Stories from our audience (Brighton Fringe Festival)
I didn’t go to see my friend when he was diagnosed with cancer. I didn’t want to visit him when it was clear he was dying. I kept my distance. I didn’t want to see a man who was so vital, so full of joie de vivre on his last legs. But I missed a trick. I missed the chance to say goodbye. It broke my heart – a bit chipped off. Now I have learned to say goodbye to those who are dying. To take my time to know them and learn from them.
A willwriter told me that when she sits down with most people to start planning their wills, they say “If I die.” She wants to say “When, When!” but she doesn’t. She takes notes.
My parents made burial arrangements long before they died. They had moved to St Croix in the Virgin Islands, where one option is to be buried at see. So we put favourite things in the coffin, went out in a fishing boat with beer and snacks and 3 miles out they slid the coffin over board and because it was weighted it sank really fast which was a bit of a shock. No time. It will become part of the coral reef.
In St Louis in the US cremations happen privately involving the undertakers. I arranged my aunt’s funeral and her ashes were left by mistake on a bench outside the chapel!
One of my 90 year old mother’s favourite stories! A family whose garden backed on to the local cemetery had three children who revelled in hiding behind the hedge and listening to proceedings. When the inevitable demise of their goldfish happened they arranged an elaborate service conducted with due reverence and finishing with “In the name of the Father and Son and into the hole he goes!”
I recently went to the Cremation of a loved one who was 92 years old. The service was over and done within 20-30 minutes and it leaves you thinking “Well is that it?” 92 years of life and that short Cremation time. It was all over…
Thank you for taking this topic out of the ‘dark zone’. I am from Germany, my parents have a company caring for plants on graves. I have always loved graveyards and everyone makes me feel weird about it. Tonight I felt understood; seeing death as part of life. Thank you.
My father died unexpectedly on a holiday in Greece. The day after he died my mother and I were told we must visit the morgue to make arrangements. We were disoriented and came into the hospital via the back entrance. There were women orderlies in uniform sitting on a bench eating their sandwiches surrounded by trollies of dead people. My mother exclaimed loudly “My God – you can just smell death can’t you”. I said “No Mum, its the liver sausage sandwiches” and steered her away. She hadn’t noticed my Dad.
A member of the audience rang me up to share this story.
How do you cope with a death when in the process you also discover that your parent has lied to you for much of your life?
My relationship with both my parents was complicated. I was not close to my mother and so I was not able to get any support from her when I began to be concerned about my father’s behaviour. I liked being with my Dad. We enjoyed watching films together. We got on famously. And I found out on the day he died that he had lied to me about some very important things. I had begun to have my doubts about some of the things he promised me. I found out the worst when I had access to his phone and hacked into his email account. Emails he told me he had sent to other people had in fact never been sent, people he told me he knew he clearly didn’t and some mails that I had received ostensibly from other people had actually been sent by him to me disguising himself as a medical expert. He had even provided me with medication and diet sheets and promised help from famous agents to support my theatrical career. He even attended imaginary funerals to explain why someone could not help me. He would say “I love you. You must trust me. I would never lie to you.” So, on his deathbed, I was asking him “Tell me if all of this has been lies.” After this huge shock I found myself organising the funeral all on my own. It has been hard to get support from my GP or others and I find it very hard to process my grief and confusion. A friend of mine died on the same day and not long after another friend committed suicide. It is totally overwhelming at times and friends find it hard to cope. My normal is very sad and I represent some of the worst things that can happen to anyone and people want to avoid that. In our society we don’t put enough funding into the networks that can offer real support. The hospice nurses were brilliant but other carers have just clocked in and clocked off. They haven’t got the time.
Stories from our audience (The Pumphouse, Faringdon)
My Dad died of cancer in 2008. He was of no faith. He had a pact with his long-time pal that whoever died first had to come back and ‘tell’ the other if there was an afterlife. His friend never did, so Dad’s mind was made up! So when Dad died, we didn’t want a church service as it would have felt wrong. So, we asked if we could have a very personal service at graveside – which we did. We wrote a long speech all about his life and played snippets from 6 of his favourite songs. All his old pals were jigging along at the graveside. It felt very fitting and personal, not soulless like many “traditional” church or crematory services can be, where only the shortest snippet seems to be about the actual person being remembered and honoured.
In the Netherlands it is common for a person to be taken home and kept on a fridge bed for up to 3 days. This happened with my father and seemed creepy at first to me but after a couple of hours the grandchildren were virtually clambering over him and including him in their games. It was definitely the right thing to do and a great way to say your good-byes.
My Dad was buried at Westmill burial ground and it was inspiring. After discussion with Liz we learnt so much about what we didn’t have to do!! We drove Dad in his cardboard coffin to the burial ground – lowered his coffin into the grave ourselves – children included – and then filled the grave. It was described as a ‘bring a shovel burial’. We sat and had a BBQ around the grave whilst sharing our memories and stories. It was the happiest, most relaxed burial anyone had every attended. We received so many notes from those who had attended that it ‘was the best funeral we’ve been to’……..and it was…….and that that’s the way he would love it to be remembered. So much learnt for all.
I visited a friend who was dying from Motor Neurone Disease who would not tell me what she had though I knew. This inability to talk or admit she would never get better was suffocating. I never was able to tell her how much she meant to me, as I feared she would be angry that I knew she was dying. She was so proud.
Every place my Dad lied in he planted a magnolia. When eventually, and somewhat reluctantly, he agreed that, aged 84, his macular degeneration had reach a point that he couldn’t cope safely on his own, he moved to a nursing home near Bristol. We asked permission from the owners to plant a magnolia on their lawn. He died in 2001 and as he hadn’t specified what he would like done with his ashes, I his youngest child and only daughter, bought a magnolia and put his ashes into the earth. I moved house last summer – now thinking with a wry smile on my face – what would the new owners make of our unmarked but treasured spot?
I have felt for a long time that my body is something I have been given to look after for a few years (86 to date) but it is not me. It is a thing. I am not. I am something like time.
My mother was very seriously ill with cancer. In fact, she was dying. Then a cheery surgeon bounced into her room and said “I think we can do another operation.” They operated, and she lived – quite well – for another 8 months. But she told me “It was really hard reversing from the Pearly Gates.” She had quite prepared herself for death and man had delayed it.
My father died in 2008 and was buried in early October. On Christmas Day, the family gathered again and went to the village church. My 6 year old nephew skipped along the path, turned right and waved at the grave, “Hello Grandpa!!” Then he waved up at the sky and waved again, “Hello Grandpa”!
My parents were married for 64 years. My father died in hospital – my sister and I drove my mother through the 4 am darkness to say farewell to his body. We stayed 10 minutes and found solace in the dawn as we drove away from the impersonal hospital ward. My mother lost her marbles once he had gone. 18 months later (18 months of carers and caring) she had a stroke. She could not eat. The doctors spoke to us carefully and tactfully – we had to let her go. Mum was moved to a stroke ward in a cottage hospital. What a remarkable ward. We were very lucky and she was very lucky – kind, concerned and welcoming staff. We visited constantly, we stayed nights, sleeping on chairs or even in empty beds. From the end of November, my mum lay there, breathing on and on. No food and no water! She breathed on. We played CDs, we sang hymns. We read poems. We played them again, we sang them again, we read them again. You know a baby will, eventually, come. We knew that Mum was going to die. All of us 6 children came to say our final goodbyes. We each of us came again. By 20th December it looked like Christmas might be “ruined”. She finally breathed her last, slipping away on 23rd December. I cannot express how much all of us appreciated the time we had to just sit with Mum and I, in particular, as the youngest of her 6 children, treasure that precious quiet time.
After my father’s funeral which was a well attended affair and when the family were being driven home in the hearse we spotted, on several occasions, friends who were walking back to the house. Stop the hearse I said to the driver (I knew him from schooldays) and we did and they climbed in. John, the driver, said he’d never done that before!
On scattering my father. We had kept our father in his box for a while before taking him to scatter across Blackstone Edge. On the way, we stopped to go shopping, leaving him in the car. Which is what always happened when he was alive too. It was a windy day and it wasn’t until I got home and took off my brogue style boots that I noticed he was caught in the punched holes and seams. I didn’t clean the boots until he had finally vanished.
Assumption! Why they put bright peach, pearlised lipstick on my mum for us to see when we visited her at the undertakers I’ll never know. Awful colour, she’d NEVER have worn such a terrible colour. Luckily I asked them to remove it before my stepdad came in!
Stories from our audience (Edinburgh Fringe Festival)
I am 20 and I have been surprised with two pregnancies and have gone through the process of having an abortion/saying goodbye to my child twice. I have a bit of the blood I bled into a tissue and pretty bag by my bedside which sounds creepy but I am just not ready to part with a physical connection.
My friend’s dad died when we were both 17 and her mum’s valentine friend organised an evening where her and her sister sat in a circle while all their friends sat around singing and playing music. I thought it was a bad idea as they were being forced to grieve but it was in fact beautiful, we all cried until we were empty and then we laughed and shared stories and hot chocolate. I would love to be able to do that when I am grieving but don’t want to force people to support me like that in such a naked sharing of emotion.
When my grandpa had a massive stroke and was taken to hospital and it became clear he would not recover, my mom who had durable power became distraught because she had the full weight of the decision about any life support. Grandpa did not want life support. To help mom my brothers and I all signed the paperwork to share the weight with her. This eased her and allowed us all to be with Grandpa and follow his wishes until he passed 9 days later with no life support. Hard things are best done together.
When my grandmother died I was away, in Germany, and as I knew about her death I bought a beer and made a toast for her. My mother will never forgive me for this. She thinks it was disrespectful, but the fact is that I was celebrating my grandmother’s life, and I don’t regret it. She is always with me and I feel her near me. And I’ll always celebrate her life.
I felt under pressure when planning my father’s funeral to keep his brother ‘happy’ by going with more elaborate coffin etc. than my dad would have wanted. My uncle (my dad’s brother) was/is a person who wants to impress people and is wealthy. My dad was not like this. I wish I had had the courage to follow my instincts but in the sadness of death it was not possible and I didn’t want to cause trouble in the family.
A brief story of my sister whose husband died days after his 50th birthday. She wanted to take him home from hospital to put him in bed with her for one more night (hence the reference to this in the show was very poignant). She didn’t do this but she was able to take his ashes in a rucksack on a balloon ride some 18 months later. This has been his 50th birthday present he had not been able to experience and it gave her closure.
I can relate to many of your stories, being a nurse I have witnessed all aspects of death. I feel privileged to be in the special moments with patients’ families when death occurs. I once had a 48 year old patient, lovely gentleman who became unwell with a blood clot suddenly. I had been nursing him for 2 days – we undertook CPR for 1 hour – he did not survive. This experience and sadness has been always with me.
I could never wash my parent’s bodies. My mother died 6 years ago and she would have been horrified for me to have seen any part of her body, let alone wash her/it. But I do understand how some people could find that to be a really therapeutic action. Now I need to re-think ‘Always look on the bright side of life/death’ as it has been my choice since I saw the original film (40 years ago at least)!!
I was especially touched by your washing story, when you have a child you are so protective of who cares for them, but in the vulnerability of death it’s not the same.
I asked my mother what my grandma wanted for her funeral (my grandma was very unwell at the time and has Parkinson’s, so I thought it a pertinent question). My mother got so angry at me. I then asked my sister if she knew. She started crying and said she didn’t want to think about it I never thought that they would react that way. What surprises me about death is that the people you thought you knew really well react completely differently.
I was very nervous to visit my father’s grave once I received word that his stone had been engraved. This was a military cemetery, and each grave could hold 4 people. My g’ma and g’pa had already been buried there. G’pa was on the front, and g’ma was on the back of the stone. It was a rainy Easter Sunday. I walked to the stone to see the engraving. I knew dad would be on the back with g’ma. The engraving read: “His wives – ” and they listed my g’ma and her son, my dad. I laughed hilariously. Could hear dad saying “yeah, there’s the right way and the army way!” To this day I love visiting their gravestone.
In our western culture, we naturally say “sorry” to those grieving for a deceased one. After seeing this show, I am wondering how useful “sorry” is. Death is inevitable and losing someone doesn’t have to be a sorry/sad affair.
When my mother died in 1998 we thought it would be good to busy her ashes and create a memorial in the garden of our family home. By then however, the only person living at the house was my father and we quickly realised our error – he felt tied to memories when he wanted to move on with his life. The “unfuneral” in 1999 was actually a time of much laughter and we were all sure Mum would have seen the funny side of it. Dad sold the house soon afterwards and had a very happy second marriage. Mum’s ashes were scattered, and my brothers and I don’t need a memorial to remember her.
Toby’s mum is buried [ashes] on our allotment along with our dog, Nellie. Pam would be very pleased as she’s finally reclaimed her old allotment from her ex-husband!
When my auntie died, who was also my Godmother it was the first funeral I had ever been to and I was about 9 years old. I remember being strangely excited about it, like I was a character in a Jacqueline Wilson book, which I read a lot at the time. My extended family and I sat in a room before the funeral and my brother and cousin played on the playstation while I sat on the floor. My Grandpa (my auntie’s dad) entered the room, I naively remember him looking confused. He had some blood on his face and head. I watched as my dad took his dad away and helped him clean up and shave properly. I dad not actually see this happen, but knowing my own dad’s matter of fact personality, and my Grandpa’s dazed confusion at the time, I imagine the scene, my dad busies himself cleaning his dad, both numb to the fact they had lost a big sister and daughter.
I came home after and wrote a poem about my Godmother as a goodbye, without showing it to anyone I hid it away and haven’t found it since
I am 26 years old and in the last year I have died almost twice. As a Greek Orthodox and unmarried, I would be buried in a wedding dress. “Outside the box” made me realise that no one is my circle knows I like romantic dresses, nor that my favourite flowers are sunflowers. I imagine I would end up in a church full of roses, wearing a ridiculously skinny dress…
I have a story for you Liz, which I heard from my friend Ros at the funeral of our friend. Ros’s dad’s family are from Ireland (and she discovered later her dad was active in the IRA). At the funeral, the local musicians fiddled the coffin down into the ground, even lying on their stomachs to say their goodbyes while continuing fiddling.
Once on a shamanic journey I had the experience of BEING DEAD. I was a dead crow, on my back, dead surrounded by living crows. It was a new and convincing experience.
Once we had a rabbit (Tom Beetroot) who escaped from his hutch. We all thought he was dead for about two weeks when, one morning, we looked outside to see him calmly sitting outside his hutch.
When my Nan was on her deathbed she was asked about her obituary. She said: “I want…
Volvo for sale
£500 or nearest offer”
In the last days before he died my husband asked to watch the TV (very unusual). He said he wanted to watch Countdown (his favourite TV program). I knew in my bones he was telling me he was ‘counting down’ and that he’d be dying soon. It felt like a private message to me, no one else would have understood.
(Worked as a Macmillan nurse within the Edinburgh community)
A 70 year old woman who has never taken alcohol, found that a modest dose of morphine produced an unpleasant sensation of dizziness etc, and which was for her worse than the pain. I managed to persuade the GP to prescribe a homeopathic dosage and this enabled her to feel comfortable without blurring her mind. (She was a wee bird of a wife and the dose would have been homeopathic for a child!)
The nurse was so supportive, we worked as a team, and as the end approached we were able to support the family in their hope to keep ‘mum’ at home.
On the day of her death I made a 2nd visit at around 6pm, and was able to adjust the pillows for a little more comfort (also helped me to do a little bit of hands on nursing). As I bent down to say farewell, she whispered a barely audible “I didn’t know it was going to be like this…” and a beautiful smile lit up her face. I have no idea what she was experiencing/visualising but whatever it was, ‘it’ was OK. She died at 10pm.
The family who had been fearful about the situation and had hoped that she might agree to admission to the hospice were sufficiently empowered to face the father’s diagnosis and death 2 years later almost with confidence.
Working as a ‘Triple Duties Nurse’ in Sutherland in the early 60s taught me so much about life and death. I am eternally grateful to that community.
U.S. Military cemeteries allow one grave per soldier, but you can have up to four people at that headstone, stacked on top of each other. My g’pa is the “primary”‘ with my grandma stacked with him. Her name is on the back of the stone.
My Dad used to tell me every time we drove past the cemetery, “That’s where you’re going to plant me, Gin.” When he died, that sentence came floating back to me in the middle of my pained malaise. Of Course! Golden Gate National Cemetery! Duh!
Arrangements were made, we had a perfect ceremony, just the way Dad would’ve wanted it. The stone would not be re-engraved and re-placed, adding my Dad’s name to his parents’, until months later.
My family visited on a very rainy, dreary Easter Sunday. I asked my husband and daughter to stay in the car because actually, I was a little afraid of seeing my father’s name there, written in stone. I got to the front of the stone and read my grandfather’s name. I took a deep breath and slowly stepped around to the back, where in stone was engraved: “His Wives” — then were listed my grandmother’s name and my father’s name. The U.S. Military had written in stone that my father had been married to his OWN father!!!!
At that moment I could hear, literally HEAR my father above me, saying a phrase he’d used many times over his long life…. “Yeah Gin, there’s the right way and the ARMY way!!!!” I started laughing uncontrollably, and hollered to my husband and daughter to join me. We took SEVERAL very jolly photos, and had a wonderful time.
I did call the cemetery folks to change the stone, much to the consternation of my mother, who felt that we shouldn’t bother anyone about it. I almost regret it, but I know my dad would have not liked being some kind of butt of local cemetery jokes!
Result? We are usually all smiles when we visit my father and g’pa and g’ma. That cemetery provided us a wonderful coping mechanism at a very difficult time… And that experience has become the gift that keeps on giving!!!!
I was a nurse for 44 years, worked on ICU, hospices and labour. My own Dad just died at 88 he had been ill for 3 years. It was not unexpected, peaceful with his children there. His death created more emotion than I had expected. Grief! You can read about it but until you experience it………
I wish I had seen this before my grandparents died. One quick story. At my grandad’s funeral (same crematorium for all grandparents) everything that could go wrong did……Phones going off during the ceremony, my stepmother farting during the prayers and the brochure of the radiator on the way into the crematorium. But………it was the most honest and open we had been with each other and in a way the things going wrong helped smash through the awkwardness of the occasion.
My Dad died last year (2015). He was Irish, brought up Catholic and we had him cremated here in England where he had lived for 20 years. We had organised a ceremony in Ireland for a couple of days after and arrived at the Crematorium to pick him up – my brother and I. They told us that he hadn’t gone in yet. The man before was obese and because fat burns at a higher temperature the ovens had overheated. Can you come back in an hour? We were a bit shocked. We came back. He was still warm. Flying back with Dad at my feet felt odd. The Catholic service was strangely comforting.
When I was around 8 years old my great-grandmother died at the age of 99. Around two weeks before I could already feel that she was leaving us. I know that she knew! She never said a word though. She kept quiet until the day she died. I think she did that because her family was with her and that was all she wanted. She didn’t want anyone to grieve as long as she was still there.
I remember watching my great aunt pass. My cousin messaged to tell us the time was close. It was the middle of the night and I went to offer support, though the only thing I could do was stand there as the machine stopped beeping. It was sad but we became much closer though it.
Dying, that I’m not afraid of………like most people, more afraid of a painful death than death itself,
A friend of the family, my dad’s old school friend, threw a party when she learn she had incurable cancer. She’s Irish and the local village pub became a huge folk party for the night, and so many people came the pub was packed. My mum, a small busy woman who is usually very prim and proper danced the night away. It was loud, and messy, and so completely full of joy. When it was time to say goodbye, I was 18. I went up to her at the end of the night and I’ll never forget the look, how she looked at me, like she knew that was the last time we’d ever see each other. She died a few weeks later, a month before her granddaughter’s birth and leaving a young son. But that party was so full of love and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.
When I was a little boy my goldfish died. It was still, in its bowl, lying one eye up on top of the water. My mother told me it was dead but I didn’t believe her. I put my finger in the water and stirred it. “See” I said as the goldfish rode the swirl. My mum just stroked my hair and gave me a settling glance. Then………I knew. I remember this very clearly because it made me feel more grown up and a little stronger in myself.
I have always been fascinated by death, not necessarily from a morbid perspective. From an early age I recognised it as a natural process so not really been scared of it. Up in my loft I have a wooden box handmade by my grandfather (I never knew him). I think he made three. One for him, one for his wife (my gran) and lastly one for my mum. It has no easy opening but has screws holding the base in place. I now have this for when the day comes. Mum has since decided a bin liner would suffice and when showing her the box on a loftclearing mission she couldn’t believe I still had it. I’ll need to find out her wishes but for now I will keep the box for my own remembrance.
Nana It was a couple of years ago. I was stage crewing for a show. I was encouraged by my family to go off and enjoy myself. My nana was in the makeshift hospital we made for her in the sitting room. I kissed her goodbye and off I went. I came back 2 or 3 hours later. I expected to be met with the scene of my dogs, food cooking……….nothing. It wasn’t sad but they simply said she was gone. I didn’t say goodbye. Do I regret? No. I know who she is. I know my Nana. We went to the funeral home. I felt sick. I thought – “How could I do this? She was someone else but my Nana. She was made up, perfume soaked the coffin. She had all her going out clothes on but I was stuck in the corner. My legs failed me. My mum was stroking her hair but I was screaming in my head “Get off her”. Why was I so scared? Eventually, my mam persuaded me. Why was I worried? Her skin was smooth like pearls and she looked calm. Mocking me with how stupid I’d been. She was my nana. Life, death. She was family and we should invite death as much as life.
So when Oma Wacka died I was probably 12. She had always been somewhere around, in the garden or the houe, chasing us children with her walking stick. I don’t know why she loved doing that maybe because she liked the idea of being an old children chasing withc – we sometimes were a bit afraid of her but not really. So when she stopped walking and we had to feed her (I usually did that – I somehow preferred to help her than the little children we had in the house). Then she got sick and we (the children in the house) somehow felt the need to go into her room with our recorders and music and start playing and singing. Max even told a story. Oma Wacka was there, her eyes even open (sometimes). I’m sure it didn’t sound very good but we had the feeling we had to do it not because someone pressurised us but because it felt good. After we finished our concert we said goodnight and went to bed. I can’t remember any adults being around. The next morning we went down to look after her. When we saw her dead there was not surprise. Max again (he was the oldest at 14) had the idea to search for all the candles we could find. So in the end the small room was filled with candles with Oma Wacka in the middle! I remember it as one of our adventures in childhood not spooky, not weird and no-one was crying (usually there was someone crying when we had our adventures). I only cried when we were at the funeral run by the adults. My best friend and I still love to share stories connected with Oma Wacka who loved us children so much that she had to chase us with her old people stick. Long after she died we still played with her sticks.
My sister’s husband died days after his fiftieth birthday. She wanted to take him home from hospital to put him in bed with her for one more night. She didn’t do this but she was able to take his ashes in a rucksack on a balloon ride some 18 months later. This has been his 50th birthday present and he had not been able to experience it. It gave her closure.
Being a nurse I have witnessed all aspects of death. I feel privileged to be in the special moments with patient’s families when death occurs. I once had a 48 year old patient, lovely gentleman, who became unwell with blood clot suddenly. I had been nursing him for 2 days. We undertook CPR for one hour – he did not survive. This experience and sadness about it has always been with me.
When I was 9 years old my father taught me how to lay out the dead when one of the puppies born to our family dog died. As a midwife for many years I then could draw from his teaching when I, on occasion, would help a family celebrate and say goodbye to their child. Now, years later, I’m a psychotherapist and, again, these lessons of death and laying out are used in conversation.
I met an old lady who told me that when she was a little girl her mother handed her the wrapped body of a newborn, her sibling who was stillborn or quickly died, and told her to take the body to the undertaker to be top or tailed, tucked into a coffin with another stranger’s body. She did this. What is remarkable is that although it was thought appropriate for her to run this errand , she had not been told her mother was pregnant. That apparently was the more taboo subject.
I’ve been seeing those golden points all my life. I have lately begun to speculate that they are my matriculating death.
When I had a brush with cancer I started deciding on funeral music. When I mentioned it to some people they thought it was very morbid but one close friend sayd “Oh God no – they’ve just started using that one to advertise tea on the telly.” We had a great laugh about it and now I try to decide if I should choose again, or leave it, knowing she will remember the laughter and also fancy a cuppa!
I felt under pressure when planning my father’s funeral to keep his brother “happy” by going with more elaborate coffin etc than my dad would have wanted. My uncle (my dad’s brother) was/is a person who wants to impress people and is wealthy. My Dad was not like this. I wish I had had the courage to follow my instincts but in the sadness of death it was not possible and I didn’t want to cause trouble in the family.
I asked my mother what my grandma wanted for her funeral (My grandma was very unwell at the time and has Parkinson’s so I thought it a pertinent question. My mother got so angry with me. I then asked my sister if she knew. She started crying and said she didn’t want to think about it. I never thought that they would react in that way. What surprises me about death is that the people you think you know really well and think will react one way often react completely differently.
My father was of the “Just put me in a binbag” conversation re his funeral. At the undertaker, however, when I reminded my brother and suggested we must at least have only the cheapest coffin he baulked – couldn’t face using “cheap kitchen laminate”. I gave in and we agreed to go with the cheapest he could tolerate. The weather on the funeral day was dreadful. Later, on the way to the funeral in the family car there was an enormous clap of thunder. “Oh dear” said my brother “Dad’s just heard how much the coffin cost!” We all laughed so much as this was Dad’s sense of humour that when we got out of the car we had to pretend to the “mourners” that these were tears of sadness not joy.
The first death I know about was my great grandmother. I was quite young, maybe 4 or 5 and was (with the other young grandchildren) deemed too young to go to the funeral. I spent an afternoon playing with Polly Pockets with my cousins, slightly confused why the big people came back looking sad. A short while later we travelled again to my Greatsie’s town – all the grownups gathered in her flat and I was taken by my Dad to see the Prince of Egypt at the cinema. Later on, when we were home, my mum gave me the colouring book Greatsie kept at her house for me and the other children and she gave me her blanket. They still smelled just like her. I think that’s when I know she was gone. I’ve always hated the Prince of Egypt.
Not a story but a suggestion. As our society is increasingly death denying it makes it much harder for those caring for someone who is dying to let it happen.
We sat with out 94 year old father while he died all day of pneumonia – at about 8 pm we thought maybe our presence wasn’t quite enough and called the district nurses in the hope that they would somehow help him, make him more comfortable, do things for him we hadn’t. They came – 2 of them and were grumpy, brusque and uncovered him completely to wash him with wet wipes and even in that last hour of life and having had morphine by mouth – he tried to cover his willy up. An awful invasion upon the calm, warm, chatty atmosphere and they offered nothing. We knew what was right for him ourselves.
I feel that the current custom of funerals “celebrating the life of” often conceals and impedes the expression of grief on the part of those closest to the person.
A Brazilian friend of mine told me that after her dad died, her brother kept his bones in a bin liner in the boot of his car for a while until the family decided where to inter him. I love the idea of being so casual about it. I kind of wish I’d put my parents in the boot along with the tool kit and their old picnic blanket.
My mother left a letter describing what she wanted after her death. This included a bio-degradable coffin. Further on in the letter she asks to be cremated. Perhaps she didn’t fully grasp the concept!
My wife Yeal died at the age of 31, a couple of months after giving birth since then I kept her “alive” to our 3 kids. Should I do that the way I knew her, or the way she behaved in life?
Sitting on a bench on the top of a hill, after shouting “hello” into the world, my 3 year old niece asked my sister in law, “Mummy, can you grow another Daddy in your tummy?” That’s a year ago, almost. Honesty has been hard but good.
My own experience has been of home death of a partner divorced but reconciled. Could not have the funeral we wanted as I was no longer legally next of kin or executor. Excellent book “Smoke Gets in your eyes” by Caitlin Dogherty. A fearless look at the mechanics of death.
As a farmer’s wife I decided I’d like to be buried right in the centre of our biggest flattest field with a fabulous view over several farms. I told my family to bury me (using a fore-end loader to dig the grave) and plant an oak sapling on top, so that every time my son ploughed, drilled, cultivated and harvested this field he’d have to go around me so I’d be remembered (and probably cursed!) for my independence and bloody mindedness.
My Dad’s body was at home for a week in winter and did smell awfully after two days so he was taken away by the funeral directors to be embalmed. My mum and the rest of us really hated that part of his death . He died of metastatic cancer and the one thing he kept saying is that he wanted to stay at home through his illness, after his death and until he was cremated. (I think this comment is important to hear and I wonder if enough advice was given before having the body at home since it seems surprising that this happened so quickly but could be connected to how he died – Liz). It would be great to hear from men about dying. It is so often the women who do the talking and expressing and we hear much less directly from men. (Agreed – Philip Gould comes to mind as a wonderful exception here and of course Atul Gawande).