I learnt a lot about my mother during her funeral service – her soundscape, so long hidden from me, was revealed as her favourite pieces of music were played. Dad picked the music, as he knew where I did not, and I suggested the hymn, which would also have met with her approval – Thine Be The Glory, set to Handel’s rousing music. Not only was it an appropriate funeral hymn, it also reflected the day on which Mum died.
In the intimate setting of the little funeral chapel every sound was magnified, and I distinguished, as I rarely do, individual voices in the singing. The minister most certainly led the singing as one used to doing so, with a huge, powerful voice. Everyone remarked on it afterwards. Now I can notice these things along with everyone else, not just be told about them after the event and nod politely.
The tribute was beautifully given by one of my cousins, and I heard not only his sniffle, but a collective sob, as everyone responded to his closing words. Despite not quite knowing what form the concluding prayers would take, I was able to follow every single word, which was a great comfort in feeling so wholly part of saying farewell to my mother.
That sense of being a slight bystander at important events has gone, even though I’m from a very deaf-aware family – I had, for example, had a copy of the tribute in advance – and everyone has always helped me follow, given me copies, filled me in on the background sounds afterwards, whatever the occasion. It is possible to be fully included, and yet not quite part of the collective experience. I think back to my own wedding – our order of service was typed up in full, by me, and ended up as a 16-page booklet, as I knew how much my deaf friends would appreciate it, and they had a prime viewing position. Sitting in the Quire facing sideways on and level with us, was much more deaf-friendly than in aisle formation facing forward and craning necks behind hats, and allowed a very good view of all the proceedings. One friend remarked to me afterwards that he had followed everything better than at his own wedding. Yet the music was chosen by the Bear, as I had had nothing to contribute (though the hymns were a different matter entirely, of course), and all I knew was the organ beneath my feet on the flagstones and through my fingertips on the prie-dieu. Afterwards the Bear told me that the music during the signing of the register had been substituted at the last minute, as the organist was not familiar with it, “not that”, he added, “that anyone else will have noticed, as it was another Bach piece.”
No, this time I felt completely part of it all. I can’t share these milestones with Mum any more, but I intend to go on and share them with you.