Many of you will have seen Virginia and her family both on the One Show and on Channel Four news. When featured by them she was preparing for her Mother’s death and doing all the necessary research. As you will read below her Mother died in July and Virginia has kindly shared her experience and detailed how they got on.
As I have said many times, in my 17 years of guiding families through the ins and outs of funerals I have never had a family get back to me regretting their decision to do fully or partially DIY, Direct It Yourself funeral.
Virginia has been so inspired and empowered by her experience that she is wanting to help other families in the Ipswich area. This desire for a supportive, home funeral movement does seem to be gaining ground and if anyone would like to get in touch with Virginia please contact us at the NDC.
Thank you Rosie of the Natural Death Centre and Tracy O’Leary of Woodland Wishes. You gave me the help and confidence to carry out my plan. Thank you also to David and Rachel Owen, the Pastor and his wife of Capel Community Church who helped with and accommodated, at very short notice, our somewhat alternative funeral arrangements.
On the 7th July 2016 at 1am in the morning, the long expected phone call came. Mum was failing and we needed to go immediately to the care home if we were to be with her when she died. She was 96 and had been ill for quite some time.
For many years I have been interested in alternative ways of saying the final goodbye to someone I love. It does not fit well with me to hand over to others, the care of a person who I have known intimately all my life. Illness and death are hard enough to cope with, in so many ways, but to have little control over the practical details of caring when someone close dies does not make sense to me. Why would I want to hand over my final opportunity to provide loving care and let strangers who did not know my mum, take over at the end of her life? To arrange mum’s funeral myself was the obvious choice for me.
So, after some research into the subject of self-directed funerals I devised a plan and I am pleased to tell you that with the support of my family we were able to care for my mother almost from the moment she died until we buried her in our local church grounds. Before the event I experienced a fair amount of opposition to my desire to handle the funeral arrangements myself, mostly from people in authority, but with encouragement and accurate information from a few enlightened people, (see dedication above) we were able to carry out our plan simply and perfectly. It was not a complicated process and nothing was beyond our capabilities, despite the warnings some had previously given.
Although we arrived at the care home 20 minutes too late to be with her when she died, my daughter, Danielle, and I said our goodbyes to my mother, (Lady Barbara, her nickname), by caring for her body. We were helped by Nicky the care home owner, who had known my mother for several years and loved her too. We washed mum with perfumed water, lavender and geranium oils added, dressed her and then brought her back to our home in Capel St Mary. Here we kept her body enshrouded and cool with special ice packs, until five days later it was time to take her on her last journey to her ‘Leaving Party’, and then to her grave. Through doing all these things we were able to grieve together as a family and put our efforts into making her funeral an intimate and very special occasion. It brought us all closer together.
We had had time prior to her death to choose, buy and decorate her cardboard coffin, with pictures of flowers cut from her numerous garden magazines; gardening was her last and most favourite hobby. We wrote words of love and Scripture around it and painted her name in Chinese writing (another of her hobbies was painting Chinese characters and scenes). The children were involved in cutting and sticking on pictures and even Rhodie our 2 year old great granddaughter was able to join in.
We shared our tears together and laughed too as we recalled special and funny times. My mother loved parties, dancing and family gatherings. She was very artistic and was always exploring new crafts. We attempted to incorporate these aspects of her personality in the way we organised her ‘Leaving Party’. She was quite a character and once spent a month on the island of Maui about twenty years ago, mostly lazing on the beach and sleeping in a car, accompanied by our teenage son and his mates. She was in her seventies at the time!
It was my mother’s wish that we did not spend lots of money on her funeral and she only wanted family present, (a few special people who also loved her were invited too). She told me she wanted us to have a party.
So that is exactly what we did. We had the party in our lovely church with drinks to start, sitting at tables, decorated with garden flowers and baskets of craft materials.
She was in our midst, as far as she could be, in her beautifully, decorated coffin! We sang a song of love and shared a few of our personal memories of her, before inviting everyone to make their own tribute, if they wished, from craft pieces and labels in the baskets. We suggested they might like to attach their messages to a flower and these could be taken down to the grave. Spontaneously people placed their tributes on her coffin whilst still in the church and their tributes were carried with her to her grave.
We played a song called the Wedding Waltz, which describes dancing in Heaven with Jesus and then as Christians we celebrated Communion. Finally we ended our party by dancing to an old war time favourite, Vera Lynn singing ‘We’ll meet again’ as mum was carried out of the church by our four children, our son-in-law and our grandson.
Her funeral was such a blessing to us all and quite an achievement, bearing in mind that for practical reasons we arranged it within five days of her death, in order to avoid the need to use mortuary facilities. We did not want her body to be out of our protection. Apart from a small scare when we were told that the coroner had to be involved regarding a technical issue, and therefore I could not register the death as planned, everything went well. Registering the death had to be done on the day of the funeral which felt a bit tight for timing but otherwise everything went smoothly. Mum was a great knitter and I had the inspiration to knit a rainbow for her the night before the funeral, only just finished it in time!
I learned so much from the experience and really enjoyed mum’s funeral. Now I want to encourage anyone with similar thoughts; arranging a funeral yourself, really can be done. It is not complicated, especially if one has a clear plan in advance. It is so much more personal to carry out your own arrangements and for us all it was really therapeutic and healing.
There were no strangers present, just family and friends. It was quietly joyful and even our sadness was mingled with very happy memories.
Now, just about a month later, I am reminiscing and have real contentment that my mum had the best sendoff we could possibly give her and no amount of extra money would have improved her ‘Leaving Party’. I am sure she is looking down on us now and saying ‘Well done all of you, you did me proud!’
How pleased I am to have followed my instincts and not settled for the compromises offered. I am sure my feelings could have been so different if I had given way to the accepted norm and employed undertakers to do everything. I would have been a lot poorer too! Goodbye mum and God bless.
Barbara Kendall 24.06.1920 – 07.07.2016