Yesterday afternoon I was at the funeral of the walking friend who was the subject of this recent post. It was at a South London crematorium and, as it was advertised as a 'humanist funeral', my hopes were not high - in my experience, these tend to be awkward affairs with a gaping hole at the middle (no prizes for guessing its shape) - but this time, the format was perfect, and all was exactly right for the man whose life we were celebrating and whose death we were mourning.
The music we came in to was the great Bach Chaconne (played by Itzhak Perlman), and when all were gathered the celebrant said a few introductory words, and read Robert Burns's Epitaph to a Friend:
'An honest man here lies at rest,
The friend of man, the friend of truth,
The friend of age, and guide of youth:
Few hearts like his, with virtue warm'd,
Few heads with knowledge so inform'd;
If there's another world, he lives in bliss;
If there is none, he made the best of this.'
She then read out a luminous personal tribute from his brother, probably the man who knew him best, and this was followed by three personal tributes, the first of which was given by an old friend from his university days. He ended, rather wonderfully - and against the humanist grain - with words from the end of The Pilgrim's Progress: 'And all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.'
The celebration ended with two pieces played on the Northumbrian small pipes (by Kathryn Tickell, who else?) - the plangent Whittingham Green Lane, followed by the jolly Stagshaw Bank Fair, which sent us all out into the glorious late summer sunshine with a spring in our steps. Exactly as he would have wanted. He felt very present, and very content with what had been done to mark his life. And if the trumpets are indeed sounding on the other side, I'm sure he'll take this unexpected turn of events in his always formidable stride.