Warning: If you want to avoid the topic of death and dark humour read no further.
Covid has completely changed the way we do funerals; whatever your faith or traditions most funerals involved an open invitation to attend, with numbers kept manageable merely by the short notice, travel involved or the health of elderly relatives. Equally important were the refreshments afterwards, whether a cup of tea back at the house or a big booze up at the deceased’s local, it was a chance to catch up with long lost relatives and reminisce about the dearly departed. At present, funerals seem very bleak.
In between the death of my mother and husband I heard of the sudden death of a friend I hadn’t seen for ages; the game of death was being played out at speed. I was sent a link for the funeral at the crematorium and logged in successfully on time. I thought I had missed it as I saw the coffin disappear through the curtains and cleaners appear to dust and spray. Crematoriums work on a strict half hourly in and out schedule; the notes with the link warned with words to the effect that if you accidentally zoomed in on the wrong funeral you must close your eyes. The one camera revealed only the backs of my friend’s mourners as they entered to Elvis Presley singing ‘Love Me Tender’. It was hard to work out who the tiny group of mourners might be until the immediate family sat down at the front; it did feel bleak. A woman introduced herself as someone official and spoke on behalf of the family, but when my friend’s son got up and spoke very amusingly and movingly the bleakness was gone. The memories came back and the official lady rounded everything up with dignified words and The Lord’s Prayer – ‘proper version’ from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Everyone filed out to more Elvis.
Cyberspouse had always been adamant he did not want a funeral. His one wish, decided years ago, was to bequeath his body to science and he had filled in all the forms. Our part was to call the hot line to Southampton University Centre for Learning Anatomical Sciences as soon as possible. Once a year they have a service for families of donors so we would be doing something. Cyberspouse knew there was no guarantee of acceptance, in normal times they might have enough bodies. Plan B was cremation and we could do what we liked with his ashes! Sadly we were not surprised when it turned out Covid had wrecked Plan A; they weren’t accepting any bodies.
Two days after Cyberspouse’s death my daughter and I were at our local Co Op funeral parlour chatting to a very nice lady who was totally unfazed by our instructions for no funeral; we would have a ‘direct cremation’ with a courier delivering the ashes. A pleasant surprise was that she was composing a mini biography, tapping away at the computer as we offered snippets, so that the staff ‘caring’ for him would see a real person who had had a life. The few times I have been involved in organising funerals there always seem to be amusing moments. She said he would be dressed in a white robe; daughter and I looked at each other ‘No way!’ As he liked casual wear we agreed he should be left in the shorts and T shirt he had worn most of the hot summer.
A few weeks later I was told when the ashes would be delivered. A man in black stood on the doorstep and I could not see how he had arrived. I peeped out the window after he left and saw him open the boot of an ordinary car; the boot was full of smart grey paper carriers with large grey tubs, identical to what he had just given me – at least he wasn’t in a white van doubling up with Amazon deliveries. What will we do with the ashes? I have some ideas, but getting family together or traveling to places all seems so difficult with Covid and we have all heard stories of ashes kept on the mantlepiece…
Does it matter if you don’t have a funeral? At a funeral you can write something and read it out and you probably have flowers. I will be writing more blogs, I wrote a piece for our camera club, of which Cyberspouse had been chairman a few years ago and the house was full of flowers, more appreciated than their short life at a funeral. I have kept the flowers topped up – easier than visiting the cemetery. We had to explain to everyone there would be no funeral, but how many would have been allowed to come with the Covid situation? We carried out his wishes. Unless you own an ancestral estate you do have to get official involvement in taking care of the body of your loved one, but it seems you don’t have to have a funeral.
My mother told me that though her father died suddenly, too young, they still found themselves bursting into laughter when the funeral director left their home; he had been so ridiculously sombre and Dickensian.
When we took my uncle to arrange my aunt’s funeral the chap who showed us in was straight out of a Dickens novel, gaunt and dressed in black. But he showed us into an office to talk to an ordinary bloke who went through the plans then finished up with a flourish ‘… and this coffin comes with a special offer this week, a free shroud.’
When I got a letter back from the Co Op a few days after our visit, it came with a free book mark impregnated with flower seeds! Rather amusing considering what even this most basic of their services had cost!