How to choose funeral readings

Most funerals include between two and four readings. These can range from scripture to excerpts from the deceased's favourite comedy show, and can serve different purposes: they can celebrate the life of the deceased, mourn their passing, and bring solace to the grieving.

It can be hard to find the right words to express your thoughts on grief. Don't worry - the world's finest wordsmiths have been tackling this problem for centuries. Someone out there will have found a way to describe exactly how you're feeling more eloquently than you can yourself. Your task is simply to track this text down. You can search your own bookshelves, your local library or the internet. Or you might consider choosing something more personal. Perhaps the deceased requested that you read out his or her favourite quote from the classics, or maybe you've come across a text that perfectly sums up their character and special qualities. Just remember to discuss your choices with those closest to the deceased before the service - funerals are upsetting enough affairs without the addition of an inappropriate reading.

Secular readings are often drawn from the pages of the classics. Shakespeare, in particular, had some thoughtful observations on the subject of death - the passage from Act III of The Tempest, for example, which ends "We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded in a sleep." Proverbs and words of wisdom are also popular choices for funeral readings. Poetry can be particularly moving: pieces like Dylan Thomas' 'Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night' or W. H. Auden's 'Funeral Blues' ("Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone...") are incredibly powerful expressions of grief.

Religion plays a central role in many funerals, and the form of the service may well play a big part in determining your choice of reading - only certain readings may be included as part of a Catholic funeral Mass, for example. Most Christian funerals will include at least one Bible reading. Selecting the right passage of scripture can certainly be helpful for mourners, and offer hope that the deceased has gone to a better place. John 11:25 reads, "Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.'" The Psalms are a good source of religious poetry.

You might want to deliver a more personalised reading. You could pick an excerpt from the deceased's favourite book, or song, or film, or if they were themselves a writer perhaps read out one of their poems, or even an email or letter if it reveals something about their character, thoughts on passing or lessons for living.

Once you have selected what you are going to read, you need to make sure you are going to be able to deliver it. Practice reading it in front of a mirror, and figure out the pronunciation of any tricky words. If you can, find a friend to read it to - they'll be able to tell you if you're going too fast, or if you're too quiet or mumbling.

When it comes to the funeral itself, you'll probably be feeling very emotional. Concentrate on standing up straight and reading slowly and clearly. If you can, arrange to have a glass of water to hand in case your throat becomes dry, and some tissues in case the occasion becomes too much. There's no point spending weeks picking the perfect reading if your fellow mourners can't hear what you're saying.

A reading can be a wonderful way of expressing your admiration and love for the departed, and your grief at their passing. Whether a passage of scripture, a couple of lines of Tennyson or their favourite quote from the Simpsons, if you pick carefully and deliver the reading clearly you will honour the memory of your loved one and help those left behind come to terms with their loss.

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