I was working at Abbeyfield House in Horsham, acting as deputy house manager when I heard that Des, an old soldier had died. I felt deeply saddened and fearful that the funeral of this dear man could pass, barely acknowledging his existence.

Having checked with his niece I took the liberty of planning a very personal send-off that included; his relations, residents, friends and staff at Abbeyfield and the lovely young ladies at the Conservatory Café that Des visited in his buggy for his daily cuppa.

An afternoon of celebration followed the cremation of Desmond George Wyman – Des aged 87 had lived in Horsham all his life and been a resident at Abbeyfield Rest home since 1984.

Music from Great British Military Bands played as close family gathered in the lounge with the residents. In the centre of the room was a prettily dressed table with a bowl of golden roses. Photographs of Des at different stages of his life were displayed and beside a framed image of him as a soldier were his array of colourful war medals.

The ceremony began with me lighting a candle and speaking a few words of invocation. We then listened to Ralph Harris singing ‘Two little Boys’ on CD, which brought a smile to the face of everyone, it was so Des, always ready to share!

I welcomed his family and friends to this celebration of ‘The Life of Des,’ and glasses of sherry were raised (his favourite tipple) to toast his memory.

Helen, the cook read a poem by Marc Cohn called Old Soldier.

Then I continued: “When someone dies, a lifetime of incredible memories can so easily die with them, history is lost. I feel this could have been the case with Des who has clearly led a remarkable life. Today, we are graced with the opportunity to unite with members of his family and his friends to share many cherished memories.” (This sharing included memories of Des as a young man offered by his family to the residents. The residents then enjoyed sharing their unique memories of Des, their friend.

Des who had never married, had 5 nephews and nieces, 11 great nephews and nieces and 8 great, great nephews and nieces. Family members recalled how as a young man Des lied about his age to join the Royal Signals where he fought on the front line in Anzio, Italy, France, Egypt and Palestine. He was a talented pianist, able to play anything anyone requested and without music. A co-worker spoke of him as ‘the perfect gentleman’ when he worked as a porter at Horsham Hospital. In his later years Des would be seen zapping through Horsham Park towards the conservatory café in his motorised buggy and low and behold anyone who got in his way! He was an avid reader, model maker and lover of classical music.

The ceremony ended by me thanking everyone for taking part in what had been a warm and celebratory occasion as we honoured and remembered Des.

I then read; the light-hearted story by Edward Monkton called The Ballard of the Penguin of Death – Method 412.

This seemed the perfect cue for afternoon tea to be served. A selection of music by great British Military Bands played as the residents enjoyed looking through photograph albums loaned for the occasion by the family.

Note: The afternoon was deemed by all to have been a huge success.

Alice, a frail 95 year old resident said: ‘Going to a crematorium is an uncomfortable experience especially at my time of life. Apart from struggling to get into a car for the journey I sit there thinking ‘I wonder who will be next – maybe it’ll me!’


PS: We have lots of poems in our poetry blog category including the above should you need inspiration for your own celebrations.