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So long, goodbye

It’s #DyingMattersWeek this week and it is also the week that my mum would have turned 80. If she’d had the chance that is.

I think about death a lot, pretty much since the day my mum died. Losing someone will do that to you, bring into sharp focus something that we look away from. I dislike people who say we should ‘face up to death’ and be more pro-active about death. We shouldn’t. There’s a reason we ignore it, it’s horrible. Anyone who has ever sat at a deathbed knows how horrible. I’m not just talking about the physical process, I mean the emotional toll being rung.

We could also start in on an discussion about souls (I believe in them. Totally. Don’t argue with me.) but that’s jumping the gun.

What I mean is that we don’t need to be harping on about it in a patronising self-help manner. I think that most people who chant this slogan have not yet lost anyone. My feeling is that we should treat death the same way our ancestors did, with respect. In a throwaway society we’ve also thrown away heart and spirituality and by that I don’t mean organised religion. I never mean Organised Religion, which for me is up there with Organised Crime. Organised is not a word I have a lot of truck with.

People should be allowed to die how they wish to, from assisted suicide to the simple act of being at home. At the hospice my mum was faced with a doctor who asked her ‘What do you see at the end of this illness?’. My mum responded ‘I see me getting better and going out and enjoying myself.’ The doctor’s reply, for which I have never forgiven him, ‘What do you see at the end of this illness?’. There was a brief silence and then my mum turned to my dad and said ‘Can we go home now?’. My dad took her home within 24 hours and she died there a week later.

What we have to do is care. It is that simple. We have to stop being efficient and businesslike and slow down and look at the place and the time and recognise humanity.

Funerals should not be such an industry although I have to say I quite like the idea of being borne away in my wicker coffin by a plumed horse on a black bier. It’s certainly dramatic but, as my daughter said to me the other day “ I don’t want to come to your funeral. It’d be miserable.” She’s not wrong.

I have no memory at all of my mum’s funeral, I recall only the hearse pulling up and my dad folding my sister and myself into a deep hug. Then I woke up as they say. It was still a nightmare. My mum was still dead.

Funerals are as stupidly expensive as Mulberry handbags or season tickets to Manchester United. There is, I suppose, a health and safety aspect to it all, you can’t just chuck everyone in the river as they do in India as this causes health and disease issues. We don’t want cholera and typhoid back, that’s being just a bit too close to the ancestors. Equally it shouldn’t be an industry, one that penalises those who can ill afford it.

My husband has decided he wishes to be left to medical science so that he can be pickled and pored over by students. If that isn’t possible then he thinks we should be able to put him out with the bins.

My own dream funeral involves a wood somewhere, an ancient one if it can be found, lie me down for the foxes and the crows to peck at so that each of them can take a piece of me out into the world, to feed themselves or nourish their chicks and cubs and no one has to sing a hymn, or eat a ham sandwich that sticks in their grieving mouth like crematorium ash.

 
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‘a highly original talent’ – Beryl Bainbridge

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