Wednesday 29 October 2014

Bespoke for Dad | A Life Centred Funeral Ceremony

Ron Thornton 1923-1979

Having left school at 14 to work in the local factory my dad’s education was mostly obtained from books and he never stopped learning. He was an adventurer too and in the mid-1960s persuaded my mum that they should sell our house (an unusual piece of property for a family of our class at that time) and use the proceeds for travel. After stops in North and South Wales, Edinburgh, Blackburn, London, Sheffield and a memorable nine months in the Bahamas we settled in Cornwall. Nine years later whilst decorating the kitchen dad had a pain in his chest and went upstairs for a lay down. He died a few minutes later.

We were living in a coastal village on the Lizard Peninsula at the time and my dad’s funeral was held in the only church. I was pleased and surprised that the service was so personal. The vicar only visited my mum and I once before the funeral but he also bothered to talk to other people to find out a bit about Ron (not Ronald his given name) Thornton the man.

My dad’s funeral was my first. I’ve been to quite a few others since; many of which have been much less centred on the personality and experiences of the person who has died. But despite the positive experience my dad’s funeral still wasn’t what it could have been and I’ve been wondering recently how I would have organised and delivered a life centred ceremony for him. He did have a religious faith, but this was not church based, and I feel sure that he, and we (my mum and I), would have appreciated something more personal, more bespoke.

Me and Dad 
Although he was comparatively young when he died he’d packed a lot in and there’s plenty that could have been said. He’d been a soldier, stationed in Singapore and India, at the end of World War II; an industrial diamond polisher; a bank messenger; toilet roll maker and (at different times) hotel kitchen and night porter. There was a stint, alongside my mum, as restaurant manager and my dad used to fry orders of food in a leaky lean-to with the chip basket in one hand and a brolly in the other. He was a writer too, with some publishing success in short fiction, and wrote a children’s book and a 50,000 word memoir (both unpublished). Perhaps inevitably some of my favourite parts of his written life story where the places where he wrote about my mum and me; ‘his girls’ as he called us. There’s a wonderful section on how he felt on first meeting my mum and the impact she had on him which I’d be sure to read out. It would have been hard to decide on other readings given his range of interests but maybe some Woodhouse or Christie or Gallico and perhaps something else he’d written himself. Sadly I don’t recall his musical tastes, only the heated discussions about whether or not I watched Top of the Pops or he watched (any) another channel. But I smile at the memory of him dancing down the street with me after we’d seen Scrooge the Musical so some music from the film score would be on the playlist.

These inclusions with some photos, such as the ones included here, would have resulted in a richer ceremony highlighting the loves of the man and our love for him. To me my dad was a star. A bespoke funeral ceremony would have placed him rightfully centre stage in the spotlight.

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