Well, the funeral and memorial service for my uncle, Colin Barnfather went well last week. It’s a strange thing to say, but I think it was the best funeral I’ve been to… (not just me; several other people said so too). It was certainly the longest. I’ve been fortunate to have had few causes to attend funerals, and this was the second one at which I’ve spoken. We had a double slot (about an hour) which have plenty of opportunity for people to share their recollections of Colin. As we arrived the ATC 126th had arranged an honour guard who stood waiting for the arrival of Colin’s body and family. That in itself was a touching tribute to how much influence Col had on the lives of others. It was also the first hint at the depth and complexity of the man.
We entered to the strains of the Star Trek theme, as arranged by Michael Giacchino (the end credits from the remake). It is a peculiarly moving piece of music, and I suspect will be ever more so for me now. It did raise a grin to my face, which is pleasingly incongruous for a funeral. The room was rammed. I was pleasantly surprised – I’d had a horrible notion that the room would be empty, but there was no chance of that, with people standing all the way around as the chairs were all taken.
Our humanist celebrant, Martin Fowkes gave a simple but moving introduction for Colin and led us through the various speakers and into the committal. Personally I’m grateful for his warm and sensitive facilitation of the service. I’ve been to some religious services and I find their focus on myth rather than the person who has died to be quite offensive. This felt like a true celebration of Colin’s life with tributes from all parts of his life.
First we heard from the Chaplain of 126 (Derby) Squadron ATC, Amanda who spoke about how Colin had been involved in the ATC since he was thirteen! I hadn’t realised, or acknowledged I suppose, quite the level of importance that the cadets played in his life. Countless anecdotes and thoughts and actions of Colin’s made me smile throughout. The next tribute was from Iain at Rolls Royce where Colin worked for, well I can’t remember how long (many details are a blur from the morning) which again was touching, recognisable and affectionate. Iain spoke of his dedication, knowledge and integrity in a way that made me feel very proud of my uncle. The tribute that moved me most was that by his best friend, Richard. More than any of the others, Richard’s words told of a man who was a wonderful friend, godfather to his children and a constant companion and part of his life; I feel Richard’s loss very strongly.
I spoke on behalf of our closest family, but mainly for myself. In eulogy more than anything I else I realise that I’m always writing about me, and in this case how Colin affected my life, and my life with my other half. I also wanted to tell the story of what happened to Colin in Scotland and the narrative that I felt just needed words to be pinned to it. It’s a sad story, but only because it ends sadly for Colin. The impact he’s had on everyone else will continue to be felt for the rest of our lives.
If you would like to read my tribute to my uncle you can read it here: Colin’s Eulogy.
What I really loved was that all the tributes were funny; I find that humour punctuates sadness so much more effectively than anything else. Tears and laughter are found in all parts of our lives, and I’ve found that for me tears don’t come easily and rarely come with grief; I was content to smile and feel grins aching up through my chest and throat. Colin will remain in my mind a funny person, with countless odd habits and admirable qualities, the sum of which made him a most remarkable man. The music Mum chose for exiting Markeaton Crematorium was the cricket test match theme – an infuriatingly cheerful slice of music actually called Soul Limbo which seems apt. Again, it was the presence and attentiveness of the cadet honour guard with their flags and poise to me spoke eloquently with respect and affection.
Outside was oddly hilarious to me – you get led out into a little concrete area where they lay the wreaths and other floral tributes. It’s really weird – only family really go in there and everyone else mills about outside. It’s like being in a cage. It was nice to see the floral tribute for Col – we had found a nice old pair of leather walking boots in his house and they had been filled with heather and other highlands-like flowers. Really pretty. I was very grateful to the rest of our family and our friends.
Then we went to the pub… not quite like that, but a lot of people did come back for drinks and refreshments and I very much enjoyed the opportunity to meet and talk to people I have only recently known through the stressful period while Colin was missing. Everyone told me something about him that made me laugh and deepen my understanding of a man I can no longer get to know better myself.
I’m delighted to report that our campaign to raise funds for Lochaber Mountain Rescue has now achieved over £1000 of donations: https://www.justgiving.com/friendsofcolinbarnfather