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Sorting our endings ...

This article was written by me for local press and explores some of the dilemmas people face when their worlds are suddenly turned upside down by the death of a relative and explores some alternative ways of dealing with the difficulties of saying goodbye to a loved one.

Sorting our endings, to get on with living ...

Not so long ago, life swept us all along with everyday chores,

but there was time to blacken the front step, or sit smoking on

the back step. Then, Sundays were a true day of rest, albeit

sometimes spent in church, or at the anti-macassered home of

Granny! When Granny died, she was someone we felt was

half there already, wherever ‘there’ was! The slow pace of a

horse-drawn hearse and being carefully lowered into the

ground suited her and gave time for those left behind to

become accustomed to her death.

Now, not many people either have the ‘time’, or are aware there is actually ‘time’ there, waiting for them to step into. Now, from the moment the alarm awakes, most days are filled with forward propulsion: commute, work, school run, shop, catch up on work, gym, cook, sleep and repeat. Unless, of course, we are the lucky ones who are taken aback in our rush by the beauty of the Tanat Valley, which gifts us with those moments of calm, reminding us of greater meaning than not forgetting the fish fingers, or to send that email.

So, it is no wonder when one of our loved ones dies that it is rarely in our schedule and even if it was, we are sideswiped - how do we ‘file’ and ‘deal’ with such an event? In our panicked grief, it is very easy to surrender to a trusted process of first stop: contact the funeral director and ‘set it all in motion’. For many, this is a huge relief but, for some the ‘rush’ of deciding ceremony content, printing an Order of Service, contacting family and friends etc. all to squeeze into a rare and possibly restrictive time slot for a cremation, or burial, culminates in a send-off that passes in a blur. Some regret their decisions afterwards and this ‘if only’ may hinder the grieving process.

I have witnessed and enacted plenty of ‘life ends’ to form the opinion that it is the feelings of those who are left which are uppermost and need time to settle. The dead don’t care and, if they are looking down from wherever, they’d want the best for us all.

There is another way which many people are opting for now. The foresighted

amongst us are already planning and often paying for their final act and opting

for a direct cremation. Confession, I have a file marked: ‘My End’, with whimsy

thoughts but still haven’t sorted the practical - I promise I will. My family do

know I definitely don’t want a funeral, though. So, when I do die, I will be

circumventing the need for that mad dash by my relatives to dig out an

appropriate, or not, outfit and a photo of me - possibly with chins, which I’d have

definitely banned. Instead, I wish to be quietly dispatched kindly by the

professionals, with nobody in attendance or maybe closest relatives, either by

burial, fire or the newly possible and more eco-friendly water cremation. Then,

my nearest and dearest can have that precious commodity of ‘time’ to gather

their thoughts and emotions. I won’t be there.

I have had a ‘chequered’ career; I initially trained as a general and then a psychiatric nurse. I found I couldn’t cope with the responsibility of people’s lives in my hands. Strangely enough, when I began my training as an actor, to fund my drama school fees, I joined an agency who supplied Marie Curie nurses to people dying in their own homes. This shift from trying to save lives, to accompanying people on their journey towards death, profoundly affected how I view our unique and unknown timelines. To me, the moment that matters most is now, and those moments from now on, all fuelled by the wisdom of our dearest’s yesterdays and a sprinkling of our own experience. Fast forward to now, I am a playwright, soon-to-be published new author and a celebrant who doesn’t like funerals!

Recently, I have been very privileged to write and lead memorials for people whose family had opted to share their memories curated and delivered at a more leisurely pace. They were still on their, to use a well-worn phrase, ‘journey with grief’. However, they had used the longer interim between the death and celebration of their loved ones’ life to sit quietly with their grief. And to collate the substance of that life: to dig out those celebratory newspaper clippings, trophies won, letters exchanged and photos of precious moments. These memorials were held some months after their loved ones’ death, and most were in the home surrounded by all their pictures and memorabilia and loved pets. I found these were particularly personal and supportive; there was no respectful hush of mourners but wall to wall laughter (and tears of course) - in fact, everything flowed, including the wine, without constraint of time or supposed etiquette. 

I have personally witnessed fellow celebrants conducting the most beautiful funeral ceremonies within the allotted time framework and would wholeheartedly recommend Sian Allen, a local celebrant. Please remember, I am here if a memorial is more your thing. New Years’ resolution: I’m off to sort my Legal Power of Attorney and complete my end-of-life plan followed by a glass of wine, maybe/certainly!

Meanwhile, wishing you all moments of joy in every day.

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