decision. Dad had told me the song he wanted to accompany him on his last journey: ‘Eternal Father Strong to Save’ - the traditional sailor’s prayer. Singing it with my two brothers standing beside me and many voices joined together in the chapel helped share the burden of saying goodbye to our father for the last time.

The death of a loved one, even when expected, is a shock. All the more so when the death is unexpected. At a moment in your life when you need time to digest and grieve, there is a ceremony to be organized and a life to be honoured.

Choosing the right readings for the ceremony – whether religious or not – sets the tone and helps you express your private feelings via the words of others. Classic funeral readings also help everyone attending the funeral face the reality of death and share the loss together.

How to find inspirational readings for a funeral?

Tip 1: Choosing the right text
Some people bravely talk about their death and plan their funeral ahead of time. Others do not wish to go there and we have to make those decisions ourselves. When death comes suddenly and you are faced with the task, how do you choose some appropriate words for a funeral?

Tip 2: Focus on something they loved
Was there a special place they loved being or activity they enjoyed? If they were brought up in the church, what hymn or gospel stories meant something to them.

Tip 3: Ask for help from people close to your loved one
Ask them to share memories, anecdotes, photos, stories. Is there a poem or a song that captures their spirit? Search online or at your local library, using key phrases like “poems about love”.

Tip 4: Go for the classics
Some texts are often read at funerals because they express emotions that most of us feel about losing a person we love. They can help us celebrate a life well lived. Auden’s Funeral Blues, The Bible’s I Corinthians 13, Shakespeare’s sonnets and Kahlil Gibran’s poetry are a good place to start.

Tip 5: Choose something for the living
An untimely death through accident or illness is unbearably sad for those left behind – parents, siblings, children, lovers, friends. Funeral readings under these circumstances help mourners to deeply experience the sadness of the moment, which is the first step towards coming to terms with the loss.

Example of readings for a funeral:

1. Funeral Blues

"Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message 'He is Dead'.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good."

WH Auden

2. The Road Not Taken

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."

Robert Frost

3. She is gone

"You can shed tears that she is gone
Or you can smile because she has lived
You can close your eyes and pray that she will come back
Or you can open your eyes and see all that she has left
Your heart can be empty because you can’t see her
Or you can be full of the love that you shared
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday
You can remember her and only that she is gone
Or you can cherish her memory and let it live on
You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back
Or you can do what she would want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on."

David Harkins

4. Success

"To laugh often and love much;
To win the respect of intelligent persons
And the affection of children;
To earn the approbation of honest critics
And to endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To give of one’s self;
To leave the world a little better,
Whether by a healthy child,
A garden patch
Or a redeemed social condition;
To have played and laughed with enthusiasm
And sung with exultation;
To know that even one life has breathed easier
Because you have lived –
This is to have succeeded."

Ralph Waldo Emerson

5. 1 Corinthians 13
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres…
… And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."

6. Famous quotes
“Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.”
― Kahlil Gibran

“When you part from your friend, you grieve not;
For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as
the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.”
― Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

“You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.
Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.”
― Kahlil Gibran

“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being,the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”
― Kahlil Gibran

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