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A Life Worth Marking

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Alison Richards - Funeral Order of Service
The mood was sombre.

And that was just in my car – I couldn’t find the crematorium for love nor money. The postcode Google had given me was a good mile for where I eventually found Headington Crematorium, near Oxford, with 5 minutes to spare before the funeral of Alison Richards, my OBE-entrusted relative who had died a few weeks previously.

I find crematoriums – and I’ve had the misfortune to visit a few in my life – very *generic*. They all look pseudo-modern, with friendly but functional features outside and white, flower-adorned walls within. The room is always a perfect oblong, congregation at one end and curtains encircling a plinth at the other. The basic features only serves to highlight the personalities that enter the room for each service, I suppose – all with there own stories to tell, and all there to mark the life of a special person in their lives.

And what a life we were marking today. Alison, business trailblazer and generous to a fault, had many friends – so many, in fact, that it was standing room only – the doors could barely be closed. We entered to the haunting tune of “The Long and Winding Road”, and grabbed an Order of Service (PDF here). As I scanned the room I found many faces I knew, some old colleagues from my time at The Pier and some relatives I really should know better. The service began.

The hymns I could recall from my school days – Lord Of All Hopefulness and Jerusalem – but it was lovingly sandwiched in between the hymns that the emotions ran high. Sassie, a woman I first met and played with when I was seven and she was two years younger – reading “The Final Flight“, a heartbreaker of a poem. One of Alison’s best friends made the congregation laugh and weep with her notes on Alison’s life. Then my godfather, Alan, stood up for the main eulogy, rebelliously telling us that despite being given four minutes in his alloted time slot he was going to go on for an awful lot longer. So he did – and so he should. Alison’s life was full of adventure, and every major twist and turn was recalled in lighthearted and at times poignant words. It was an excellent speech.

Those around me had survived the emotions and we all filed out, past the coffin, to the tune of Jamie Cullum’s But For Now. Outside, I met relatives I hadn’t met since Alison’s enormously extravagant 50th birthday party at Vinopolis. We all continued the conversations at the wake afterwards at The Lodge. We all agreed it was about time we saw each other more – and in a strange way it brought the event full-circle. The ending of one life has served to entwine the family more.