Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Lot to think about....

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.

1 comment:

Charles Cowling said...

Yes, you're absolutely right. You can find out all about embalming on the internet and recoil in horror and conclude that it is a grossly invasive procedure, a violation of the dead. I used to feel like this. The only way to arrive at an informed viewpoint is to talk to a really good embalmer, feel their passion and learn about what a difference it can make. If that doesn't make you into a believer, it will certainly make you ambivalent.

You were able to perform for your aunt a final act of love. That certainly beats the almost universal practice of handing over the body of loved one to the men in suits with no idea where they are going to go or what is going to happen to them.

Happy fiftieth, whenever that is! Here's to the next fifty! Ain't gonna be nobody juicing you any time soon!!