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.
We should all be living a plant-based diet. I’ve heard this for a while now from my vegan daughter who regularly chastises us for not caring enough about the planet to give up roast chicken or cheese.
That said our roast chicken days are few and far between. We took the idea of Meat-free Monday and ran with it, quite a long way. These days our diet is Meat-free Monday to Friday. Also pretty much Saturday and Sunday too.
I’ve tried growing vegetables myself and its never been a success. I’ve been thwarted by climate, soil, lack of skill or knowledge but mostly by wood pigeons.
There are several wood pigeons in my garden. They remain there because, essentially, they are too fat to fly anywhere. Once in a while, for the sake of conjugal rites, two or more of them will flap up to the top of the fence to do their mating dance, the odd little minuet of bows and cooing. As their feet foxtrot around, the fence bends and creaks under the weight of them. They are fat with my peas, my sunflowers, my courgettes, pumpkins and a meadows worth of wildflower seeds. There is no end to their ingenuity in retrieving seed from bed, box or pot. Even the squirrels stand back, applauding with admiration.
It’s only a matter of time, I know, when that last broad bean pod is popped and my husband and I have to share a dinner only of herbs. If there are any herbs left of course. Then, there will be an almighty rebellion and the hunter gatherer in us will be ignited. Some stealth and the cover of hydrangeas will be required before a lone feather drifts on the wind and, shortly thereafter, the smell of pastry and gravy begins to waft down the garden.
This morning found me at the paint merchant. I know, sounds very Victorian, I assume you are imagining a mutton chop whiskered gentleman in a stripy apron, stirring a vat of pigment. I wish. Instead it is a paint splattered warehousey place with shelving. It’s mystery shelving, it is always a mystery where they have put your order. You have to get there early on a Saturday as it is halfday, also quite Victorian. It goes against the grain of DIY (see that wordplay) in that most people want to do some painting on a Saturday but I long ago stopped looking for logic in retail.
After putting up an Ikea Finstorp rack in my kitchen this week, I find I’m in that DIY mood. This was exacerbated by flicking through Instagram. I look at other people’s posts and feel inspired to refurbish my own home. I’m a fan of Farrow & Ball for the simple reason that you can slap their paint on and it lasts for years. I like the names of their colours too and have become almost as adept at spotting an F&B colour on a front door or windowsill as I am at spotting a nuthatch on an elm tree. I am so middle class right now I might have to sit down with a slice of focaccia and a glass of wine.
There is a pot of Mouse’s Back waiting to be slathered over the living room but more urgently the front door has outgrown its post-apocalyptic look and needs a make over. The paint I used last time was not even outdoor paint so it is a miracle it has lasted. For this redo I’m going all out. There could be piping. And there will be a fox doorknocker. Also I did not have a sander or heat gun back then (1810 or thereabouts, The Duke of Wellington made the teas) and so I simply painted over the pocked and cracked varnish surface of the door. I am, as you can tell, skilled at this mullarkey.
There was some dilemma about the primer I wanted so, like a true professional, I stuck a pin in the selection and now I’m typing whilst wearing my goggles and mask. The heat gun is firing up and if I trap the bacon rashers in the letterbox and aim right, I can simultaneously cook a bacon sandwich as I sear the (not F&B) Green Ivy paint off our abode.
Saturdays seem to be National Power Tool day as everyone in our neighbourhood gets out the angle grinder or the powerblaster. My husband recently invested in a chainsaw in order to ‘prune’ the apple tree and so on that particular Saturday we were the basso profundo in the general mechanical chorus.
The apple tree survived the ordeal. Not sure the door will.