Transitional moments in life encourage us to ask the big questions. What is the meaning of life? What happens to us when we die? All perfectly natural.
Ideas and concepts that seem hard for us to grasp can be effortless to understand when illustrated. Therefore parables, fables and analogies are helpful ways to enhance our understanding of complex ideas; they use ideas that are understood universally to communicate profound truths; this can be a compelling, engaging way of speaking.
Suppose I wished to convey at the funeral of a loved one that he or she in some sense lives on. For some, this may be a difficult concept to comprehend. How can anyone live on when they have died? How would I illustrate that this is a truth, and how would I make this point sufficiently without drawing on any dogma or religious belief?
I may wish to use this illustration by Terry Pratchett, called The Reaper Man, for example.
In the Ramtop village where they dance the authentic Morris dance, they believe that no one is finally dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away—until the clock he wound up winds down; until the wine she made has finished its ferment; until the crop they planted is harvested. The span of someone’s life, they say, is only the core of their actual existence.
This verse speaks universally about the impact our lives have on the world around us and that this impression does not necessarily come to an end when we die. It offers several illustrations, each or all may appeal to different people in different ways. No one needs a degree in philosophy to understand the point made. When I use this illustration, I usually see a dawn of realisation on people’s faces. Magical.
I try to get to know a loved-one by sometimes asking the family to think of words that describe their loved-one. Popular words are ‘loving,’ ‘generous,’ ‘supportive.’ All sounds very generic. That is until I ask them to give me an example of how loving they were. Or to share a story that illustrates the person’s generosity and support. I do this because I will use those stories and illustrations to help everyone celebrate the life of the person who has died in a meaningful and personal way – appealing to their memories and galvanising them as in their mind’s eye.
“There are certain truths that occur to us, which we cannot convey in words, but requires a personal experience to grasp more vividly.” ― Michael Bassey Johnson.
So, at the funeral, I tend not to reel off a brief historical account of someone’s life because eulogies, in this sense, often tell us about what the person did but very little about who they were. As a Funeral Celebrant, I don’t see myself as an ‘Eamonn Andrews,’ and I’m not sure this is what a funeral should be. A little history retold illustratively is so much better but do let us get on with who they were and what they mean to us and why. So little time to waste.
To finish, I’ll leave you with this thought…
“An illustration that does not complement a story, in the end, will become but a false idol. Since we cannot possibly believe in an absent story, we will naturally begin believing in the picture itself.” ― Orhan Pamuk.
Such is its power!