Funerals – the subject most of us avoid and why we shouldn’t

Over the 5 decades of my life, I have been to many funerals. At one point, it seemed that I was the appointed funeral respresentative from our family as every time my parents went away on holiday, someone close to them died and I attended their funeral on my parents’ behalf.

Both my parents are long gone, my father having died…well, I always have difficulty remembering how long it’s been because I wasn’t sad to see him go (which is a whole different story for another time!) but let’s just say it’s probably 16 years; my mum died in 2004 which is etched on my mind forever as it was me that had to make the decision to let her go. That’s not something you forget easily.

So here’s the thing about funerals. Whether the deceased was ill for a long time and thus you were more mentally and emotionally prepared for their death or they died suddenly, arranging a funeral is the most cruel thing to have to think about at a time when you are grieving and potentially in deep shock.

It’s bad enough having to contact people to let them know your relative has died but that results in you having to comfort them in their grief. Then you have to get quotes from funeral directors which means making decisions over coffins, church and burial or church and cremation or direct to crematorium. Then there’s flowers to arrange, and if at church, a service with hymns to decide upon, readings to be organised and so it goes on.

At my mum’s funeral, I had to stand in front of everyone and make a ‘speech’. To be fair, I didn’t have to but it was expected and I knew my mum would appreciate me making the effort knowing how much I loathe public speaking because I get nervous and end up swallowing a lot. That speech was the hardest thing I have ever written in my life.

The diversity of people attending her funeral – Mothers Union, Inner Wheel, Parochial Church Council, friends, relatives, neighbours – meant writing something that addressed all of them in some way. In other words, it wasn’t an opportunity for me to be personal, rather a speech of support for all those in the ‘audience’ who were grieving her loss. That’s not an easy task.

And then there’s the wake. Me opening up mum’s house to everyone, providing them tea/coffee and trying to speak to everyone individually before they all left, which wasn’t a problem after her funeral as they seemed to hang around for ages when all I wanted was for them to bugger off so I could fetch my daughter (who was 10 at the time and didn’t want to attend her Granny’s funeral, understandably) from a friends as I so desperately needed a daughter hug.

Why am I mentioning all this? I watched a programme today on TV about the soaring cost of funerals in the UK, how some people had been quoted £7500!! I’ve no idea  how much mum’s cost, it was an expense that came out of her estate but I’m sure it was less though by how much I don’t know.

All this experience and particularly after my father died, reinforced by mum’s funeral, has made me determined to by pass the whole sad event. Why would I want to put my daughter through that? It is an emotional ringer. It’s bad enough losing someone you love without adding a funeral to the grief.

So, I decided a long while ago that there would be no funeral for me; I’m going direct to the crematorium in a cardboard coffin, no wooden box for me, where I can be burnt unceremoniously. My ONLY wish beyond that is that my daughter plant a beech tree in my name and bury my ashes under it. Then she can have a get together however she chooses, IF she chooses or do something to remember me by that’s right for her. I don’t want a bunch of people standing around in the crematorium, all wearing black, crying, watching a casket disappear through the curtain. It is harrowing and not the lasting memory you want of a loved one.

Watching the TV programme has made me realise that I perhaps ought to put this down in writing somewhere officially, just so that it is known as and when the time comes. In fact, it is something that ALL of us ought to do but most of us don’t think about death, we naturally don’t want to contemplate our own demise. I get that, really I do.

But, it is my experience, both first hand and second hand, that the death of a parent, especially the last parent, can bring out the worst in siblings and other relatives. As responsible adults we should think ahead, organise not only our funeral so there can be no question as to how you want it to happen, but be organised about your belongings by having a detailed Will written that is indesputable.

If we all talked about dying, death and funerals more openly, rather than in hushed tones in quiet corners where we hope we aren’t tempting fate, then we would have the funeral we want, if we wanted one at all, there would be the finances already set aside so families weren’t suddenly left with a huge expense at short notice and those left behind would not have to cope with arranging a funeral in a time of grief.

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