When I retired as a humanist celebrant I thought I'd stop writing this blog, but my fascination with all things death-related prompted more posts. They're just written from a slightly different perspective, that's all. Oh, and I still do the odd one, by special request.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Sticky carpet situations, and other messes

"Sticky carpet situations" was how a housing officer I used to know described some of the homes that she was required to visit. I knew exactly what she meant.

Sticky carpet situations are where your shoes make a sort of sucking noise as you walk in, as the soles peel off the carpet with each footstep. When invited to take a seat, you look around for an un-upholstered chair without any wet patches or obvious stains. I have recklessly sat on a settee, the only available place to sit (apart from a sticky carpet), and found that when I arose, my rear was damp, and it wasn't me.

In such homes, I usually decline a drink. "Tea?" "No thanks," I'll say, imagining the mug might have been cleaned, if at all, with a cloth and some spit. They remind me of a landlady I had, years ago, as an art student. I lived in a flat above their filthy kitchen, where her emaciated husband, who'd been a prisoner of the Japanese and suffered chronic digestive problems ever since, toyed with the food she served for his dinner, anticipating the frequent trips to the bathroom that would inevitably result. I suspected that her unhygienic cooking methods contributed more to his poor state of health than the Japanese ever had. But I digress.

I've found myself in situations where there's been livestock in the room, and I don't mean dogs and cats and a liberal itch of fleas. One house had a colony of guinea-pigs in a corner of the kitchen, whose squeals interrupted us. Another had a very smelly rabbit hutch, with a very sad-looking rabbit, in the corner.

In sticky carpet situations, the people have lived chaotically, so it's not surprising that the man or woman whose funeral they've been arranging have also lived that way. Some would be funny, if it wasn't so tragic. Imagine the lack of imagination of a family who accepted a top flat in a tower block from the council, knowing that one of them was a chronic depressive who'd attempted suicide several times. Guess how she died. Imagine the sheer stupidity of a man with a girlfriend and two small children who got very drunk, stole a car, crashed it on a busy slip road, and then wandered onto the road to be run over by two large lorries, one after the other. His girlfriend couldn't understand why the funeral director didn't want her to see the body. Imagine visiting a drug dealer whose front door was made of reinforced steel, and being invited to sit on the bed, the only place in the room that wasn't covered with junk. His girlfriend had committed suicide. I could see why she'd have wanted to. Imagine the family of a murder victim who lived in a tiny seaside chalet, where the victim's mother chain-smoked and the victim's small son played on a sticky carpet. The room was dominated by a huge TV and an enormous chip pan, balanced on the edge of a Baby Belling stove. How would that child grow up? Would he be a murderer, like his father? Imagine preparing the funeral for a teenage boy who'd deliberately string a wire between two posts so he could show off on his motorbike by ducking underneath it at speed, only to almost decapitate himself. He was always a laugh, they said. There are people who live dangerously from choice, such as mountaineers, and there are people who just self-destruct. Sometimes they wreck other people's lives too.

When chaotic lives end, I've sometimes got the impression that a fair proportion of the mourners (if there were many mourners) have turned up just to make sure that he or she really is dead and they don't have to deal with the spillage of chaos any more. Sticky carpets are the least of their worries.


Rob A said...

I fear this may detract from the profound nature of the post, but how do these people living in chaos end up with a Humanist ceremony?

Aphra said...

Humanist ceremonies are for anyone who's lived without religion. Few are for paid-up members of any Humanist organisation. We tend to be asked to do ceremonies for "difficult" cases (such as suicides, RTAs and criminals) because we have a reputation for coping, whatever. When I say "we", I mean the Suffolk Humanist Ceremonies Team. I can't speak for other celebrants, though I heard yesterday about one in another part of the country who was preparing a funeral for a mentally and physically handicapped young man, murdered earlier this year and discovered in a suitcase in a shed after his mother committed suicide. The body had only just been released for cremation.

rob a said...

I am impressed that you have developed such a reputation. Well done!