I’ve been interested for a couple of years in a project called The Lonely Funeral that operates in Belgium and the Netherlands. A “lonely funeral” is one where the person who has died has no friends or family and so no-one is present at the final funeral except maybe a funeral director, perhaps a social worker or a solicitor as executor.
The Dutch project started when a poet called Bart Droog started to attend these sad events and to write poems for the people who had died alone. The project has developed through the involvement of other poets such as F. Starik – working with people in the council (initially just Amsterdam but the project has now spread to other Dutch and Belgian cities). When it becomes clear that a lonely funeral is going to happen, the poets are informed and are given wheat information exists about the person who has died. Often there is very little information … sometimes not even a name. But this is the power of poetry – something meaningful can always be written even from these fragments.
The project gives a moment of dignity and recognition to people who have often become very isolated. It also shines a light on this issue of social isolation and marginalization at end of life. I have written a little more about the project here: thelonelyfuneral.wordpress.com.
I wanted to see if something similar could work here in Scotland and am working with a local poet, Andy Jackson, to explore these ideas here in Dundee. As part of the To Absent Friends festival this year, and working as part of Lapidus Scotland, we are holding a public meeting on Thursday 10 November at 17:30 in the Dundee University Chaplaincy Centre. Anyone interested in attending can get tickets (free!) here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-lonely-funeral-tickets-458215142827
Andy and I will talk a little bit more about what the project is and how it might work in Scotland. We’re also delighted to say that three poems have been specially written for the event drawing on the experiences of local funeral celebrant colleagues of mine. The poets are Beth McDonnough, Dawn Wood and Andy himself.
(And thanks to The Courier for a lovely piece on the project.)
Michael Hannah, Funeral Celebrant, Dundee, November 2022.