We attended my cousin’s funeral yesterday. Only a few years younger than my mum, he was really more like an uncle to me. A sweet and deeply kind man, he lived a simple life with the ones he loved and it feels dreadfully unfair that the last few years of his life were plagued with illness. So many beautiful words were shared about him at his funeral, it made me wish he was there to hear them. And I’ve communed with death enough to know that he was there, but for those of us left behind it’s not enough. We want them here, in the flesh, breathing, smiling, holding our hands.
After leaving the crematorium we went to look at the flowers laid out in the garden. On the way back to the car Mum said she wished she’d taken a photo so I ran back to snap a few shots with my phone. In that moment I was thinking only of my mum, but after taking the pictures I reflected on how even though I didn’t have photos of the flowers laid out at another crematorium, I could still remember the white lilies and freesias, and the roses I’d laid out myself. Walking back to the car, with not a soul around me, I turned a corner to find the most perfect grey feather lying on the ground at my feet. It actually made my heart jump. “Oh,” I smiled, “I was wondering where you were.” It never fails to amaze me how they keep in touch with us. I continue to find the feathers in the most important moments and the most needed moments. Always the feathers, sometimes seeming to appear out of thin air.
In the pub afterwards we shared drinks and stories, looking at photos and getting to know the members of D’s family we hadn’t met before. As my sister and I gingerly sipped our halves of Guinness we started planning our own funeral (as you do). Because, you see, we’ve already decided that we will be popping our clogs on the same day. By then we’ll have reached the end of our nineties and having outlived everyone else we’ll be ready to get in the car and drive off a cliff, Thelma & Louise style. We both agreed that we’d want to have a gathering beforehand so we could hear the kind words that everyone shared. We’d kiss our children and grandchildren goodbye and tell them not to miss us too much because we’d see them on the other side soon enough.
Abby said she wanted to be laid out in a white dress — like the Lady of Shalott — on a huge pile of branches. This would then be floated out into the middle of a lake at which point a burning arrow would be shot, setting the pyre alight. I agreed this was a stellar idea, and the conversation continued with the discussion of a joint pyre and whether or not we’d have prayers or meditation at the ceremony (Abby wants prayers, I want meditation — there will be both). When my sister said no one would be allowed to wear black I nodded in emphatic agreement.
All this might sound a bit morbid or inappropriate considering we were at a funeral, but I actually found it incredibly comforting. Death has to be one of the last taboos we have, something we all have to face when our loved ones take their leave, hopefully in timely and expected ways but often not. Learning we’re all going to die is so shocking. I remember the finality of my pet rabbit dying and trying to untangle the idea that it was permanent, that we couldn’t make her “better”. I can still remember trying to imagine what being dead was like — would it be an abyss of black nothingness? I don’t recall putting much stock in the clouds-and-harps of heaven, but as I got older, and started reading more new age-y books, I began to formulate theories about what comes next. In some twisty way I can’t wait to find out, but I’m happy for the big reveal to be 50 years from now.
Last week Noah and I were reenacting Frozen-lite with his dolls and at some point one of the girl dolls died only to come alive again with true love’s kiss (he watches a lot of Disney films). Even then I wondered what it was going to be like for our tender sweet boy to learn about death — how can we possibly explain it to him? Through the smiles and tears of yesterday’s gathering, my heart was warmed when I saw D’s grandson clutching the hand of his grandmother during the ceremony. These little people make everything better, they really do. Noah was playing at nursery all day, and I’m glad that for now he believes in Father Christmas and fairies and true love’s kiss. There’s plenty of time for the big reveals of life… just not yet, not yet.
(For D: I have no doubt that you’re reading this from the big golf course in the sky. Rest in peace, dear cousin x)
This is beautiful and so needed right now, here in this moment. Thank you.
Beautiful, brave, honest writing Susannah. Sending you and your family lots of love and respectful vibes, and feathers :) X
I think it’s really important to tell people what we think of them before it’s too late.
My 46 year old husband drowned in a rock fishing accident six weeks ago. His funeral was a beautiful celebration of his life, there was tears, but plenty of laughter as well. And all the time I wished he was there to hear what was said, he would have had a brilliant time!
I also think it’s great you and your sister are talking about what you want.
Thank you for your beautiful words, Susannah. I’m very sorry for your loss, but just like you, I KNOW our loved ones never really leave us. You trult are an inspiration. :)
Holding you and your family in my thoughts. The love you and your sister have shone through to me in your writing. Thank you for sharing.
So beautiful Susannah.
My little girl (a four legged furbaby one – but my only girl nonetheless) passed away last week. It has been just the two of us for 11 years, and I’m heartbroken that her time to leave has come.
I’m so more desperately sad that I thought I’d be (and that was a lot) but I’m so grateful to have had her, and am slowly – but surely – getting excited about what wonders life has in store for me next.
Thank you for you beautiful words in this post, as always.
Beautifully said! Thank you for sharing both the story and the feather.
I’m sorry for your loss. Beautiful post, Susannah. I love that you find feathers…they really are still with us.
This is such a wonderful, thought-provoking post. I have been having similar conversations with my family lately.
My mother, who is openly terrified of death to the point that she becomes anxious about anything which may cause harm (cars, transport, fluffy kittens etc), and has refused to speak of anything death-related in case it becomes true, has been severely ill over the last couple of years, with the prognosis uncertain for much of that time.
This has finally forced us to speak about ‘her plans for the future’ in the way you have described above. She has decided that she would like her ashes scattered at her favourite place, with all the family there to say goodbye. We then pointed out that her favourite place was on private property, and would require the family to dress in black balaclavas and gloves, armed with torches and sneak out in the middle of the night with her urn, in order to complete her journey. This little scenario caused great hilarity, but also did provide a lot of comfort and awareness that death really is a normal part of life. It comes to all of us, we should be prepared and, more importantly, have fun along the way. The people we love never do leave us completely, as you so eloquently described above.