Old sayings often say a lot in few words. For example: ďMan does not live by bread aloneĒ. This saying makes the point that human beings are more than just bodies. Material things like food, water, shelter and so are essential for our survival, but we need more than that to make life worth living. We have minds and souls, not just bodies, and itís important to care for our non-material side too.
The undertaker Barry Albin-Dyer understood these truths. He was one of the best-loved and most-respected men who have ever worked in the British funeral business. He knew that when someone dies, it isnít just their physical life that ends. So do their relationships with other people. The dead person might have been a parent or a child, a husband or a wife, a friend or a carer. Death breaks many threads in a tapestry and burial is more than a physical act. It has a spiritual side, even for those who donít believe in an afterlife or donít have a formal faith. Itís one of those occasions that remind us of how life is about more than material things.
Barry Albin-Dyer always kept this in mind during his long career. He buried thousands of people with dignity and respect and helped their friends and relatives to cope with their grief. He was commended by the Ministry of Defence for his work bringing home the bodies of soldiers who had been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. He conducted the funeral of the reality TV star Jade Goody and of many ordinary people from the same background. He worked for bereavement charities and wrote books about his life, one of which, called Donít Drop the Coffin, was made into a television series.
Then he fell sick with cancer himself and passed away earlier this year at the age of 64. His own funeral, held in South London in June 2015, was a chance for the people he helped to pay their own respects to him. He served the community in which he lived and that community responded to the love, sincerity and concern he had always shown. Just as others had done with his guidance, he made plans for his own funeral to be a stylish and memorable occasion. The funeral cortŤge moved slowly around the neighbourhood that meant so much to him, passing places that had been important to him during life, like the ground of Fisher F.C., his favourite football club.
His sons, Simon and Jon, oversaw his funeral and are now carrying on the family business. Their fatherís passing will leave a permanent gap in their lives and the lives of many others, but they know that he made the world a better place with his work and they want to follow his example. Whether it strikes at unexpected times and in unexpected ways or comes after a long illness, death leaves grief and bewilderment in its wake. The job of an undertaker is to take the cruel and often ugly facts of our mortality and help us to come to terms with them. A funeral isnít just about placing a body in the earth or scattering ashes: itís a symbolic and spiritual occasion too, when we both say goodbye and promise to remember the departed. Barry Albin-Dyer understood that and passed on his understanding to his sons. All of us, whether we are in the funeral business or not, could learn something from his life.