Readings and Poems for
Funerals, Life Celebrations and Surviving Grief
Choosing the right reading or poem for a funeral of life celebration is so important and can be quite hard. There are lots to be found online, of course, but to get you started, here are some to consider, including some of my own. Some here may not be right for the funeral but they might help you express and explore your emotions. If you'd like the support of others on similar journeys, please consider joining us at Love and Loss.
A particular song, a certain flower
Yellow curtains in a breeze. Paper planes.
The smell of leather in an old car.
A polo mint sucked between two chocolate buttons.
A black, leather-covered sketch pad.
Home-made Scotch eggs. The silver birch in the garden.
Dragonflies, Devonshire beaches, grandma’s knitting needles
A tiny, silver, sugar cruet. Toast with butter and lime marmalade.
Rose flavoured Turkish delight. Milky coffee.
Your rolling pin and cake tins. Using your recipe.
The sound of Scots Lowland Pipes. Sheet music for the piano.
A white feather on the ground, the smell of summer.
Barley sugars. Number plate games. The red tool box,
Your uniform badge, my inability to whistle.
Every time I polish my shoes, walk that path,
Wind the clock, cut the grass, trim the ivy.
They Live On
They live on, those we love and lose,
Perhaps elsewhere, if that is our hope,
but certainly, in our heart.
The imprint they have made is not washed away like a footprint in the sand;
The mark of those we love is made more deeply, more profoundly.
We feel it as loss just now, but of course, it is love.
It is love that will not let them fade from us,
Love that allows them to stay even as we say farewell,
Love that holds them close always.
And this is hope; not that they might live on elsewhere safely and well,
Elevated, remote and holy,
But that they will remain within us and around us in their ordinariness and closeness;
Not mystically, but celebrated in the memories we recall,
in the stories we tell, in the values we hold
and in the faces and ways of the generations who may follow
bearing their likeness.
They are really best remembered as they were;
their flaws, their failings, their foolishness
As well as their finer moments.
Anything less is a reduction of who they have been to us -
And we have already lost too much to lose more.
Let us tell their story with loss, with laughter and with love
For whom they were they are no longer,
And yet so they remain.
And so it goes; life, love, loss, love and life again,
Step by step.
Let us live life hopefully
For those we love and lose live on.
Come to the forest
Come to the forest to visit me
Down by the roots of a tree
Waste not your tears on cold, stone graves
Water a flower for me.
Give me to the earth when my winter comes
Bury me deep in the ground
Mark not my place with statues or caves
Find me where life can be found.
Come to the woods when autumn leaves turn
Golden and copper and red
Rustle up memories, seeds of joy stored
Kick up the leaves in my stead.
Visit a garden on warm, summer days
Keep company with blossoms and bees
Remember my heart blooms forever in yours
Take comfort from shushing shade trees.
Let springtime surround you with life and the living
Birdsong and budding green leaves
Look up at the sky, give thanks for sun and rain
When you think of me, please smile more than grieve.
Come to the forest to visit me
Down by the roots of a tree
Waste not your tears on thoughts of death
Water a new flower for me
I am the smoothness of the pebble
I am the smoothness of the pebble nestled in your palm
I am the ocean breeze as it brushes past your arm
I am the blue of a cloudless summer sky
I am the whisper of a dream, a half remembered sigh
I may be the essence of the grains of desert sand
The miles of tear stained ink, the letters crumpled in your hand
I am the breath that cools your sheets with midnights sudden chill
The spike of ice, the drift of snow across some far distant hill
I am flying high above you the lone bird on its wing
I am the last fish in the ocean but still a living thing
Do not think of loneliness, do not lose strength of hope or will
For I am all around you my love, I am with you still.
All nature has a feeling
All nature has a feeling: woods, fields, brooks
Are life eternal: and in silence they
Speak happiness beyond the reach of books;
There's nothing mortal in them; their decay
Is the green life of change; to pass away
And come again in blooms revivified.
Its birth was heaven, eternal is its stay,
And with the sun and moon shall still abide
Beneath their day and night and heaven wide.
John Clare (1793 - 1864)
She Is Gone (He Is Gone)
You can shed tears that she is gone
Or you can smile because she has lived
You can close your eyes and pray that she will come back
Or you can open your eyes and see all that she has left
Your heart can be empty because you can’t see her
Or you can be full of the love that you shared
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday
You can remember her and only that she is gone
Or you can cherish her memory and let it live on
You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back
Or you can do what she would want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.
Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn’s rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.
Mary Elizabeth Frye
I read of a man who stood to speak,
At the funeral of a friend
He referred to the dates on his coffin
From the beginning to the end.
He noted that first came his date of birth
And spoke the following date with tears
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years
For that dash represents all the time
That he spent alive on earth
And now only those who loved him
Know what that little line is worth
For it matters not, how much we own,
The cars, the house, the cash,
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash.
When the years of my life have come to an end,
The time of farewell comes to pass,
Remember the days that we have all shared,
Say my name, tell a tale, raise a glass.
Each day of my life, I’ve been glad to have known
Good friends who have travelled each mile;
I ask of you this, if you will, now and then:
Think of me, picture us, with a smile.
My journey is over – or perhaps it goes on,
I’ll understand if you weep;
But the memories that I held in my heart
Are yours to treasure and keep.
Your life is a gift that cannot be kept
protected, avoiding the end,
So live for each truth that you already know:
Seize the day, care for all, be a friend.
Pass then through this little space of time conformably to nature,
and end thy journey in content, just as an olive falls off when it is ripe,
blessing nature who produced it, and thanking the tree on which it grew.
Closing the Circle
Within the circle of our lives
we dance the circle of the years,
the circles of the seasons
within the circles of the years,
the cycles of the moon
within the circles of the season,
the circles of our reasons
within the cycles of the moon.
Again, again we come and go,
changed, changing. Hands
join, unjoin in love and fear,
grief and joy. The circles turn,
each giving into each, into all.
Only music keeps us here,
each by all the others held.
In the hold of hands and eyes
we turn in pairs, that joining
joining each to all again.
And then we turn aside, alone,
out of the sunlight gone
into the darker circles of return.
The tide recedes
But leaves behind
Bright shells on the seashore.
The sun goes down
But gentle warmth
Still lingers on the land.
The music stops and yet
It lingers on in sweet refrains –
For every joy that passes
Something beautiful remains.
Let Me Go
When I come to the end of the road
And the sun has set for me
I want no rites in a gloom filled room
Why cry for a soul set free?
Miss me a little, but not for long
And not with your head bowed low
Remember the love that once we shared
Miss me, but let me go.
For this is a journey we all must take
And each must go alone.
It's all part of the master plan
A step on the road to home.
When you are lonely and sick at heart
Go to the friends we know.
Laugh at all the things we used to do
Miss me, but let me go.
Let our goodbye be their hello,
Their joy above our peace below,
Our sadness that we had to part
Transformed by their heart to heart.
Look for me when the tide is high
And the gulls are wheeling overhead
When the autumn wind sweeps the cloudy sky
And one by one the leaves are shed
I am there, where the river flows
And the salmon leap to a silver moon
Where the insects hum and the tall grass grows
And sunlight warms the afternoon
I am there in the busy street
I take your hand in the city square
In the market place where the people meet
In your quiet room – I am there
I am the love you cannot see
And all I ask is – look for me.
As I remember someone I love; may I know love surrounding me.
As I remember the way they have shaped my life; may I find life strengthening me.
As I am alongside others who share a similar loss; may I find our shared loss assuring me.
May love and life and loss bring us together, lighten our load and bring us peace.
Life's like a book -- a chapter, a page.
Remembering our youth as fast as we age.
Life is a song; we choose what to sing.
Living is hard; what will it bring?
Memories we cherish through family and friends.
Roots never broken; love never ends.
Life is a gift, so live it today.
Through struggle and heartache, we still find a way.
Through happiness and laughter,
Heartache and tears,
Good times and bad times,
Facing our fears.
From mountains to stars, our atoms are one.
The body may perish, but the soul lives on.
Life is the love we give and receive.
It defines our legacy and the mark that we leave.
There will always be those days
When, without warning,
we are suddenly with them once again.
Small things with the power to devastate
Will take us there, whether it is convenient or not
To melt into a mess of mascara,
A blub of beard.
And, once there, remembering,
Our shape will change
as we accommodate them once again,
As we allow them home, just for a while.
We will swell at their presence,
And shrink at their leaving,
But perhaps grow stronger by allowing them to call.
Do Not Judge
Do not judge a biography by it’s length,
Nor by the number of pages in it.
Judge it by the richness of it’s contents
Sometimes those unfinished are among the most poignant…
Do not judge a song by it’s duration
Nor by the number of it’s notes
Judge it by the way it touches and lifts the soul
Sometimes those unfinished are among the most beautiful…
And when something has enriched your life
And when it’s melody lingers on in your heart
Is it unfinished?
Or is it endless?
How Did They Live?
Not, how did they die, but how did they live?
Not, what did they gain, but what did they give?
These are the units to measure the worth
Of a person as a person, regardless of birth.
Not, what was their church, nor what was their creed?
But had they befriended those really in need?
Were they ever ready, with a word of good cheer,
To bring back a smile, to banish a tear?
Not, what did the sketch in the newspaper say,
But how many were sorry when they passed away?
At every turning of my life
I came across
Friends who stood by me
Even when the time raced me by.
I smile and
Bid you goodbye.
No, shed no tears
For I need them not
All I need is your smile.
If you feel sad
Do think of me
For that’s what I’ll like.
When you live in the hearts
Of those you love
You never die.
I'd like the memory of me to be a happy one.
I'd like to leave an afterglow of smiles when life is done.
I'd like to leave an echo whispering softly down the ways,
Of happy times and laughing times and bright and sunny days.
I'd like the tears of those who grieve, to dry before the sun;
Of happy memories that I leave when life is done.
Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go, yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more, day by day,
You tell me of our future that you planned:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that I once had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.
In Blackwater Woods
Look, the trees
their own bodies
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
the long tapers
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders
of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is
I have ever learned
in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
A life well lived is a precious gift
Of hope and strength and grace,
From someone who has made our world
A brighter, better place
It’s filled with moments, sweet and sad
With smiles and sometimes tears,
With friendships formed and good times shared
And laughter through the years.
A life well lived is a legacy
Of joy and pride and pleasure,
A living, lasting memory
Our grateful hearts we’ll treasure.
Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its colour.
Nothing gold can stay
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay.
On the Death of the Beloved
Though we need to weep your loss,
You dwell in that safe place in our hearts,
Where no storm or night or pain can reach you.
Your love was like the dawn
Brightening over our lives
Awakening beneath the dark
A further adventure of colour.
The sound of your voice
Found for us
A new music
That brightened everything.
Whatever you enfolded in your gaze
Quickened in the joy of its being;
You placed smiles like flowers
On the altar of the heart.
Your mind always sparkled
With wonder at things.
Though your days here were brief,
Your spirit was live, awake, complete.
We look towards each other no longer
From the old distance of our names;
Now you dwell inside the rhythm of breath,
As close to us as we are to ourselves.
Though we cannot see you with outward eyes,
We know our soul's gaze is upon your face,
Smiling back at us from within everything
To which we bring our best refinement.
Let us not look for you only in memory,
Where we would grow lonely without you.
You would want us to find you in presence,
Beside us when beauty brightens,
When kindness glows
And music echoes eternal tones.
When orchids brighten the earth,
Darkest winter has turned to spring;
May this dark grief flower with hope
In every heart that loves you.
May you continue to inspire us:
To enter each day with a generous heart.
To serve the call of courage and love
Until we see your beautiful face again
In that land where there is no more separation,
Where all tears will be wiped from our mind,
And where we will never lose you again.
Your body is away from me
but there is a window open
from my heart to yours.
From this window, like the moon
I keep sending news secretly.
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And
sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, lon I stood And looked
down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair. And
having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear.
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay. In leave
so step had trodden black
Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet
knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh.
Somewhere ages and ages hence;
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took
the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He (She) is Dead
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policeman wear black cotton gloves.
He (She) was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week, my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song:
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now; put out everyone;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
In Lieu of Flowers
Although I love flowers very much, I won’t see them when I’m gone. So in lieu of flowers: Buy a book of poetry written by someone still alive, sit outside with a cup of tea, a glass of wine, and read it out loud, by yourself or to someone, or silently.
Spend some time with a single flower. A rose maybe. Smell it, touch the petals.
Really look at it.
Drink a nice bottle of wine with someone you love.
Or, Champagne. And think of what John Maynard Keynes said, “My only regret in life is that I did not drink more Champagne.” Or what Dom Perignon said when he first tasted the stuff: “Come quickly! I am tasting stars!”
Take out a paint set and lay down some colours.
Watch birds. Common sparrows are fine. Pigeons, too. Geese are nice. Robins.
In lieu of flowers, walk in the trees and watch the light fall into it. Eat an apple, a really nice big one. I hope it’s crisp.
Have a long soak in the bathtub with candles, maybe some rose petals.
Sit on the front stoop and watch the clouds. Have a dish of strawberry ice cream in my name.
If it’s winter, have a cup of hot chocolate outside for me. If it’s summer, a big glass of ice water.
If it’s autumn, collect some leaves and press them in a book you love. I’d like that.
Sit and look out a window and write down what you see. Write some other things down.
In lieu of flowers,
I would wish for you to flower.
I would wish for you to blossom, to open, to be beautiful.
If you know the author for any unattributed poems, please let me know. My apologies for any errors.