Tag: funeral

Let’s talk about death

Let's talk about death - close up of typewriter with word death typed on white paper

Death. It’s not a topic most of us enjoy thinking about, let alone talking about. But talk about it we should. It is, after all, an inevitability for all of us. (Unless anyone reading this has discovered the secret of immortality and is keeping it to themselves?)

My first memorable experience of death was when my Great Nan on my Mom’s side died when I was 7. My Dad’s Dad died when I was 8. My Mom’s Mom when I was 13 and my Mom’s Dad when I was 18. Each of these experiences affected me, all in different ways and with different depths of emotions due to my age and understanding. I cried and I wished they could come back and I grieved and there was a difference in my life afterwards. But ultimately I guess my life pretty much went back to normal.

The ongoing impact

It wasn’t until my Dad died 3 years ago that I really understood the ongoing impact of death. The combination of experiencing loss for the first time as a proper adult, and also losing a parent made me truly look at my own mortality. My Dad’s death also taught me a lot about the way I think, feel and approach the subject; especially because he wasn’t an old man (he was only 59).

I’ve developed a real dislike of the softly softly language used around it. I’ve posted before about really disliking the term “lost the battle” when it relates to cancer or other illnesses. “Gone to a better place” grinds my gears, because there’s no better place than being alive and with your family.

I recently read an article, inspired by a Twitter post, which looked at other people’s thoughts, and that in turn partially inspired this blog post.

Have a read: Whatever you do, don’t say ‘dead’

Why do many people struggle to say the word dead? Why do we try to dress it up into something else? The end result is still the same. The person is gone. How you refer to it isn’t going to make any difference.

My Dad is dead

Personally, for me, I sometimes say “my Dad id dead” for the shock value…as much to shock myself as anyone else. I need that reality behind the situation. I can’t dress it up into something less harsh. He died. He’s dead. He didn’t “pass away” (there was nothing gentle about his final day), he isn’t “with the angels” (we’re not religious, and neither was he).

None of this makes it any easier to deal with, of course. There’s a hole that will never be filled. But using different terminology doesn’t change the situation.

I think the article makes a very valid point that language is subjective, and what works for one person wouldn’t work for another. Some people need to soften the blow, especially where children are concerned. There have been times when I’ve said “my Dad is dead” and my Mom has said “oh don’t say it like that.” What works for one person doesn’t work for another. But not talking about death isn’t good for us either.

A Natural Undertaking

A while ago I came across a funeral company local to me called A Natural Undertaking. I’ve been following them on Facebook for a while now, which probably sounds quite morbid, but their approach to, and way of talking about, funerals is very refreshing. For a start, their strapline is “funerals celebrating life.” Run by two women who want individuals and families to be aware of the different options around funerals, they offer anything from traditional through to unique ceremonies. They also encourage people to speak more openly about death, to help remove the stigma and also ensure that people who are dying have the kind of send off they want.

They even have an all electric hearse, for those who are thinking about the environment even when they’re not part of it anymore, or a VW Campervan for those making the journey to the great campsite in the sky (how’s that for not referring to death by it’s actual term?)

Let's Talk about Death - white electric hearse at a Natural Undertaking
Let's Talk about Death - silver VW hearse at a Natural Undertaking

They also promote and participate in Death Cafes. They sound horribly morbid, but are actually just a place for people to come together, drink tea, eat cake and talk about death.

Afraid of death

You might think from all this straight talk that I’m not afraid of death. You’d be wrong. I’m petrified of it. Mainly from a missing out point of view, because there is so much in life to be lived and loved. So much to experience, places to see, cuddles to be had, laughs, finding out whether Brexit will ever actually happen! The process of dying scares me; the idea of suffering, of being in pain, of people I care about seeing me deteriorate. But talking about it in hushed tones or euphemisms doesn’t change the inevitability of it.

I’ve seen death. I saw my Dad in his coffin the day before his funeral. For some people this would be troubling, but for me it helped my grieving process. My Dad was most definitely not alive anymore! That sounds obvious (and very reassuring, bearing in mind he was to be cremated the following day) but what I mean was, I saw first hand that a body is just a vessel. Without a smile, a frown, a hand gesture, warmth, a body is just a body.

I talk about death quite a lot. Not seriously. Mainly with a dark sense of humour. I talk about who we’ll leave our house to when we die, and what I would do if the husband died before me. It’s all fairly light hearted. I think, for me, it’s because my life has been irrevocably changed by the death of my Dad, so death is a very real concept to me. It makes me want to do more, see more and experience more, because life is finite, whether we talk about it or not.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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Signs from…somewhere?

It’s been a month today since my Dad died. Those words…they hurt. Some days I can say them quite matter of factly. Others, not so much.

On the day he died I couldn’t see as far as the end of the week, let alone further forward. A month seemed a lifetime away. But here we are. We’re surviving. Adapting. Doing him proud.

I wanted to share with you a whole host of things that have happened in the wake of Dad’s passing. Weird things. Stuff that, on it’s own, might seem just a coincidence. But, together, it seems much more. I’m not at all religious, I don’t believe in heaven (it would, after all, be so over populated by now!) and I’ve never truly believed that anything really happens after death, although I do struggle with the idea that someone can live a life full of laughter, memories and experiences and then it just ends and becomes nothing. Maybe that’s because I don’t want my own life’s work just to be snuffed out when the time comes, and I don’t want to think that my Dad’s character and zest for life just completely disappeared as he took his last breath.

I wouldn’t say that the things I’m going to tell you about have changed my views. But they’ve certainly made me think slightly differently.

signs-from-somewhere

As you know if you’ve read this blog for a while, my Dad had cancer, diagnosed in May 2014. It was already inoperable by the time it was detected and we’d been told the end was not far away back in August this year. He was starting to deteriorate quite rapidly and was due to go into a Macmillan hospice on the day he died. Early that morning he had a massive stroke and was rushed to hospital. I received a call telling me I needed to get there urgently.

Dad struggled on during that day, much longer than we all expected, right into the night time, sleeping or dosed up on morphine. All the family were there, in a private room with a big window. During the afternoon we heard a dull thud at the window and saw a tiny pretty bird bounce off the glass and land on the flat roof below. Rather than fly away he just sat there, looking at the window. He was like nothing we’d ever seen, certainly not a common bird, with red and orange markings on his head. He sat there for quite a while, before flying at the window again. The next day my Dad’s sister sent us a message saying she’d identified the bird – it was a zebra finch, known as the bird that sings while it sleeps. Weirdly, my Dad’s wife realised she had them as pets when she was a little girl.

When my Nan received a call to get to the hospital, that same morning, she noticed a white feather on the wedding photo she has of my Dad and his wife. When she got in the car to drive over, there was a white feather on the windscreen of the car. The morning after my Dad died, when someone came to visit, we found a white feather on the floor in the lounge. Most of the family have had feathers just appear to them, including three that fell in the garden and caught Dad’s wife’s eye while she was in the lounge with Dad’s Mom and his sister (one feather each), and one that was perfectly placed in her bed when she pulled back the covers one night. Even my Mom, who divorced my Dad many years ago but spent time with him a few weeks before he died, had a white feather appear on her lounge floor when she got back from holiday.

After Dad died, when we left him at the hospital, we went back to his house in the early hours of the morning. His wife originally said she wasn’t going to let anyone know immediately, then changed her mind and sent some texts to friends. A guy my Dad worked with about 20 years ago, who is now a hospital porter, text back immediately to say that he’d been called to take my Dad from the ward to the mortuary, and that he’d looked after him professionally and personally. Of all the people and wards in the hospital, the chances of that are pretty slim. It was a great comfort to us.

On the day we went to register Dad’s death, the registrar turned out to be a lady that Dad’s wife used to work with, who she hadn’t seen in years and didn’t know her whereabouts. The first thing she said was “I remember you, you married (my Dad). Who’s death are you registering?” Her face fell when we told her.

As Dad got more and more poorly, he asked me if I would like one his watches to keep. I kept putting it off, not wanting to face the inevitable, thinking there was plenty of time to have it. A few days before he died he told me to fetch the watch and insisted I have it there and then, which I did. I wore it on the day he died, and for the next few days after that, before noticing it had stopped, at some point, at 10.55. Dad died at 10.40. Maybe just a coincidence, albeit a close one. Then we realised that on my Dad’s wife’s watch it was 10.55 when he died. She’d noticed earlier in the day that her watch was fast, and not altered it.

(to add more significance to the watch story, my Dad had his own Dad’s watch in a draw for many years after he – my Grandad – died, and decided to wear it on his wedding day. It hadn’t been looked at or touched for years, so he took it out in advance of the wedding in order to replace the battery. The watch had stopped at the time he was due to get married, and on the same day (5th). He took that as a sign and didn’t replace the battery, wearing it as it was).

On the day of the funeral, a multitude of things happened.

I wore the watch my Dad had given me, that had stopped. I hadn’t worn it for over a week, and noticed it had crept forward a few minutes, in spite of me not replacing the battery.

Not long after we left home, I was saying hat I thought there would be a lot of donations from people at the funeral (we requested donations instead of flowers). One of the charities we chose to support is the Retiired Greyhound Trust. My Dad won a lot of money on greyhound racing over the years and owned lots of different racing dogs. As I said it, we saw a man walking a greyhound down the road. The husband had never seen a greyhound being walked as a pet before.

We went to my Mom’s house first, and I told her the strange coincidences that had already happened. I was talking about white feathers and how it seemed I was the only person in the family not to have received one. I realised I’d forgotten to put earrings in, so my Mom suggested I see if my little sister had some. As I opened the jewellery box, there was one odd earring – a dangly white feather. A coincidence, or a sign? Either way, it made me cry!

Finally, as I mentioned, my Dad was very into greyhound racing. A lot of his friends from the track were at the funeral, and at the wake in the pub afterwards. They all sat together and had the local race track streaming on their phones, betting and enjoying themselves as my Dad would have wanted (and as he’d have done if he’d been there!) Late afternoon they called me over and said there was a race coming up where they had a good tip, on a dog called “Bonny Lass”. Quite a few of them were betting it, so a few of my family got involved, as did I, betting £25. The form was that if the dog came out of the trap well, it would win. It didn’t, it came out poorly. A couple of the guys actually said “it’s got no chance”. But that dog came from behind, bearing in mind the race was about 30 seconds long, and it weaved through it’s race companions and it only bloody won! Photo finish, but it won! I won £100, the husband won £100, family members and friends won, it was amazing! Not only that, at the end of the race a beautiful full rainbow appeared over the racetrack, and also outside the pub we were in. It was like my Dad sending us all a win, and a big smile to let us know what he’d done.

Am I bonkers for thinking these things mean anything? Maybe! If they were happening to anyone else, would I think they were significant? Perhaps, perhaps not. And I don’t think any of these things mean my Dad exists in a parallel universe or is in heaven or anything like that. But it’s nice to think that somehow, some way, it’s a continuation of the energy he exuded in life letting us know that he’ll always be with us, even though he can’t be.

I miss him so much.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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