DIY Funerals: Rite at Home is a five-part radio series exploring home funerals. The series runs July 4 to July 8 on CBC Radio One's afternoon shows in B.C.
When Flora Purcell arrived at an East Vancouver home to sing at a home funeral, she realized she knew the family of the dead woman who had been kept in a back bedroom for four days.
Purcell is a member of the Threshold Choir, an all-women's choral group that sings at the bedsides of people who are dying or dead. The group formed in 2009 and is one of several chapters across North America.
"It felt right to be there," Purcell said after the group sang at the Magdee family's home funeral for their grandmother.
"I just felt lucky to be there and have something to offer."
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'My word, I started bawling'
The Magdee funeral was the first time singer Brigid Ting had performed at a home funeral. She says seeing the family mourn with the dead body present was a profound experience for her.
Threshold Choir songs are written and composed specifically for bedside singing. Ting said she didn't think the experience would be as deep without these particular songs.
"The singing caressed the whole experience," she said. "It filled in the spaces between memories of people and the little bit of ceremony that was there."
"The words are wonderful. They sort of stay with you. It felt like we were making a great last memory for them."
For Deborah Magdee, having the singers perform while she and her family removed her Mom's body from her home to be cremated, was the perfect send-off.
"They started singing and my word, I started bawling. My goosebumps and my hair was up on my arms. They were so amazing," she said.
"My head was shaking. It was so beautiful."
To honour and support
Jan Alexander is the director of the choral group. For her, singing is a way to honour and support the dying or dead and their loved ones.
According to Alexander, it is a sacred moment to sing bedside and the presence of the group can provide emotional support for those who are afraid or grieving.
"What we bring is that deep sharing from our hearts to the hearts of whom we are singing," said Alexander, "Being able to sing with all the love we can have at that moment gives a strength that is really quite remarkable."
The Threshold Choir performs in private homes, as well as hospices and hospitals. British Columbia chapters include Vancouver, Bowen Island, and the Sunshine Coast. They are non-denominational and their services are free of charge.
With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast
To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: DIY Funerals: unique choir sings for the dying, the dead and the mourning