By Lyra Mollington
On Sunday I woke up feeling out of sorts and very parched. With this humid and unsettled weather, viruses will be having a field day. In these situations, I find the best course of action is complete rest and lots of green tea (Yutaka Midori – ordered online from Japan). I stayed in bed until the evening but finally the stress of not knowing what Mr M was getting up to in the kitchen took its toll and I moved downstairs.
First thing on Monday, Daisy came round to see how I was doing. You may remember that she’s the friend with an alarming number of urns adorning her mantelpiece. They all contain ashes, although not necessarily of human origin. Like me, Daisy has a passion for dogs – particularly pugs. After Smithers died, she swore never to get another one and, so far, she has been true to her word. Probably because there is a new man in her life – Barry. He’s lovely and looks like an older version of Dara O’Briain.
You may also recall that she has been my partner-in-crime on a couple of occasions. And by ‘crime’ I am referring to my hobby of attending funerals as a mystery mourner. She came in useful as a look-out when I photographed Pat’s cosy woollen coffin with balls of wool and knitting needles woven into the flowers.
Daisy was a reluctant assistant on that occasion, but now she was eager to help out by taking Mr Chunky for a walk. Sadly Mr M is neither use nor ornament when it comes to dog-walking. He has a chronic sports injury. Or arthritis as our GP calls it.
Daisy had arrived bearing a gift which she insisted I open straight away because, ‘It will cheer you up!’ She could barely contain her excitement as I began tearing off the striking Loїs Mailou Jones wrapping paper.
It was a boxed set of three paperbacks.
No, not the Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy…
The Natural Death Handbook – in shades of grey, teal and cerulean. Daisy’s excitement had reached fever pitch and her words tumbled out, ‘Barry helped me to order it – we had to visit a website! It was meant to be for your birthday but, as soon as I found out you were poorly, I thought you’d need a boost because you won’t be well enough to go to any funerals this week.’ I smiled and told her that she was the most thoughtful and kind-hearted person I knew.
As I later reflected, only Daisy would have the aplomb to buy me the Natural Death Handbook for my 75th birthday – and then decide it would be the perfect get-well-soon present.
Daisy left to walk the dog, having made me promise that I wouldn’t overdo it by reading too much. Luckily, this is a trilogy to dip into, not to slavishly read from beginning to end.
I began by reading the opening section of Chapter 7 of the Handbook: ‘Common misapprehensions and urban myths’. I felt rather smug that I knew them all. A gravely misinformed member of the public is quoted as saying, ‘We presumed that you had to have a hearse to move the body.’ I began to imagine trying to manoeuvre Mr M’s body into the back of my Ford Fiesta. Yes, I would calmly explain to onlookers – it’s all perfectly legal.
I then read some of Chapter 8: ‘Family-organised and inexpensive funerals’. I already knew that there’s no law that says you must use a funeral director. However, like most people, I had never considered a DIY funeral for me or my family. But the savings really are considerable. I studied the section on ‘leakage’ with a mixture of horror and fascination. Apparently, ‘This is something that most professionals are extremely worried about, so much so that they line nearly all coffins with plastic, which for the most part is not degradable; it is called cremfilm.’ I was strangely reassured to discover that, ‘Usually the elderly and those who have suffered long drawn-out illness will be dehydrated and leakage will not be an issue.’ Nature’s way of telling us we’re ready?
The next paragraph, ‘A suitable vehicle’ had me chuckling. ‘This author has witnessed one family arriving at the burial ground with their mother, admittedly a short lady, in a Renault Clio.’ Mr M is quite tall but I began to reconsider my earlier misgivings. Perhaps with the back seats down, the boot open, some sturdy twine and a following wind…
I then dipped into the volume ‘Writing on Death’ which includes an essay written by our very own Charles Cowling. I chose to read Carla Zilbersmith first – her poignant and moving ‘Leave them laughing’.
By the time Daisy returned, I was feeling inspired. And thirsty. I was ready for another cup of tea. Good old Yorkshire tea. This elderly woman wasn’t going to be getting dehydrated any time soon.
As Carla said, ‘I’m madly in love with living.’
ED’S NOTE: Carla Zilbersmith, to whose essay in the Natural Death Handbook, 5th edition, Mrs Mollington alludes, died in 2010 0f ALS, which in Britain we call MND (motor neurone disease). Carla wrote a blog recording the progress of her illness. It’s one of the most extraordinarily brave, funny and life-affirming things you’ll ever read, and you can find it here. She made the video above to be played at her memorial.
The just-out fifth edition of the Natural Death Handbook is available only from the NDC. They are cutting out distributors (people like Amazon) because they know too well that people who write books are right at the end of the food chain where earnings are concerned. They want as much money as possible to come to the charity. Good for them, we say.
The Natural Death Handbook comes in three volumes contained in a slipcase. Production values are high: it’s a beautiful artefact in its own right. Better still, it’s the direct descendant of (not in any way a departure from) all the other editions of the Handbook, which have been so inspiring to so many. Buy a copy, love it and support the best cause in Funeralworld. Click this link and you’re halfway there – click!