A Soundtrack to Modern Grief | Connecting with Culture
What song do you want at your funeral?
Perhaps you’ve already got one picked out, or you’re going to leave it up to your loved ones to choose a theme from your life to celebrate with music. Something poignant as the ‘end credits’ are rolling.
As one individual’s funeral music offers an insight into their character, trends in funeral songs say something significant about our culture. An annual survey from a chain of funeral directors recently showed that, for the first time, there were no hymns among the top ten songs. More popular are Frank Sinatra’s defiant My Way and Vera Lynn’s We’ll Meet Again. The only entry from this decade is Ed Sheeran’s Supermarket Flowers, taken from his 2017 album Divide.
The song offers a fascinating reflection on modern grief. The verse details the banal inconvenience of bereavement: the sorting, tidying, and emptying. Then he suddenly declares: ‘So I’ll sing hallelujah, you were an angel in the shape of my Mum.’ These bold ‘truth claims’ come out of the blue, and his portrayal of life, death, and angels seems to be grasping for something out of reach.
Ed was a chorister in his youth, and Supermarket Flowers sometimes sounds like theology from a half-remembered childhood – when faced with the tragedy of death, we want to believe there’s something bigger at play. ‘I know that when God took you back he said hallelujah you’re home’, claims Ed. Perhaps seemingly comforting words like these are why the song resonates with a nation who may not have had any reason to be in church during adult life. Many of these people nonetheless feel like they’ve got to make some sense of the tragedy of death, and live a good-enough life that God would welcome them back.
To be sure, there are mysteries surrounding death and what comes after it, but our Christian faith is based on Jesus’ concrete, historical, overcoming of death. And when everything else is stripped away, the main thing Ed wants for his loved one is to be ‘back home’, celebrating, intimate with God. And that is something only Jesus can deliver.
Nathan researches healthcare policy and ethics in the East Midlands.