Of course being me we weren’t going to have a formulaic funeral at the local crematorium when my mother in law passed away. What we were faced with however was her death one week before Christmas in the same year that we lost one of our kids. It was going to be a tough Christmas anyway so the thought of Nana being left in the fridge throughout the Christmas and New year break meant that we had to pull out the stops and get things moving. This we achieved in four days.
My first call was to Al the manager at the South Downs Natural Burial Site. Although he was fully booked that week he knew that we would be pretty self sufficient so I managed to get a time in the morning when we would not clash with another family. We already have burial plots there so this saved us a trip to the site, to pick a spot and complete ‘right of burial ‘ paper work. Al got his grave diggers to work and everything was set – or so we thought.
I had had the ‘F’ conversation’ with Dorothy a few years before, so thankfully we knew what she wanted, or more importantly didn’t want. So my next call was to purchase a coffin.
Now, Nana had a thing about orange. Her clothes, jewellery and even shoes were most likely orange at any given time. So an orange coffin was the obvious choice. The lovely Steve at Sunset coffins delivered this personally and the evening before the funeral we snuck it into the front room in order for my 7 and 8 year olds to set to work painting it with yellow sunflowers and a painted garland of forget-me-nots around the lid. We finished it off with multi coloured hand prints on the top, one from each of the grandchildren and us big kids too. These were each accompanied by a little written message from each of us. Mine thanked her for raising the best husband.
How we were nearly de-railed.
Nana had been very poorly for a long time, she was in hospital when she died.
We were starting to get a bit twitchy after two days of pursuing the doctor’s certificate and being told that they were busy or it has to be a doctor who knew her. I can’t go into too much detail as it horrifically transpires that there is to be an inquest. Lets just say the hospital itself has queried some treatment/care she received under its own roof! What we thought would be a straight forward certification and trip to the registry office had now turned into a coroners case and delays that would mean cancelling the funeral.
We were so upset. I think I used the word incandescent at the time. However I managed to get the coroner’s office on side, not only pleading for a limited post mortem, which they agreed to, but rushing the paperwork through, meaning that is was released the evening before the funeral! So it was all back on! This was a bit awkward with some of the relatives, on again, off again, etc etc
The next morning I drove to the hospital mortuary, as arranged. The most lovely young woman helped me to dress Dorothy – orange socks, skirt, blouse and beautiful tailored orange wool jacket. Finished off with orange lippy and a shell necklace. We lined the coffin with one of her own soft, whitney blankets – orange of course – and wrapped this over her once I had placed a feather pillow and a few little gifts from the children in with her. There were three mortuary staff, all female, so helpful and supportive.
My 16 year old son had, understandably, not wanted to come in but waited with the estate car and helped load the coffin. Off we drove, Nana’s final trip in the winter sunshine.
We had not really had time to think about engaging a celebrant. Instead we simply placed Nana in the middle of the gathering room at the burial site and sat round her in a circle. My husband thanked everyone for coming and followed a few notes he had made which gave the ceremony some structure. He invited those present to say some words and we played some of her favourite dance music by Frank Sinatra. It worked really well, it was respectful, intimate, personal, at times amusing and above all memorable. Somehow an hour had rushed by and we trundled off, down through the woods wheeling Nana on the replica Edwardian hand bier.
Her spot was stunning, just clipping the edge of a yew canopy. Tucked away in a little fold of the hill. Perfect. After a few more words, myself and the boys lowered her into the grave. We sprinkled some soil and posies of rosemary that her youngest grand-daughter had tied with a ribbon the evening before.
Walking back from the woods I happened to be adjacent to some old friends of the family, who I had not met before. Conventional in appearance I was worried that what we had arranged would be seen as too alternative or strange. I tentatively enquired whether this was the most unconventional funeral they had ever attended. One of them turned to me and simply said “the best”.