I remember once my daughter coming home from a day at school where they had been focusing on death.
“That’s an interesting and important subject to talk about. What did they get you to do?” I asked.
“Nothing much. They didn’t talk to us about it. We spent most of the day designing a poster about the things we wanted at our funeral.”
“Right, because everyone knows you need a poster,” I said.
Nobody ever wants to talk about death.
Earlier this week I watched a lovely film about death. It’s called “Dead Good”, and it is. I watched much of it with a lump in my throat, but that felt like a good thing.
When my father died the grief was sudden and ferocious. Disproportionate somehow to the somewhat distant relationship we’d had when he was alive. Much later I came to realise that this was because I had hardly known him and his death meant that I never would.
I remembered him once telling me about rolling his car having hit a patch of black ice on his way home from a business trip.
“I saw all the most important moments of my life flash past my eyes as the car rolled and I realised I had lost control” he had said.
I didn’t ask him what those moments were, although he often seemed incredibly sad. At the time I’d assumed he was glad to have walked away from it, but I don’t know if that’s true either.
I can remember even many years before he died he would often caveat future plans with “if I’m still here then”. Hearing those words always hurt me but not in a way that prepared me for when he actually wasn’t.
Ten years later my mother died alone in a hospital bed while the doctors tried to work out was had caused her sudden collapse. The post mortem showed a massive aneurysm that would have killed most people in an instant, but my mother was determined to go out the way she’d lived her life, fighting.
When it came to arranging her funeral we had no idea what she’d wanted. I’m sure she would have liked to have chosen the hymns if she’d had a little more notice, just as she used to choose them for evensong every Sunday evening.
I kept all the cards full of wonderful sentiment from people that almost certainly didn’t say those things to her face when she was alive.
In a grainy old photo of my christening tea, there is a lovely spread of food on the dining room table, the same table we now sit and eat at every day, where birthday cakes and Christmas lunches are served like they were when I was a kid. The table still wobbles as it did for all of my life.
The plate I am always drawn to in the photo is the one piled high with fondant fancies.
I’ve impressed upon my children the importance of having fondant fancies at my wake.
“Yes, we know, the synergy of it appeals to you,” my daughter says with rolling eyes.
It’s one less thing they’ll have to think about at a time when they probably won’t be able to think about much else.
I should probably write it all down. Or maybe I’ll just make a poster.
If you’d like to watch “Dead Good” you can find it here. It costs less than £5 and it might touch you in ways that you hadn’t expected.