One Picture, A Thousand Words

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The moment we had a camera as part of mobile phone functionality we started taking photos of almost everything. Weirdly, food featured a lot. There were before and after photos at the gym, videos of our pets and envy inducing holiday shots. Long before the bride and groom had sent out the official wedding pics, eager guests had captured images of the happy couple on their phones and sent them to thousands of their closest friends. When it comes to taking photos, everything it seems is up for grabs. That is, almost everything.

Strictly off limits seems to be another seminal moment in our lives – the day we farewell someone who has died. It is a gathering like no other; poignant, emotional, connected, raw. While we might now live stream the service to those who cannot be there, we are reticent to capture the funeral in any other way, and I wonder if we’re missing out on something.

Let me tell you about a funeral I went to a while back. Roger, the father of my friend Sue, had died after a challenging journey with dementia related illness. His funeral, held in a typical suburban church followed the standard format that we have come to know and expect. Post funeral refreshments, held in the church hall were also very much to form. Vats of tea and coffee, sandwiches and pastries, sausage rolls and mini quiches.

As things were winding up, something a little unexpected happened. Sue began to go quietly around the hall inviting those closest to Roger and family to meet at one of the stunning local vineyards. The main tasting room, it’s old wine barrels laden with platters of antipasto and tapas, with wine aplenty and good music playing was to be ours for the night.

At some point during the evening, as the wine and stories flowed someone began to sing. It was Rogers best mate Jack. The good friends had gone fishing, golfing and cycling together for decades. They had shared family times, good times, and hard times. While the conversation hummed all around Jack simply walked into the middle of the tasting room and in his deep baritone began to sing. Half a verse in his wife Joan came to stand beside him. By the chorus, Sue’s mum Helen was there too. Side by side, the three of them sang for Roger. It was one of the most moving moments I’ve ever seen. Several people used their phones to take photos or video capturing the moment. It felt entirely appropriate that they did so.

It’s left me wondering why, in our snap happy world, we feel so reticent to take photos at a funeral. No, we don’t want guests whipping out their phones in the middle of the eulogies to grab a quick pic, but I believe there are ways this can be handled sensitively. Appointing someone unconnected to the family removes awkwardness and enables the capture of some deeply personal memories, particularly for younger generations.

While nobody wants gratuitous grief stricken selfies populating social media, taking photographs at a funeral offers the opportunity to capture something special.  Funerals are a place of love, belonging and re-connection. And yes, grief and sadness too. It’s a part of life, and life and all its moments is worth capturing.

Inevitably, hopefully a long time from now, there will be a funeral for Helen. When the photo montage of her life rolls around it seems only fitting that picture from the tasting room is there. Those of us who were at Roger’s funeral will be instantly transported back to that moment – when Helen stood shoulder to shoulder with friends at her husband’s wake, and with courage and grace, sang.

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