Posted by Lyra Mollington
Nearly twelve years ago, I was with my grandchildren in the queue for the newly opened London Eye when we saw an elderly man collapse. Paramedics arrived quickly but by the time the man was lifted onto a stretcher, a blanket had been pulled over his head. It took me a few seconds to realise the implications of this.
In the intervening years I have often thought about that balmy summer evening. I wondered whether his family, having recovered from the initial shock, had been able to accept that there are (much) worse ways to go. Perhaps they shared what had happened at his funeral. Something like, ‘He’d had a brilliant day out with everyone he loved most in the world. And we all know what he would be saying to us now: “After queuing for an hour, we were nearly at the front. Why on earth didn’t you go on the Ruddy Wheel?”’
From the funerals I’ve attended, it seems that information is hardly ever given about how the person died; apart from being solemnly told that she/he passed away peacefully in her/his sleep. Understandably we are kept in the dark when there are unpleasant details. Few would want to know that their neighbour was discovered dead on the toilet, however painless and quick her death may have been. Or, even worse, that the body wasn’t discovered for several days, but at least her beloved cats didn’t go hungry.
We were told by the vicar at one funeral, ‘On the morning Charlie passed away he was looking forward, as always, to the regular visit from his great friend Derek. He was up and about, clean shaven and smartly dressed, with a couple of tots of whisky ready for Derek’s arrival.’
Everyone agreed that this was what Charlie would have wanted. But afterwards Derek told us that the vicar had missed out the bit that Charlie would have loved the most. After nearly jumping out of his skin, Derek downed the contents of both whisky glasses, having carefully prised one of them out of Charlie’s hand.
Lilian, a dear friend of mine, insisted that the clergyman tell the story of how her 95 year old mother had died during a singing session at the care home. Lil’s mum had been joining in with gusto all afternoon. When the other residents had retired to their rooms, one of the assistants discovered the old lady slumped in her chair, slightly warm but extremely dead. Lil was shocked but she soon started saying that this was ‘the perfect way to go,’ and that her mum had died ‘with her boots on’. Or, strictly speaking, her orthopaedic Velcro slip-ons.
Another friend was proud to inform everyone that her husband had collapsed and died whilst buying a present for their granddaughter in ‘an independent book shop’. For years she had worried herself sick that he would die face down in the gutter as he staggered home from his local.
The widow of a chap who died half way round the golf course asked one of his golfing chums, Maurice, to read the eulogy. He began, ‘Jack had been playing really well that fateful day. He said he’d never felt happier and that when we got back to the clubhouse he was going to buy everyone in the bar a drink.’ At this point, Maurice lowered his voice. With a straight face and through gritted teeth he continued, ‘There and then, I KNEW he was a goner.’
The Who famously sang, ‘I hope I die before I get old.’ Well I hope I die before I get too decrepit and in such a way that my family are able to say at my funeral, ‘She died happy, with her walking boots on.’