I am steaming uphill towards my 50th birthday.
I see it as either a half-way stage, considering my grandmother's 104 years and my great aunt's 97 - or near my ending, if looked at through the glass half empty eyes of someone who has lost 3 close relations all aged 58.
Those three early demised, all went to the great 'beyond' - that is the suprise behind the door of death - over a relatively short period of time. The race for the finish line in each case was attended by various illness which, I suppose helped to provide some reason for it all. Naturally though, it got me thinking - pondering and reflecting.
I was 32 when the first one went...and that's when I unwittingly fell into the funeral business. I think a Coroners case with 2 inquests and a 28 day wait for release of one's mother is a very sobering entrance into a profession...I French Polished her coffin - and that was it. I like to think that she would be secretly proud to have started the ball rolling!
When the very last of my relatives died - this time in her 80s, I had thought and pondered enough to do 99% of her funeral myself. The 1% was only a quirk of geography. I lived miles away from her nursing home, so when she died, I asked the nearest 'man in a suit' to collect her and see to the Dr's paperwork. I told him that the coffin would arrive the next day, that I wanted to hire a hearse & bearers and that I was going to conduct the funeral.
My partner's mother had just arrived from the Antipodes for a holiday so we decided to hold the funeral after she left - so that we could concentrate on both significant incidents to the full and it also gave me a few days to chat to folk and write the service.
So, when the Dr's papers had been done and the death registered by a friend who was there at the time of death, I got the 'call' and set out in my little van - up the motorway.....
It broke down, just outside Bristol . I think the RAC switchboard lady was a little taken aback when I calmly said I was going further north "...to embalm my 'auntie'!"
So - if you are a critic of embalming, I put my hand up to say that I have embalmed 3 members of my close family, quite a number of people I counted as good friends and even more folk who I recognised as aquaintances. What's more, in many cases, I know that my work made a difference - because unlike some other embalmers who are closited in the mortuary, I met many of the people who were left behind.
I am very passionate about my work - those who know me, know that I can be ferocious if I feel that corners are being cut or people aren't being treated correctly. I care because I recognise that what we are able to do as embalmers, is 'beyond' the remit of everyday life. Anyone can look on the internet and find things out about embalming - even see film clips, but nothing can really describe what it is like to stand there and make the first incision.
So, to those funeral directors who are 'fridge-magnates', who declare that there is more skill in keeping a body in cold storage to embalming, I say that in my experience and humble opinion - I beg to differ.
Moreover, when I do get to go through the doors of death myself, I want to spend as little time behind the door of a fridge as possible. Get me embalmed (I can tell you who I want to do it...) and put me at home in my living room - in the warm for at least a week!
I recognise skill...and when the time comes - will be happy to pay my last tribute to it.