I’ve been contemplating the subject of death for a while now as I’m not getting any younger (surprise, surprise!) and took the plunge to buy two funeral plans for me and hubby. This has done nothing to give me peace of mind as it’s resulted in sleepless nights worrying about how I’ll manage the monthly payments for the next ten years.
With the rising costs of our currently inflated climate, it’s becoming nigh on impossible to afford to live, let alone die.
I did get a good deal on the plans: £500 discount on both, £1000 allowance for disbursements and an insurance that stated, after twelve months payments, the company will foot the bill if I didn’t survive the ten-year term.
Still, ten whole years of paying for my end fills me with dread. Any disposable income will vanish before my eyes each month in the struggle to meet the payments.
Fortunately, I’m within the thirty-day-cooling-off period and am about to cancel the plans… but the problem of what to do with my remains, remains… if you get my drift.
I’ve considered donating my body to medical science to save lives and, of course, save costs but even this has limited options for me as they are ‘picky’ at who they use for this purpose. Read here for the gruesome details of what it entails… if you can bear it. Even this method of disposal states that a funeral of some sort may still be necessary when they’ve finished messing about with the body parts.
An option which is appealing to me more and more (because it’s turned out to be the cheapest since researching the former two) is a direct cremation with no service at all. At least I have enough insurance to pay for that when the time comes plus there will hopefully be enough left for whatever my family want to do in my memory. I am penning a simple wishes statement and stuff to share for this which should provide a healing comfort for my family.
It would of course be wonderful if I could simply fall asleep in the forest.
Sleeping in the Forest
I thought the earth remembered me, she took me back so tenderly, arranging her dark skirts, her pockets full of lichens and seeds. I slept as never before, a stone on the riverbed, nothing between me and the white fire of the stars but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths among the branches of the perfect trees. All night I heard the small kingdoms breathing around me, the insects, and the birds who do their work in the darkness. All night I rose and fell, as if in water, grappling with a luminous doom. By morning I had vanished at least a dozen times into something better. (Mary Oliver)
Perhaps my obsession with death is connected to me picking up my memoir writing again after encouragement from fellow writer and friend, Dorinda Cass. The story is based around the relationship between the two elder sisters in a dysfunctional family unit. Many of the memories within the story are touching on lives of those no longer living, so it’s inevitable that I think about death as I write about them in their living form. It’s hard going at times and I’ve intermittently considered abandoning it altogether.
I’m a bit stuck at the moment as I want to place two major events within the same time period that will make a strong conflicting plot throughout – but it wouldn’t be the exact truth as they happened 18-months apart. The emotional truth of both events is necessary to the story and would still exist though it would need to be classed as ‘a fictional memoir based on truth’. On the plus side, a fictional memoir would be a saving grace if a family member disagreed with my perception of the truth.
Although it’s true that memory is an unreliable narrator and a memoir is ultimately story-telling, which involves a certain amount of creative licence, it cannot stray into lies.
‘Memoir takes a lot from the Novel, but it is ultimately something that is True. So, while we accept that a memoir might take certain liberties with chronology, conflate characters, reimagine dialogue, all with the aim of creating a vivid and arresting picture of the author and their experiences for the reader, it can’t stray into lies. It is a fine line between creativity and inauthenticity.’Euan Thorneycroft, agent at AM Health Literary Agency
Memoir is Autobiography without the boring bits
And so, back to the drawing board of timeline accuracy I go.
It was a bit of a coincidence when local poet Felix Hodcroft’s latest blog announcement hit my mail box with ‘Different Kinds of Hell’ as a header inviting me to read it. I was intrigued by his insightful celebration of poetry which is always a great read on this site. It’s comforting to know I am not the only writer obsessed, nay… fascinated, by death.
All this talk of death could also be due to the upcoming milestone birthday both my husband and I will be celebrating this year. It’s always hard-hitting when there’s a nought involved. It’s like the end of an era reaching the end of a decade.
Now my ‘end’ is decided on, I’ll leave you on a high note with this relevant piece of sarcasm which I performed back in the day of Open Mics at Scarborough’s Woodend Creative Arts Centre, as it was known then, hosted by the aforementioned Felix Hodcroft in partnership with Helen Birmingham.
This is a revamped version that won first prize in The Leslie Richards Competition at Scarborough Writers’ Circle in 2021. It’s also earmarked for inclusion in my third collection of short stories, Curious Confessions (WT), out later this year.
It goes without saying that this fictional offering is an exaggeration of the truth (in parts) but I thought I’d mention it just so you know I’ve lived a colourful life.
I’m writing to you now before…well, before the end comes too quick and surprises me. I don’t think it will be long as I’ve reached my allotted three score years and ten, as it says in the good book. I’m also experiencing severe memory loss episodes of late so felt I needed to set the record straight before I lose the plot altogether. I don’t want all and sundry running up to the lectern on my big day adding their own bits in to fill the time slot. To be frank, I’ve heard so many trumped-up eulogies at these modern-day celebrations of life, where so-called friends say a few words about the departed, that I often feel I’m at the wrong send-off. The deceased is barely recognizable from such utterings.
So, there you have the explanation of the purpose of this letter: to share with you my thoughts that will lead to the final message I’ll be leaving to the world. You know, rather than leave it to those who think they know me to sum up my life before I disappear behind the curtain.
It’s not as daunting as I imagined. In fact, it’s offered me the perfect opportunity to redraft my life story. Thus, permitting a second chance to get it right.
It’s quite exciting choosing which bits of my life to put in and which bits to definitely leave out. Obviously, I won’t want it to be common knowledge regarding the drunken brawls I got into on Saturday nights– even if it was with my own family.
I remember my old dad saying: ‘You don’t know you’ve had a good night out unless you wake up in the morning with the hangover from hell, a bruise or two, and even a broken bone occasionally’. Oh, he was such a sweetie, my dad. He never mentioned the sick stains down the front of my dress– the one I’d slept in all night because… well, I couldn’t be bothered getting undressed before falling into bed in a drunken stupor. Mmm, yes. Maybe this type of little gem is best kept in the closet with the skeletons.
I don’t often blow my own trumpet but I think I’ll get away with that, seeing as it’s my exit event. So, I’ll disclose that I’ve done some pretty amazing things during my lifetime, in spite of the not-so-amazing secret skeletons. I daren’t include all my triumphs because it could make those attending the service feel like complete failures. They’ll be sick enough with this missive I am disclosing.
For instance, I’ve got the most enviable imagination and, because of this, I am a published writer of all things writerly: novels; short stories; poems; plays and articles. In all genres, I might add. In fact, you name it and I’ve probably written about it and had it published somewhere.
I’ve been an artist in my time too and painted beautiful canvasses that any wannabe Picasso or Chagall would be proud to claim as their own.
I also played the piano. To the standard of Liberace, no less. You remember him, don’t you? Fancy candelabra, lavish lifestyle, etc, etc. Yes, even Liberace, a master of the most complex of concertos, would stand in awe at one of my recitals.
I could sing a tune or two as well. Not just down the Karaoke on a Saturday night after a few bevvies either. No. I sang for the Queen at The Royal Variety Show– on more than one occasion. As well as in a choral choir, no less– described by the Evening Standard as ‘like listening to a holy host of angels, with a soloist (Moi!) whose voice was so clear and pure it could cut through crystal.’
And dance? Oh boy, can I dance. Not just strictly ballroom, but ballet, burlesque and belly, to name a few. In fact, I can dance any kind of dance to any kind of thing you can play, hum or sing. Oh, yes! I’m known as ‘floorshow’ whenever I turn up to strut my stuff!
Anyway, that’s enough of me. For now.
I’d like to consider others in my eulogy too because I’ve done my bit for the community. Due to my dysfunctional family background, it became evident I needed help so I was referred for therapy. It was there that I became interested in training to become a therapist myself so I could help others– once I was cured, that is. It took years but I got there eventually.
As a counsellor, I brought together all sorts of estranged people, helping them heal past relationships to bring about a kind of mutually acceptable reconciliation. Sometimes, I found that self-reconciliation was enough and possible even without the forgiveness of others. The trick with that one is to forgive yourself.
My one regret is that my own family could never heal itself enough to break down the barriers to communication. Hence, my siblings and I haven’t spoken to each other for donkeys’ years– since Dad died actually. He was the last straw holding us all together.
I can just see them at my funeral, if they bother to turn up. They’ll be surprised at how well I’ve done. These are the people I mentioned at the beginning. You know, the ones who might feel like complete failures when they hear about my accomplishments. I’ll bet they’ll be so bitter that they’ll go directly against my wishes and ask the organist to play me out– knowing fine well how much I detest organ music. It always sounds like such a flipping dirge.
Still, if there’s one lesson I’ve learned in life it’s to be generous of spirit when dealing with others’ shortcomings. Therefore, the message I’d like to leave to my siblings, to you and to the world, is this:
May the grace (or the gracious hostility) of your God go with you this day and evermore.
Cue the organ. (NOT!)
Ms Gloria Swansong
PS There’s no rush for a reply because now I’ve passed the information on to you, I trust you to do right by me when the time comes. And if you don’t? Well, I won’t really know anything about it, will I? I think this may be a good time to remind you of your own words in a recent sermon you delivered in that ‘we all have to answer to someone at the end for our wrongdoings towards others’ and leave it for your conscience to decide.
© Julie Fairweather
That’s all folks,
With love for the journey,