They are the saddest occasions but, even amid the tears of our final farewells, a fit of the giggles can be only a minor mishap away.
Celebrant Barbara Campbell told how the sombre dignity of even the best-planned funerals can be broken by hilarious calamity.
“And when it does, we move heaven and earth, so to speak, to steer it back on course,” she said.
Music plays an important role in softening the experience for grieving families, from football songs to tracks dedicated to the deceased, so long as the lyrics are appropriate.
“Every request is carefully considered,” explained Barbara. “But I now draw the line at risqué songs after strains of a rap with expletives drifted over a crematorium at one service I conducted. Since then, I listen to everything beforehand.”
Barbara decided to change career after surviving a near-fatal road accident. Paramedics saved her life after the collision near her home in Erskine, Renfrewshire. “I was transfused with three pints of blood,” she said.
Thereafter, she gave up her role as a media officer for a telecommunications company.Now, as a celebrant, she carries out several personalised ceremonies every week.
Switching careers was challenging at first but ultimately proved rewarding, and Barbara here looks back at some of the unintentionally hilarious moments along the way.
“After 12 funerals I became distraught with the grief that families experienced,” said Barbara.
“But my mum told me to get over myself, and get back out there. I had to do my best for other people. Helping others through the most painful day in their lives then grew to become a hugely fulfilling role.”
Barbara has even planned her own funeral, which will feature a jazz band and wicker coffin.
“It has to be a happy service and I’ll go out in style!” she smiled.
Service could have become a spectacle
A sad moment at the graveside turned slapstick when a funeral director’s glasses slid down his nose and slipped into the lair.
“I could see them falling lower and lower down his face until they eventually slipped off and down the side of the coffin as it was being lowered into the grave,” said Barbara.
“The rules of conducting a funeral is that you stop for nothing. So I continued giving the reading. Incredibly, none of the family noticed.
“People focus on the cords as they lower the coffin.
“We had to wait in the cemetery until the mourners all left before asking the grave diggers to retrieve the specs.
“They had lodged down the side of the casket.”
Late for his own funeral
Desperate attempts to make a funeral run to schedule were thrown in to chaos when a runaway tyre broke loose from a truck and headed straight for the hearse.
Barbara explained: “One funeral was running 20 minutes late while I was waiting at the crematorium.
“We were all wondering what the delay was until we got a phone call from the harassed funeral director.
“A runaway tyre had broken loose from the load off a truck and headed straight for the hearse.
“It bounced against the side, up over the top with the coffin underneath, and back down the other side.
“The deceased was now very late for his own funeral.
“When they arrived I carried on as normal and gave no hint that anything untoward had happened.”
Sleepy organist missed his cue
An elderly organist fell asleep and missed the cue to play. Then he woke suddenly and started to play the wrong music.
“Fortunately it was appropriate but the wrong choice. Again, you just keep calm and carry on,” said Barbara.
The sleepy organist with the wrong repertoire was in stark contrast to the family who asked if their brother’s service could include his favourite rap.
“It seemed a good idea until every line contained swearing.”
Another family asked me if they could smoke cannabis as we discussed the service. “I had to draw the line and refuse,” said Barbara. “The smell would have clung to my suit and that would not have gone down well at the funeral I was officiating at later that day.”
Casket wouldn’t budge
Last-minute hitches have to appear as a part of the ceremony.
“I was giving the part of the eulogy where the coffin descends.
“But when I pressed the buzzer to signal to the crematorium workers to move the coffin behind the curtains nothing happened. The casket refused to budge.
“I just continued on as though it was meant to stay put and as I said ‘Amen’ it moved, as if right on cue.
“Downstairs the crematorium workers had been trying to fix the fuse which blocked the signal to descend.
“At moments like this you can never afford to look surprised or disappointed because no one wants their loved one’s funeral to turn into a comedy sketch.”