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Does humour have a place in a modern funeral?

Posted by Hannah Osmond on Monday 12th February 2018
Does humour have a place in a modern funeral?

The simple answer here is that a funeral should reflect the family’s wishes, and people are increasingly looking for a service that fully represents the loved one they have lost.

So, given that people have multi-faceted personalities, why not look to explore as many of these as we can when we decide ‘how’ we should say ‘goodbye’.

Many families are opting for Celebrant-led funeral services as they want much more control over the content, but what’s appropriate and what’s not?

If a key marker of that individual’s personality was their sense of humour, then it stands to reason that to fully honour them, the service might at least be light-hearted in tone.

In fact, the steer that I am often given by families is that they are looking for something celebratory and uplifting - joyful even.

This doesn’t mean that the funeral is any less respectful, or that it doesn’t have an appropriate feeling of gravitas, or integrity, since a good Celebrant can help you achieve both.

With careful consideration; it is possible to create a service that takes the family and other mourners on a journey.

Grief and sadness are always present – yet with care and sensitivity they can also be helped to explore the warmer emotions of love, light and (yes, sometimes) of laughter too.

It is surprising how, during just 30-minutes - the usual allowed time for services at most crematoriums, for example - people can be supported to feel a full range of emotions.

Circumstances go some way to dictating what’s appropriate…

Sometimes as an Independent Celebrant you have the opportunity to help a family say farewell to a nonagenarian; or even a centenarian. Someone who, even by today’s standards of life expectancy, has lived a long and fulsome life.

In some instances, these are people who feel ready for death; who perhaps even, would have liked it to come sooner. 

The family will nearly always be looking for something celebratory in these situations, for living to 99 or 101, or whatever considerable innings these people have achieved, is naturally something to commemorate.

When a life is cut tragically short the tone of the funeral service can be very different.

However, that is not to say that joy, light-heartedness, or even some humour, may form a part of that service. For the families may still wish, as challenging as that can be, to find a way to remember their loved one in the way they feel they would wish to be remembered.

Perhaps their loved one was an entertaining, gregarious and outgoing person, who loved nothing better than to joke around and make people laugh. In that case it may feel improper not to find ways to honour those vibrant and comedic attributes, that they were so well known for.


Good humour versus poor humour… 

Getting it right is not easy.

It is far simpler to create a gloomy, heart-rending, doleful service – because there are no ‘sticky’ areas.

Everything filed in the ‘sorrowful, melancholic and lamentable’ drawer can be taken out and used.

It’s when you reach down to the drawer of the ‘absurd, quick-witted and whimsical’ that things need very careful filtering.

I began a funeral recently with the following lines:

“We shall remember and honour Frank, in the way we believe he would have chosen to be remembered and honoured – with a large helping of positivity, a good soaking of reminiscence and a splash of music; all finished off with a light dusting of jocularity.”

And this really was the ‘recipe’ for our service. For Frank was a man who loved comedic greats such as Monty Python and Spike Milligan.

Amongst other things, we were even bold enough to include Milligan’s own epitaph of ‘I told them I was ill’.

It was brave and it was pushing the boundaries of what might have been expected at a funeral service. But…it was Frank through and through.

The clue here is that the jocular part came as ‘a light dusting’. It wasn’t the eggs or the flour; or any other of the main ingredients. It was the finesse on the top of an otherwise gently and lovingly baked cake.

The whole spectrum… 

I am often struck when meeting with bereaved families how despite their complete anguish and heartbreak, they still have the capacity for laughter.  No matter the circumstances, amidst the tears and the desperation, conversation will often turn at some point to ‘that time when Mum fell in the duck-pond’, or the moment when ‘Grandad’s hat got eaten by that goat’.

It seems as humans we are conditioned to seek out the positives even during the darkest of times – possibly as some kind of survival instinct. For as we all understand on some cellular level, no matter how impossible it may seem at the time, ‘life will go on’.

Remembering the times when we laughed together, or the times when we were at our happiest with someone, compels us forward.

So, to create moments of ‘light and shade’ in a funeral service is in essence, to create life. To remind us that despite our intolerable grief, we still have the potential inside ourselves to travel the road of hope; as well as the road of despair.

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Hannah is a hopeless romantic, useless cook, and cat fanatic. She loves the outdoors, and is a self-confessed flapjack addict. She’s also spent considerable periods dressed as a rhino for charity!

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