Humanist funeral ceremonies focus on the person who has died – their story, their history, their unique qualities, and the relationships they forged.
Secular readings and poems often feature in humanist funeral ceremonies and, like popular pieces of music, there are some poems which are more frequently chosen than others – some are humorous and some are more emotional or sentimental.
Here are some suggestions for anyone wishing to choose an uplifting or humorous poem for a humanist funeral.
‘Death (If I Should Go)’ by Joyce Grenfell
If I should go before the rest of you
Break not a flower nor inscribe a stone
Nor when I’m gone speak in a Sunday voice
But be the usual selves that I have known
Weep if you must
Parting is Hell
But life goes on,
So sing as well.
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.
‘One At Rest’ (Anon)
Think of me as one at rest,
for me you should not weep
I have no pain no troubled thoughts
for I am just asleep
The living thinking me that was,
is now forever still
And life goes on without me now,
as time forever will.
If your heart is heavy now
because I’ve gone away
Dwell not long upon it friend
For none of us can stay
Those of you who liked me,
I sincerely thank you all
And those of you who loved me,
I thank you most of all.
And in my fleeting lifespan,
as time went rushing by
I found some time to hesitate,
to laugh, to love, to cry
Matters it now if time began
If time will ever cease?
I was here, I used it all,
and now I am at peace.
‘The Dash’ by Linda Ellis
I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend
He referred to the dates on the tombstone
From the beginning…to the end
He noted that first came the 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 they spent alive on earth.
And now only those who loved them
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.
So, think about this long and hard.
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
That can still be rearranged.
If we could just slow down enough
To consider what’s true and real
And always try to understand
The way other people feel.
And be less quick to anger
And show appreciation more
And love the people in our lives
Like we’ve never loved before.
If we treat each other with respect
And more often wear a smile,
Remembering this special dash
Might only last a little while
So, when your eulogy is being read
With your life’s actions to rehash…
Would you be proud of the things they say
About how you spent YOUR dash?
‘Pardon Me for Not Getting Up’ (Anon)
Oh dear, if you’re reading this right now,
I must have given up the ghost.
I hope you can forgive me for being
Such a stiff and unwelcoming host.
Just talk amongst yourself my friends,
And share a toast or two.
For I am sure you will remember well
How I loved to drink with you.
Don’t worry about mourning me,
I was never easy to offend.
Feel free to share a story at my expense
And we’ll have a good laugh at the end.
English poetry offers such a rich source of consolation when confronting death. The humanist Sigmund Freud once remarked when discussing psychology that ‘Everywhere I go, I find that a poet has been there before me.’ Great writers over centuries have captured thoughts, ideas, and feelings we thought inexpressible, or unique to our lives, and made them beautiful and memorable. Discovering them and sharing them can bring us joy, solace, and emotional relief.
The canon of beautiful poetry about death is especially vast and humanist authors make up only part of it – although a big part of it. If you’re planning a non-religious funeral, you’ll find that very little poetry about death is deeply religious in character. It’s also easy to incorporate poems where there is some mention of religious concepts into a humanist funeral, especially if the poet or the poem itself is significant to the deceased or how they lived.
Don’t worry. You don’t have to dig around in a library to find the perfect poem. After meeting you and talking to you about the person who has died, a humanist celebrant will be able to suggest something absolutely perfect and suited to the person you want to remember.
A humanist funeral is a non-religious ceremony that focuses on the person who has died, the life they led, and the relationships they forged.
The ceremony is conducted by a humanist celebrant and it is both a celebration of a life and a dignified, personal farewell.
If you would like to discuss funeral plans with one of our celebrants, our online map makes it easy for you to find a celebrant near you.