The Final Taboo – Talking About Death

Talking Death - The Final Taboo, Rocking Dog

Talking Death – The Final Taboo

It all started with a simple enough comment from Andyman who said he’d arranged his first Funeral Plan for one of his clients. An investment blokey, he deals with all sorts of products and advisory stuff (I must at this point say that there are other investment managers out there, and investments can go up as well as down)! Will writing, retirement planning, pension stuff etc.., I am certainly not here to sell his wares, I find it blooming difficult enough to sell my own stuff!

Hello…hope you’re still there….and not put off by that first paragraph. I am hopeful that at least my darling children will be in for the long haul of this blog piece…. because, actually I do think it’s important.

That Funeral Plan got me rather curiously talking about death and what a plan like this buys you. Talking simply, because a business brain I do not have, Andyman told me that they anchor the cost of cars and coffins (and other such sundries) at a today’s price for a funeral that will happen hopefully in the long and dusty future. The purchasers of such a plan have the knowledge that their next of kin will be able to use it to secure a reasonable coffin and car(s) without dipping their hand into their own pocket. Bland peace of mind for one and all!

Over a quick coffee, and before heading off into the horrible Friday night Bristol traffic, Andyman and I had a very snatched conversation about funerals and what WE wanted. We had a spontaneous brainstorm (or rather more P.C. these days, mind mapping) of what we did and did not want. With 35 years of knowing each other we quickly realised just how little we knew of each others thoughts on death and funerals. I just wonder how many of you reading this can identify with this, it’s simply a conversation for another day.

I have been to a rash of funerals in the last few years, one of the joys of getting older I suppose. It always strikes me how similar in format they generally are. Maybe their sheer genericness is because the majority of us knows not what is available. For many of us, we are bereaved with little or no warning, funeral planning is done in a stressful tearful blur. If we were buying a washing machine or a car, a mixer or a lawn mower we would research and very probably shop around. How strange it is that we settle for the most local or as recommended by Auntie Margaret undertakers. We are therefore syphoned through a process from collecting a death certificate, dealing with a hospital morgue or funeral home and onwards and downwards. We as mourners and funeral planners are not confident in thinking outside of the box (excuse the pun). That Friday night conversation had certainly got me thinking about being sympathetic to any one that turns up for my final send off.

Let’s be honest no funeral is ever particularly joyous, but there are generally ok bits, bad bits, sad bits, cheesy bits and “when’s this going to end” bits.

Regarding bad bits, for me I have a particular problem with the hearse and limo’s for the nearest and dearest. This definitely stems from my Mum’s funeral back in November 1985. At the age of 24, and fourteen weeks pregnant, it was my first ever funeral. I had absolutely no idea what went on at funerals. I had seen Winston’s (as in Churchill) on telly when I was three and a half and LOVED it! I was however under no illusion that there would be a gun carriage with Union Flag draped coffin for my lovely mum.

As a child, If a neighbour died, on the day of the funeral curtains would be respectfully closed by the villagers. Together with my siblings we found this rather morbidly baffling, and would get reprimanded if we attempted to take a curious peek. Funerals were also the domain of men, I don’t have any memories in the early days of my Mum getting ready to go to a funeral. However, I distinctly remember my Dad having a dark tweed overcoat, a sinister Homburg and a black funeral tie. All these wardrobe staples held a certain morbid mystique, and young though we were, we instinctively identified with this funeral garb! Back to the cars..I remember getting into the limo’. In front, a ridiculously shiny hearse and then I had a growing awareness of a top- hatted figure carrying a silver topped cane reverently walking in front of the cars. This was something out of a harrowing Dickensian novel and not the big shoulder padded power dressing 80’s, it was truly ghastly. A good analogy would be that of being on a rollercoaster ride which I wanted to get off ….NOW! Following the service my sister and I walked home in the November greyness. In short, a Funeral Plan just doesn’t cut the mustard, I want NO black funeral cars!

Other bad bits…the artificial flowers in our local crematorium. At the latest funeral when I half dozed off because of a rather drab eulogy, I contemplated the pedestal flowers and flowers attached to the wall on either side of THE curtains. In my head I questioned whether they would be changed to reflect the changing seasons and then concluded probably not. This was December and these were a nasty orangey brown. After coming to this conclusion, I then wondered whether dusting the flowers appeared on the cleaning rota. Finally, I further contemplated whether there was an artificial flower catalogue for crematoria. THE curtains too I contemplated, they are crowd pleasers, plain, green, sad, and unobtrusive, auspiciously indoctrinating you to think of the person boxed in veneered plywood. I would like to suggest an alternative fabric for these monster curtains.. click this link.

While we are on the subject of aesthetics I have only seen one lovely coffin, a beautiful wicker number which was truly gorgeous. I’m not a fan of the veneered wood, but with wicker and cardboard apparently being decidedly more expensive, I can see why the veneered variety are the coffin of choice.

Hymns sung, eulogy read, poor hypothermic foil blanketed funeral attender carted off in ambulance (yes I really have witnessed this), sad green indoctrinating curtains closed for the final time, it’s time for us cold mourners to depart. No flowers at the families request, but now it’s time to put in a donation for a chosen charity. This spells the time for funeral goers to embarrassedly scratch around for the odd coppers in their pocket or purse. I find it quite amusing that some are so seemingly mean. In years gone by when flowers were the norm mourners would have accepted that a floral wreath spelling “Bob”, a dubious cross or funeral spray would cost them £3O. However, to put in a meaningful donation is altogether a different matter. Somehow it is ok to spend money on flowers that will wilt, be totally unloved, except for a cursory glance outside the crematoria (and I hate this bit where you are expected to ooh and ahh at the flowers and attached syrupy cards… “RIP you have gone to a better place Bob”) etc…before the final indignity of funereal floristry being tossed onto the compost heap. And then on the other hand money given so sparingly for local hospitals, hospices, Cancer Research, Red Cross, and hedgehog charities etc.., it all feels a little mean. One day these miserly donors may require one of these services or charities ( there again, perhaps not the hedgehog charity..) Less cynically isn’t enough that someone has taken a day off work and travelled for hours on choked road-worked motorways all to see those sad green curtains pulled shut. How lovely that no one feels impelled to purchase a showy floral tribute regardless of whether they are son, mother, lover, carer, bingo buddy or the like.

The after funeral hooly is a topic all on it’s own, I can only say why oh why is it so irreverent to serve anything but triangular cut sandwiches with non-descript beige fillings? As I always say it’s a sad enough day without serving up sad food. Why would it be so wrong to have a gourmet burger van, huge knickerbocker glories, charcuterie boards, Pieminister Pies, eye poppingly beautiful cakes etc… Added into the mix some lovely bubbly, good wines and lovely non alcoholic drinks (no J20’s in sight). Milky tea, instant coffee or glass of warm wine served in a cloudy supermarket hire glass seem to be the drinks of choice to complement the cling filmed triangular sandwiches. There are exceptions, and I am not going to tar every funeral with the same brush, but they are very few and far between. How we as a family loathe the comment “lovely spread!” (it sums up beige food, mean pork pies, cling film and anaemic chicken drumsticks).

To balance the bad there have been some good bits to report on funerals i’ve attended. The hearse-less funeral where my neighbours coffin was transported in a specially adapted motorcycle side-car, good music choices (Parisian cafe music, Tom Jones, Bruce Springsteen spring to mind), a model of Concorde on a coffin in place of flowers, and garden flowers thoughtfully picked by my sister for our lovely Dad’s funeral. I love the stories of the ashes of friends relatives being blasted up into space by fireworks, and of ashes taken out to sea in a handmade sea-faring craft (made by the ashes before he was ashes).

Regrets I have about my parents funerals include not feeling able to wax lyrical about them at their funerals. More guiltily I didn’t feel able to deal with their ashes. The vicar gladly sprinkled them in the church yard of our home village. Andyman has taught me a lot. He flew with his Dad’s canister of ashes (he had to have special clearance from Easy Jet to ensure this wasn’t a wily way of drug smuggling) to Scotland. He then took a trip up the Cairngorms where his Dad used to walk, and together with his Mum and brother sprinkled and bagpiped his dad into the snowy mountain air.

I was able to write poems for my father in law and my step mum which I read out, and again I feel guilty that I didn’t do this for my own parents. In all probability it was because I was rather caught up in the syphoning process of choosing hymns, orders of service, baking etc… I’m sure they would forgive me for not creating a Shakespeare style sonnet for them. In fact my dad knowing of my fear of THE black cars said “Pet, just bundle me into the back of an estate car, I couldn’t care less”. In fact we did have THE black cars when he died, because of course he had a funeral plan! He always harboured a desire for his body to go to medical science, however with a step mum on the scene we had to diplomatically steer our way through the process unfortunately much more conventionally. The medical students in any case would have said “drank too much, smoked too much and bloody hell have you ever seen such big hands- they’re like spades!”

My Dad,. Doug, Rocking Dog

My Dad,. Doug

So kiddies, yes you Sorrel, Alex, Livi and plus ones, all of whom we hope will go on living well after our demise, Dad and I are talking about the Final Taboo. You’ll be in no doubt as to what we want and we will try and make it a good send off for all those who choose to attend. I with absolutely conviction would like anything that can be harvested for organ donation to be given willingly (unfortunately even now I don’t think my kidneys are much good, sorry). If it’s true that David Bowie has just quietly gone Ashes to Ashes without anyone in attendance he’s pinched my idea! A blooming good restaurant with gorgeous food and drink, perhaps a few words from someone would be nice, and some good music (remember i’d like a Christmas carol in amongst some upbeat stuff). As there’s not going to be a tombstone perhaps an epitaph can appear on a scrummy calorific cake “She liked nothing in straight lines” is a long standing phrase of which I am particularly fond. I personally have no real preference where I get scattered, buried, or pelleted (perhaps we’ll be sending burial pellets into space by the time I slip off this mortal coil), do something you are happy with and a meaningful place for you all. Donations to a good
cause, again i’ll leave this to you all.

Back to the Funeral Plan I wonder if I can start a new type of plan. The Pig Funeral Plan or
a Souk-Kitchen Funeral Plan perhaps? No Limo’s, hearses, top hats or plywood coffins but great food at a fixed price for a distant celebratory alternative funeral.

I am so sorry if I have made anyone feel uncomfortable or indeed offended. Isn’t it funny how it feels so irreverent to say “you look nice” to someone attending a funeral or to say to a family “that was a good funeral”. I think there needs to be a massive sea change to get away from the no crust triangular sandwich, dried flowers, hearse and syphoned way of doing things. Am I really the only one that wants to “go off piste”?

Well done for staying the course of this blog, I promise you some frivolous topics in the days to follow. At 4am on Sunday morning I just thought “put what you’re thinking out there”. So out in that mysterious place called cyberspace those kiddies can hopefully retrieve their batty old mothers wishes when the time inevitably comes!

Have a great start to the week ahead. Love Rocking Dog x

PS Bob is purely fictional and is used for illustrative purposes only.

Ian’s Cairngorm copy

Village Churchyard, Rocking Dog

Village Churchyard

The Pig Funeral Plan?, Rocking Dog

The Pig Funeral Plan?

Sprinkle Us Somewhere Meaningful, Rocking Dog

Sprinkle Us Somewhere Meaningful

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