This was written by Rachael Wallace but it could have been written word for word by me.
I first thought about taking pictures at funerals when a close friend died 11 years ago. I stood there watching everyone in their smart bright clothes (no one wanted to wear black – too dark, too final), taking in the beautiful flowers, the sentiments and eulogies expressed by friends and family, the glorious spring day with such vibrant colours reminding us of the life continuing outside the cemetery and her husband and sons – in a dream world that day – oblivious to what was going on around them. And I thought how, maybe, it would be good for them to be able to see the people who had turned out that day, from near and far, to show their love and support and pay their last respects.
How perhaps there would be small but important details that they would have missed, such as people’s accessories – special colours the deceased would have loved, the dressing of the church, the smiles on their faces at some of the memories, the respect and reverence from the funeral directors, the special moments and the love reflected all around by the ceremony itself and those attending it.
I knew that by taking photographs on such an occasion would mean breaking an enormous taboo, but I also knew in my heart, that it could be such a great comfort to the bereaved by choosing to have these precious last moments recorded that it would be worth doing. And so it has proved.
Those who have chosen to have my presence at their loved ones’ departure ceremony (and there are many reasons for their doing so) have been so delighted with the pictures that I have chosen and placed in their memory book that they have smiled, and hugged me and I have felt I have brought a little light into their dark times.
The photographs will also enable them to talk more easily to others about their loss as it is far simpler to start and continue a conversation around a book of photographs. In this way the taboo of talking about death is able to be broken down a little more. It isn’t easy. I am met with shock, and revulsion at times when I mention what I do but once I have explained the caring and respectful way in which I work, and how my work aids the bereaved, I have seen people change their mind. Most people think it an excellent idea and a comment I often hear is that they wish there had been someone like me around for their husband, parent, child’s commemorative service but that they felt too embarrassed to ask, or uncertain who to ask, or wanted someone with experience and couldn’t easily find them.
After a BBC radio interview with Anne Diamond I had several people call me to say how pleased they were to hear of the service I offer and was immediately booked by a wonderful gentleman for his wife’s funeral. It has been hard convincing those in the funeral industry of the demand for such a service, and I think it sad that there are still few out there who know it can be arranged, but I feel sure that before too long it will be a common thing on the list of requests offered when planning a funeral. I feel proud and honoured to be present at such personal occasions, and I know that the books I produce are of great comfort to people. And that, ultimately, is the service I am offering at a time of great need.
She said: “When a person is grieving they do not notice what is going on around them and who is there because they are so busy on the day.
“By creating an album of photographs — a memory book — people can see all the people who turned up to wish their loved one farewell.
“It is helpful afterwards and is a nice focal point for people to think that the book is coming. Some people cry and some do not but it is amazing to sit with people and go through it. It is very healing.”
Mrs Wallace says her job at a funeral is to seem invisible.
“It is so important to be really discreet and sympathetic,” she said. “I creep around with my two cameras, trying not to make a noise and get in the way.
“I do not take photos during the prayers, or of people crying, and I try to look for a moment of happiness in the eulogies.
“I will do ‘open casket’ if requested and that does not bother me.