Paul was heartbroken when he heard his wife Susie had been killed in an accident, leaving behind their three small children. He'd been to plenty of funerals before and they just didn't seem to be relevant to the horror of the situation in which he found himself.
He didn't have words to come to terms with what had happened so he decided there wouldn't be any. Silence said it all.
He chose to bury Susie in a natural woodland burial site near the family home. So on a crisp spring morning, her friends and family, all wearing white, followed Susie's simple willow coffin through a bluebell strewn woodland to her final resting place. Her two children, holding hands with their father and carrying bunches of white flowers, led the procession.
At the graveside, the mourners stood in silence for ten minutes. No words were spoken; the only sound came from the breeze rustling through the trees, gentle birdsong and crying - the soundtrack to the family's grief.
As Susie's coffin was lowered into the ground, her husband and children threw flowers into the grave and blew kisses to say a final farewell.
In its gloriously understated simplicity and beauty, Susie's funeral did exactly what a funeral is supposed to do - help us acknowledge and accept the death of someone we love. Even when we really don't want to do so.
The family were enormously brave in having the confidence to break with convention and use an enlightened funeral director who was prepared to cater to their very simple yet complex needs. They were even braver to stand in silence for ten minutes, allowing whatever emotions they had to be out in the open. No one was directing their grief, or justifying it with words.
This funeral wouldn't work for everyone - it wasn't supposed to - but the important thing is, it worked for this family.
A funeral that serves its purpose is a ritual designed to acknowledge and accept the death of a loved one, so the living can contemplate how they're going to continue with their lives. It can be whatever it needs to be, not necessarily what the funeral director offers in a standard package. It should be a set of meaningful rituals relevant to the life of the person who has died, how they have died, and the people left behind. If done with consideration, a funeral can be profound in its ability to process, heal and transform grief.
A funeral can be a celebration, if that's what's appropriate. Perhaps it's 'the party of your life' with fireworks, festivities and fancy dress. It can also be a teary and solemn occasion with acknowledgement that a life has been tragically cut short. It can be loud and dramatic, it can be silent and still.
It doesn't need to be held in a crematorium or a church; it can be wherever you want it to be. Natural burial grounds are great options for families who want the flexibility and space to do whatever they want. Whether that's having Bon Jovi blasting through the woodland at full volume, or a graveside picnic with storytelling over champagne.
When faced with the death of a loved one, don't pick up the phone to the first funeral director who comes up on Google. Instead find a funeral director who understands the purpose of a funeral. If they tell you something isn't possible, find a funeral director who is willing to be flexible.
You don't have to buy a standard package with black hearses and fancy limousines, coffin sprays and orders of service. You don't even have to have a service, if it doesn't feel right.
By creating a funeral that's personal, not a package, those left behind can process their grief in a helpful, relevant and meaningful way.
There can be words or there can be no words; it's whatever works for you. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.