June 24, 2023 would have been my mother’s 95th birthday. She died in September 2014, at the age of 86 after a long struggle with the effects of fronto-temporal dementia. Her death was, in the eyes of her children and others who loved her, a release and a blessing. And for her, peace at last.
She’d fallen away from the faith of her childhood decades before, and her children wished only a celebration of her life, and to say farewell to Mum with words and music that she’d have enjoyed. (I’ve often thought that, in an earlier time, Mum might have lived alone, as a wise woman, or a white witch, in a pretty little cottage in the middle of the forest primeval. She’d have liked that, I think.)
Her interment was my first experience with a “green” funeral. She was buried in a biodegradable coffin painted with the wild birds of England that she so loved, in a lovely and peaceful place (an experience which felt so “right” that it inspired my stepson’s green burial a few years later.)
I couldn’t be there. But I Skyped myself in for the audio, so I could hear it. Because my Internet connection is suboptimal, and I wasn’t sure how well it would work, I asked my cousin Sarah to read the piece I’d written for Mum, just in case.
All her life, my mother loved music. She was agnostic as to genre or class, although–truth be told, what’s known as “classical” music was probably her least favorite. (A treasured family vinyl LP is “Classical Music for People Who Hate Classical Music,” which comprises all the good bits and none of the rest, by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops. Mum loved it.)
So–for better or for worse–music simply had to be front and center in her funeral service. It was easy to choose on her behalf, music which was–as the best parts of Mum would have wanted, a celebration of life, love, family memories, and generosity of spirit:
Here’s Mum’s playlist:
Oh. She loved this so much. If this doesn’t make you smile, I’m not sure I want to know you.
Kenny Ball was a perennial favorite. A toss up between this and “Midnight in Moscow.” If I am not mistaken, MIM was, for a time, the theme song for the USSR shortwave radio, as Lillibulero was for the BBC World Service (perhaps even the Russians had, at one time, more of a sense of humor than they exhibit today.)
Nat King Cole. The day he died from lung cancer, my mother announced she was giving up smoking forever. And she did.
(I planted one last year. A David Austin rambling rose. Malvern Hills, for old times sake. Progress is slow, given the local terrain and the abysmal soil, but we are getting there.)
For the 15 years you spent living in Pittsburgh, Mum, with your suitcase packed ready to go “home” to the UK at any minute, Guy Mitchell:
Tsai Chin and “School In Cheltenham,” one of the more respectable songs by one of Mum’s favorites, Paddy Roberts. Mum attended The Abbey School in Malvern Wells (as did I, many years later), which was viewed as rather inferior to Cheltenham Ladies College, which was just down the road. I think this song pleased Mum and made her laugh because she saw it as a bit of payback.
Dickie Feller? Perhaps an acquired taste. But you loved him. Music to make the late Mr. Right’s teeth itch.
I can’t even imagine Mum’s reaction, were I to tell her today that “Little Dickie Feller” now prefers to identify as “Deena Kay Rose.” Whatever. Life goes on.
Annie Murray and “Snowbird.” Memories of happy times, and summers in Prince Edward Island. So special for me, too.
And, Mr. Acker Bilk.
I share these selections with you in the spirit of affection and fun that we had as we gathered together–both IRL and virtually–to celebrate Mum’s life and to say goodbye. A grand time was had by all, and I know Mum enjoyed it too.
“I count only the sunny hours.”–Sundial Motto
A slightly revised version of the post originally published here on June 24, 2020.