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.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Don't bother painting my coffin, thanks

You might expect someone like me (a trained artist, and all that) to get excited about beautifully decorated coffins, but I don't. I suppose that having one standing in the corner of your living room as a memento mori and conversation piece might be interesting, if you have room, but why commission someone to spend hours creating a work of art that will be either buried or cremated with you? Seems such a waste, not to mention a sort of post-mortem showing off.

No thanks. I'd rather that my dearly beloved commissioned something that they like to hang on the wall or stand in the garden, and buy the cheapest environmentally-friendly coffin for my remains. It's only going to keep me tidy in transit.

Paying for an elegant headstone's another matter, if you really want one. At least they'll last.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


One of the people I follow on Twitter is Lindsey Mason, who writes a column for the STV website. Lindsey (tigerbaps on Twitter) is usually very funny, but her latest column has a more sombre tone. It's about what she told her daughters about their dad, who died when the eldest was six.

Lindsey wrote,
Hannah is the image of her dad, right enough. She even has mannerisms of his that she couldn’t possibly have known about. Sometimes I look at her and she’s chewing the side of her mouth the way he used to do when he was concentrating on something and it makes my heart leap. I said earlier that I don’t believe in life after death, but in a way I do, because I just need to look at Rachael and Hannah and there he is, looking right back at me. I’ve always felt that Hannah was searching for her dad. Searching for some forgotten memory or some vital piece of information that I’ve missed out about him that would make her unlock a memory. But the truth is, she IS the something she’s searching for. She IS her dad. She can’t escape that. It makes me feel good.
You can read the whole thing on the STV website, where you'll learn what "begrutten" means. I recommend reading Lindsey's other columns too.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Getting it right

Just been reading Gloriamundi's latest blog post, about whether to choose burial or cremation. I've left instructions with the anatomists that they should bury what's left of me when they've no further use for it, assuming they accept my body bequest in the first place.

Gloriamundi asks, "What price on getting such things right?" Trouble is, things don't always go right. Sometimes it's someone's fault, sometimes it's not. As long as things haven't gone horribly wrong, whatever happened might become part of a family's story, told and retold, about the day you buried Dad, or Gran, or whoever, while you wonder what he or she would have said about it.

There's a green burial site near here where I've conducted a few funerals. One was for a man whose family had prepared a celebration around his grave, with anecdotes, tearful goodbyes, lovely poems, and gentle jokes about his idiosyncrasies. It was to end with an Irish piper, a friend of the family, playing a lament as the coffin was lowered. I said the words of committal, the piper started to play, and the bearers started to lower the coffin. It was a rectangular cardboard coffin, not tapered as most coffins are, and it soon became evident that the grave wasn't big enough. There was a lot of fiddling about and suppressed huffing and puffing, but it was no use; the coffin was stuck. As the piper continued to play, the bearers had to give up and leave it wedged in place at a wonky angle. I don't remember what I said, but everyone laughed and exclaimed that he'd have enjoyed the joke, before they drifted away. An embarrassed funeral director, who had a reputation for making mistakes, stood looking at the coffin. He'd supervised the grave-digging and supplied the coffin, so he couldn't blame anyone else. Maybe he ought to buy a new tape measure, I suggested. He didn't answer.

That was a case of human error. On other occasions, things have gone wrong for reasons beyond anyone's control. Snow, rain and wind can all play a part in funeral ceremonies. There's not much you can do about any of them. Just wear sensible shoes, and hope for the best.