This past Monday, at precisely 11:00 AM British local time (which is 5:00 AM in Hardin County, Tennessee, where I was peacefully sleeping), the state funeral for Queen Elizabeth II began in Westminister Abbey. Her service, and the events before and after, had been carefully planned, scripted over the years by tradition and the desires of the Queen.
Slightly less than an hour later the service drew to a close at which time the entire country fell silent for the next two minutes, somberly waiting as the seconds quietly ticked away. The playing of reveille declared the official end of the service at noon, followed by the United Kingdom national anthem and a lament by the royal piper to the Queen—the same gentleman who played for her each morning—a 15 minute serenade from beneath her window. The Queen’s body was carried from the Abbey, destined for Saint George’s Chapel and a private committal service, but not before processing through the streets of London while the bells of Big Ben tolled in celebration and mourning.
Acknowledging her own mortality, the Queen had been planning her funeral for years, even going so far as to work with Jaguar on the design of the Land Rover hearse that would eventually carry her coffin. And during that time, she had one overriding concern . . . her funeral was not, under any circumstances, to be boring.
Granted, it’s hard to imagine a boring funeral service for someone as unique as the Queen of England and beyond. This was a woman who rubbed elbows with 13 of the last 14 U. S. presidents, who met with leaders from all over the world during her 70 year reign—a tenure which, I might add, was only bested by King Louis XIV of France who ruled for over 72 years . . . but he started at age four. If ever anyone’s life would lend itself to a really spectacular going away party, Queen Elizabeth II would most certainly be that person.
But you know what? Almost everyone has a life worth remembering and memorializing. And since no two people are the same, every service has the opportunity to be as unique as the person being honored, as long as those in charge of the planning understand they are not bound by the constraints of tradition or the expectations of others. Consider the person you’re honoring, their life and their passions, and find ways to tell their story so the world can know them as you do. Are they hardcore University of Tennessee fans? Then we need to end the service with a rousing version of “Rocky Top”. Oh, wait . . . it’s Alabama you say? Then everyone in attendance needs to be wearing something crimson, even if it’s a ribbon or armband provided at the door. Were they Abbott and Costello fans who could recite, word for word, “Who’s On First?” and never miss a beat? Then play the clip at the service. Perhaps they were fantastic bakers, known throughout the county for their melt in your mouth Tea Cakes that took first place at the fair. Every.Single.Year. Then pass out the recipe to everyone who comes—and if you’re feeling really industrious, include a cookie, too.
Very few folks in this world will ever be as famous or as wealthy or as long-lived as the Queen, but we all have a story to tell, and just because we’ve moved from this world to the next doesn’t mean it still shouldn’t be told. It’s up to those of us left behind to plan a farewell party that’s as fascinating as they were.
About the author: Lisa Shackelford Thomas is a fourth generation member of a family that’s been in funeral service since 1926. She has been employed at Shackelford Funeral Directors in Savannah, Tennessee for over 40 years and currently serves as the manager there. Any opinions expressed here are hers and hers alone, and may or may not reflect the opinions of other Shackelford family members or staff.