Thursday, 22 November 2018

The Theatre of Life

Lady Priscilla Etienne Funeography©

If you were asked to recall the greatest moments in your life, could you do it? The birth of your baby, your wedding day, your first job, your first car, or the first house you bought. For each of us there is something different. I could never be accused of waiting in the wings, or blending into the background. I see my life as being theatrical, many times ending up centre stage. I have always been colourful, always drawn to the unusual. In the past couple of years there has been increase in the term 'Making Memories' accompanying pictures being taken and posted on social media. As a photographer when I take a picture I think about the moment it is taken, not what I'm leaving behind.

I still have and use photo albums. I like to feel the pictures, and smell the change of the albums with age. Sometimes they throw up dust when I open and close them (it all adds to the experience) there is nothing like it. I want people to look at my images, see the moment and just for a short time, be there.
This is what I feel life is for all of us.
   We are born, we are given a name, a stage name. We are then expected to develop into the character our parents want or expect. We become the lead part and they remain completely focused on what they want us to deliver.
  When I chose Funeography as a vocation I knew exactly what I wanted to give to my audience. I wanted to give hope, laughter, tears and an accurate reflection of who the person who died was, by capturing the day as well as the many people who shared their life.

I wonder.... When do we know if the whole performace was good enough? If we've given our best, or if everyone who saw appreciated it, or even understood it?
Well, as long as you understood, and if you had to explain your life story you could do it well and to a captive audience.

I dedicate this blog to Terry Ronald, whose life performance has turned into a wonderful book and now poised for a theatrical audience, and for finding incredible strength, despite the exceptionally difficult loss he has so recently suffered with the death of his sister Tina. 

See you at the next posting.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

The Waiting Room

Priscilla Etienne Funeography 

We're here, going about our daily business, dealing with every day things as well as difficult things.
The next time we are aware, we are somewhere else. Somewhere we don't recognise. Maybe with people we don't know. There's questions lots of questions.
Where are we?
How did we get here? How long have we been here?
How are we going to get back?  
    Upon losing my friend and experiencing grief for the first time, many years ago I imagined 'The waiting room'. A place where you go when you die. The in-between so to speak. There are other people there waiting to be collected. It is always a member of the family that comes to collect you. regardless of how you got there, they are always pleased to see you because they have missed you. If your arrival was abrupt or unexpected they might even tell you off straight after and say; You're not supposed to be here".
I try to picture every detail of the waiting room. There would be landscape pictures on the walls to encourage calm thoughts, to slow the speed of the questions.
It wouldn't be particularly big but there would always be plenty of room. There would be no unhealthy sounds indicating some of the illnesses that people waiting had and no physical disabilities, for when you arrive in the waiting room you have left all illnesses in your physical body.

I always wished that I could sit with those in the waiting room. Maybe find out what last wishes were intended, and if they had seen and spent time with everyone they had wanted to.

Imagine the different ages of everyone in the waiting room and the different achievements in life.
There are always newcomers to the waiting room. In the last few weeks three people I know have arrived.

Dolly Barry
Captain Gerry Coveney
Scott Punnet

These three incredible people are so diverse, they have all lived full and vibrant lives. They have all been big achievers who have made a very strong and unforgettable impact on the lives of those they have left behind. If I could say one last thing to each of them in the waiting room, this is what I would say;
Dolly Barry: You always had your door open for a welcoming cup of tea or a glass of wine. I think you were a really good listener with a soothing calm voice. You were a bit like a counsellor. You had a way of making people feel at ease.

Captain Gerry Coveney: Sir, when I was with G Coy 4RGJ the few conversations we had were valuable to me. I respected you for various things, your firm but calm manner, your kindness, but most of all because you worked your way through the ranks to the position you held with great pride.
I saw the way you held your daughter-in-law and my old friend Lisa, in the highest regard and even though I would see you occasionally outside of army life I never dropped your title sir. On to a place even more glorious, to match your achievements in life.

Scott Punnett: If you have to wait here too long you'll start getting restless, wanting to see all the fabulous friends that went before you. I bet you've been boasting to the other people here, about the tributes that have come flooding in for you. Do me one favour Scott, give Mervyn Webber a kiss and hug from me, and an even bigger one from Lorrayn, she misses him every day. If you can still generate the warmth and love we all had for him thirty years later, you would have definitely made your mark. We'll all miss you Scott, now go and liven the place up some more.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Dear Samantha Dear,

©Priscilla Etienne

Dear Sam,

A few weeks ago, I was at your funeral. As I approached the chapel, I could see lots of familiar faces. Some waved at me, some didn't recognise me but that's probably because my hairs long now. I can almost see the look of surprise on your face at how different I look, the same look almost everyone was giving me.
Me and Roger went together and we got there the same time as you did. Just as you likely held up traffic when teaching people to drive, you did the same that day. At one point I felt like I was back at Freemasons Road as I chatted to Joanne and Billy Jobson, who I haven't seen for many years.
               I expected to stand outside the chapel for the service because I knew inside it would definitely be standing room only. I went inside and took my place against the wall at the side of the chapel. I couldn't take my eyes off your son Sean the whole time, except when I looked at your coffin and smiled at the learner and new driver signs that were on there. I was roughly the same age as him when my mum died. I started to think about the many different feelings associated with grief that Sean has ahead of him. I wonder how his life will turn out now, how much this will change him as a person. I was certainly changed.
As Bette Midlers 'Wind Beneath My Wings' played, a ladybird came and landed on the back of the man who was seated in front of Jim's sister Kim. She turned and looked around to see if anyone else had noticed it, she saw that I did. As she reached out to it, it opened it's wings and flew up to the ceiling then flew off. Right at the point of the song that says "Fly, fly, fly away, you let me fly so high that I can almost touch the sky". The timing couldn't have been more perfect. It felt as though it was you being released and free to go.

I wanted to be there to pay my last respects to you Sam, I always liked you, I found you to be discreetly popular. I also wanted to be there for your son Sean because I know he will get great comfort and a sense of pride seeing people come from all over to support him and show how much you were cared for and loved. I know you will be desperately missed.

God bless you Sam

Love Cilla

I dedicate this blog to Sean Dear who is often in my thoughts.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Brown Bread

©Priscilla Etienne Funeography®

Frank Bruno appeared on Good Morning Britain  and commented on whether he would have liked to fight Ali, when he was interviewed by Piers Morgan, upon his death by saying; "The mans brown bread, I would prefer to talk about his achievements if you don't mind Piers". Simple terms for a simple man, with some simple values. In years gone by, death was a more solemn affair. We stood outside the family home in silence, no eating or smoking, waiting for the funeral procession to leave.
When we arrived outside the church or chapel, there was also an appropriate silence. Where are we now? The priest has to ask for doors to be shut so he can be heard over the laughing and talking outside. Yes, I said laughing, I've witnessed this many times. 

We are faced with so much death and destruction at the moment. Yes, I know people die every day and many innocent lives are being lost in wars and conflict all over the world. What we have now is an eerie matter-of-fact attitude beginning to emerge. Every time we turn on the television, it seems as though we're turning it on to see who's died, before we concentrate on other news.
            Over many years of capturing all different types of funerals, I have seen on a number of occasions that children have not been privy to family funerals, because parents want to cushion the effect grief can have on them.
We live in times where there is an increase of disease, tragedy, conflict and violence, which is taking life. Surely now would be an appropriate time to have the conversation of death and dying with your children. All newspapers, news channels, radio and internet media are constantly reporting on death. Since our children wander in and out of rooms at home, hear the radio indoors or in the car and glance at newspapers and passing billboards, it's impossible to disguise.

Let's bring the importance of human life back into the arena and re-teach eachother how precious it is. The more we become hardened to death the more we will devalue life. I do feel that is part of the problem with young people, who presently suffer enormous loss of life through violence. Something that so many of us have had to endure. Lets bring it back, bring back respect, dignity and morals.
These things have been missing for a very long time.

Sunday, 1 May 2016


©Priscilla Etienne Funeography®

It seems that the long term partner of Orson Welles, is interfering with his final request to release negatives for his last film to be made. The movie called 'The Other Side Of The Wind', has been funded by donors who are fans of Orson Welles. The amount raised is almost two hundred and eighty nine thousand towards the movies completion.
It was shot between  the nineteen seventies and eighties but was unfinished when he died in nineteen eighty five. Clint Eastwood and Sophia Coppolla are among the high profile financial backers.
The movie was set to be completed on the sixth of May last year which was Orson's one hundredth Birthday. There are unconfirmed reports that his partner, Oja Kodar still has all the negatives and won't release them. Orson clearly wanted the film to be made and asked his friend who starred in it, Peter Bogdanovich to help make it happen. So why does his partner allegedly want to hold on to it?
Above material gains for such actions, accepting and following someone's last wishes should be paramount.

Linda Bellingham's sons are having a different problem with her husband Michael Pattimore. He has allegedly deprived them of their inheritance and family home.
Many parents would want their children to have some type of security or keepsake in the event of their death. Families that are left behind must not stand in the way of last wishes. They may not make sense, they may not be agreeable, they may even be ridiculous, but the best way to show how much they were valued in life is to honour and obey them in death.

I dedicate this blog to Prince Rogers Nelson, who honoured the craft of music and never obeyed rules, but always for positive reasons. May he rest in peace.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

The Gunns Are Gone

The Gunn's are gone from Devonshire Road, Custom House East London.

A few weeks ago I was at my dear friends dads funeral, Teddy Gunn. Two of his daughters and granddaughters were wearing his caps. He was a chelsea boot and flat cap man and rarely left the house without a cap. It was a nice touch when his daughters approached his coffin to lay their single red roses followed by removing his caps they were wearing and placing them on top.
Teddy and Victoria raised their five children and lived a really simple but busy life.
I have known them and their wonderful family for 27 years. To me they had a bit of a double act routine going on, Teddy was quick with his comments but Vicky was just as quick with her answers. A lot of the time it was hard for me to hide my laughter.

In the end the house didn't belong to them, they belonged to the house and to the road. My last reason to walk down Devonshire Road has gone with them.

I'll miss you Teddy, as I miss Victoria.

I dedicate this blog to your great granddaughter Ruby.

Friday, 22 January 2016

"Life Is A Waste Of Time. Time Is A Waste Of Life. Get Wasted All The Time And You'll Have The Time Of Your Life". Billy Connolly.

On Tuesday I had the great pleasure of seeing Billy Connolly at Hammersmith Apollo. As I walked up to the entrance, an equally eager Stephen Merchant was waiting to go in. There were lots of people, including me taking pictures of the outside of the building. I don't know if they wanted a general memento of the evening or whether they wanted it 'just in case'.

His tour is called the High Horse and he doesn't sit down once in the two hours. That pleased me, and I think surprised many. Touring is really tiring for those in good health, so it's definitely equally difficult for Billy. The change in the amount of movement he does, screams out, as all he can manage now is a small march; as he mimics his granddad coupled with his dislike of socialising. The record for spending time with his grandad was seven minutes and he got to six when introducing Pamela.
His memory is faltering a bit more now and when he stopped a few times there was a voice shouting the line he just said, to jog his memory, although at one point when this happened he responded by saying; "I know where I am, I'm trying to think of how to fu*king say it". His left arm now stays mostly bent and against his side. He called it his 'Invisible raincoat holder'.

Although he hasn't left us yet, the fact that he has taken part in programmes about mortality and has embarked on this tour, feels very much like a farewell, and I'm gonna miss this, kind of vibe.

It's unusual for me to write about someone while they are still here, but I couldn't help getting emotional while watching him, and realising that I am beginning to miss the Billy Connolly I remember. A truly gifted, and wonderfully warm person.

See you at the next posting.