The Practicalities and Fragilities of Death…

Death is a strange thing and people react to it in many different ways.
This post isn’t about grief it’s about the more practical aspects of death.

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My mother passed away three days before Christmas and though I’ve dealt with bereavement before, I’ve never had to deal with it in such a hands-on way.

I knew my mother was dying – it was expected, yet unexpected. There had been no time frame. She’d survived breast and secondary breast cancer for over twelve years, until pneumonia and Alzheimer’s took her. My father’s devastation was hard to bear, and when it came to dealing with death – he couldn’t.

We were there during those bitter-sweet moments that she took her last breaths, and as I hugged Dad I knew I’d be dealing with the arrangements. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy to, I would have done anything to make this loss easier for my father, but making arrangements for the death of a loved one is tough.

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© Lisa Shambrook

I didn’t know where to start. Who does? Life is about living, not dying, and death – and what comes with it – is very much avoided in general day-to-day life.

The practicalities put you into an auto-pilot mode, and can sometimes dilute your grief. There are things that have to be done and I was very grateful for the sensitive help and administration from my local hospital. The ambulance crew, nurses and doctors were considerate and caring and kept us informed and looked after. We knew this was a one-way trip, and my father would be leaving without his beloved wife.

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© Lisa Shambrook

Our local Health Authority produced a booklet Bereavement Information for Relatives and Friends (The government have a What To Do After Someone Dies site) and it helped us make sense of what was to come. The following day we contacted the hospital’s Bereavement Officer, no, I didn’t know that was a job, but I am very glad it is. He was wonderful, making sure we knew exactly what needed to be done. It was Christmas, and the holiday season was about to start the next day, but he made sure the medical certificate and coroner’s report were hurried through and he made us an appointment to register her death and get her death certificate before each of the offices closed for Christmas. It was good for us to have these technicalities out of the way so early.

The Registrar was lovely, making sure we were comfortable and informed, and he was gentle and calm despite the raging torrential rain storm outside rattling the windows. Carmarthen also had access to the valuable Tell Us Once service, which informs all the government agencies of the death at once, so you have less people to inform.

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© Lisa Shambrook

We had also called a trusted local Funeral Director and met him that afternoon. So many commercials on television claim you need to spend a small fortune on a funeral, upwards of £7k, but that’s not necessarily true. You can arrange a service to fit your needs and budget, though I won’t lie, it’s still an expense most us will agree is very costly. Council fees for a burial plot are about £1,000, but you can arrange the rest of the funeral to your budget.

You can have a direct burial or cremation without a service for about £1,000 – £1,500 and you can add to that any extra you wish.  There are several sites that can give you advice which you can find with this article from ITV’s Tonight Funerals: A Costly Undertaking?

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© Lisa Shambrook

I, and two lovely friends from church, dressed my mother’s body before my father offered his last respects, and it was a privilege to do so. It’s difficult to see your parent’s empty body, and not everybody will have the chance or choice to do this – we did in accordance to burial rites within our religion, but it’s a sure testimony to our loved ones having moved on and left this mortality.

My parents wanted simplicity from coffins to flowers, and we had a memorial service at the church we belong to without cost. We made it beautiful with words, simple white flowers and red roses, and love. Our Funeral Director, Peris Rice, was informative and accommodating, and Mum’s service, and then burial in the cold January rain, just before her 74th birthday, was beautiful and poignant.

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© Lisa Shambrook

The whole process has left me with grief, relief, and a deep desire to be sure that I have talked about and thought about what I want in the event of my own demise.

We weren’t sure what Mum actually wanted, and I was floundering with putting together a service, then Dad phoned. He’d been clearing pieces of paper and notes from a box on the coffee table beside where Mum sat, and had come across a piece of paper. On it was a list entitled Hymns for my Funeral, and she had listed about fourteen hymns, numbering four of them. Beneath that list was a poem Death Is Nothing At All by Henry Scott Holland. I gave thanks, because we finally knew what hymns to choose and which poem my sister could read and they were perfect. The hymns we didn’t sing during the service became prelude and closing music, and they all spoke of Mum.

In the end I offered a eulogy inspired by photographs of my mother from her childhood right up to the present, which gave an insight into her life and what she loved, Jules read the poem which spoke exactly what I knew Mum would have said, and a dear friend spoke about Mum and our spiritual beliefs. I hope it was what she would have chosen.

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© Lisa Shambrook

I have moved away from this experience with the need to make any future plans my husband or children might have to put in place as easy as possible. We are all going to die. I don’t fear death, but I do have wishes and desires I would love to accompany my flight from this earth.

Neither of my parents had wills, and Dad now understands the importance of making one. We are now facing looking at Probate, and are discussing Lasting Power of Attorney, and Wills…and I want all these things sorted out, not only for him, but also for myself and my family in my own mind and on paper too. We need to talk about what we want – from services, coffins, wills, music, organ donation, religious rites, finances, do-not-resuscitate forms, living wills, and anything else that might be, for some, uncomfortable to discuss.

I want my views known to my family, not only about decisions made when I die but decisions that will affect my life. I want us to talk about care as I get older, what I want in the event of Alzheimer’s or cancer, or any other life changing/threatening disease. I want them to feel loved and not burdened, and I want to be sure I continue and leave this life with grace and dignity.   

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© Lisa Shambrook

My views on remembering the dead are a little different from the norm. I would very much like to keep it simple and quiet, perhaps even without a church service. I wish for flowers to be gathered from the season and tied simply with string and left wherever my ashes are strewn, and a poem, or reading, or memories are shared, by woods or a river among nature that I love so much, with my family and loved ones.  

How do you feel?

Is death a taboo subject or have you made your wishes known?

What are your thoughts on the fragility of death?

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17 thoughts on “The Practicalities and Fragilities of Death…

  1. Lucinda E Clarke

    I used to smile at the African burial societies as they held their weekly gatherings on a nearby roundabout, but no more. Since we are here in Spain with none of the support services you mention, and if there are, then it’s in a langage we’re not too good with, we’ve taken out policies and ty=hey handle everything with a single phone call. It’s such a relief to know anoehr person will handle all the practical stuff as far as the funeral goes.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Shambrook Post author

      That peace of mind is so important, Lucinda, especially when the culture is different, or your family isn’t local. There are so many different beliefs and traditions regarding death across the world.

      Reply
  2. Miranda Kate (@PurpleQueenNL)

    Here in Holland we have Funeral insurance. Ron had it, so we then set it up for me and the kids. His parents had it, (I think) which is how come he already had it when I met him (he was 27). Cost around 17 Euros a month (for us as adults, about 8 for each of the kids). Maybe that is an option to look into in the UK. I do believe my brother has set it up for my mother, some years ago, although I don’t have details (can find out if you want).

    When my father-in-law died, I saw all this first hand. Fortunately the week prior to his death he had laid out in great detail what he wanted and how he wanted it. After his funeral my mother-in-law started talking about what she wanted, but I said we weren’t ready to handle the thought of her going too, so she should write it down. I want to be cremated, and hubby wants to be buried. But here in the village, you can no longer be buried in the graveyard as no room, so I am not sure where it would be. My mother-in-law has a family plot in Amsterdam, where her parents & brother are, but she said she doesn’t want to go there, so nothing is yet. It’s not something I spend a lot of time thinking about. She might be 80 but still an important person in our lives, and in relative good health.

    With my father, who died 5 months after my father-in-law, having not known him well, and having had no contact with him for 3 years prior, I was just a visitor at his memorial, which felt bereft of any sense of him. And even worse, I had people coming up to me afterwards asking how I knew him!! (his so called friends didn’t even know he had 3 children!). It was pretty dire. My father-in-laws was far more emotional for me in some ways, as I knew him better.

    Keep strong Lisa. xx

    Reply
    1. Lisa Shambrook Post author

      Thanks, Miranda, it’s so different for each person, and a lot does seem to depend on your relationship with them too.
      We have life assurance, but not funeral insurance plans, though you can buy them over here. I had a long chat with my Dad when we realised the time for either of them would come, and Dad and I set up a joint account and he deposited an amount to cover funerals for both himself and mum. I plan to do the same with one of my kids in the future, so they don’t have to worry about finding the money. I would still want to keep the costs to a minimum and with complete simplicity. I would hate a big and expensive funeral. Two baskets of white flowers and 6 red roses cost over £80, and I’d honestly be happier with a bunch of garden picked flowers at no cost! x

      Reply
  3. Theresa Miller

    My Mother-in-Law died two days before Thanksgiving. We were with her at the end. She was a widow, so it fell to her two children (and me) to make all the arrangements. On Thanksgiving my friends got together and brought us an entire homemade Thanksgiving dinner. I am still trying to come up with the words to express what that meant. We didn’t need it. couldn’t eat that much food and had to spend time finding places to put it all. Still, at a time I was not ready to talk or to be with people, they showed me very clearly that they were there and they cared. It still makes me tear up when I think about it.

    Reply
  4. Let's CUT the Crap!

    Please accept my deepest condolences, Lisa. It must be extra hard if prior discussion re wishes have been shared. My mother wrote everything out, with envelopes of cash for the meal after the service, money for the service and so on. She died December 21st six years ago. I have four sisters and the youngest one was P.O.A. Ten hands make the work easier. You’re a good daughter and should feel proud of your accomplishing what you have on your own. ❤ ❤ ❤

    Reply

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