Music & Memories In A Full House


John and I drove to Exeter earlier this week for MIJ’s funeral, passing Dartmoor where we had spent hours in the past walking the moor with MIJ and Ray. We arrived early and found there were loads of people already there, clustering together in small groups in the way that people who know each other tend to do especially at sad and solemn events.

They were dressed in a variety of ways and it was easy to distinguish MIJ’s walking club buddies in boots and comfy clothes, from her belly dancing friends who jingled softly when they walked, the dangling coins on their belts moving in response to the motion of their hips.

MIJ was very specific about her final arrangements and although I had an idea from Ray of the simplicity of the ceremony to come, I was still slightly unprepared for such an unusual service.

You can see in the photo I discreetly snapped from the back of the chapel that her coffin was made of wicker. Instead of expensive flowers, she asked that Ray pick a few wild flowers if there were any to be had and although you can’t see them clearly, there is a small collection of snowdrops along with a shell from her garden and several other types of flowers that Ray had picked that morning.

What was most moving to me, causing me dissolve into tears at first sight was the image of her hiking boots near the foot of her coffin. A few years ago she had asked John to put three or four songs on a CD to be used at her funeral one day. This music made up the bulk of her service with just a short bit of verse, a poem she had written that was read by her son. I wish I had a copy of it to include in this post, but the one below made me think of the simplicity of her service and how little fuss she wanted to be made.

I have to say that for a brief moment when her coffin was carried in, I imagined MIJ sitting atop the coffin balanced in between the flowers and the boots in a dress I like to think of as her dance hall look from when we went to a fancy dress party on New Year’s Eve. I swear I could just about see her riding up there with her legs crossed wearing a flirty smile while surveying the room to see who had come to say goodbye. 

Life Goes On

If I should go before the rest of you

Break not a flower

Nor inscribe a stone

Nor when I am 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

~Joyce Grenfell

Ray & MIJ (in her dance hall dress), & Me – 12/2008






13 thoughts on “Music & Memories In A Full House

  1. I don’t think I have ever seen such a simple funeral. In some ways it seems both old fashioned in iit’s simplicity and modern in it’s desire not to be wasteful of the pomp and ceremony like elaborate flowers that are no use when the funeral is finished.

  2. Such beautiful moving simpilicty, I went to a similar funeral at new year ,My friend’s son, he too had a willow coffin. The similipty speaks so much more about the person than all fuss that usually happens.

  3. Reading about MIJ here, I felt as if I’d known her, or at least had a good sense of what an amazing person and friend she was. Clearly, you’ve made a lovely tribute to a beautiful friend. The wicker coffin speaks volumes, as do the wildflowers. I am sending my sympathies for your loss, Elizabeth, and wish you comfort in your memories.

  4. Yes, Elizabeth what a thoughtful tribute to a dear friend who apparently gathered people in and shared much joy in her life. Thank you for letting us know her through your friendship with her.

  5. “When I am old, I shall wear purple…” it seems to me that MIJ didn’t wait to live a full and enjoyable life.

    A nice tribute Elizabeth, which reflects the affection and inspiration you have for her and her life.

  6. That was the most unusual casket – have never seen one in wicker – but most appropriate for such a special lady. Did you get to see more of Exeter while there? Such a great little city – hope you have been to the cathedral.

    Joyce Grenfell’s words are wonderful – I think I must copy them for the future! I know MIJ will be missed by all her many friends including you and John.

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