A seamless, faultless funeral

Charles 3 Comments

Posted by Sara Elliot

In case you missed it earlier in the week (it was hiding as a comment) — ED

My mother’s funeral should have been a carbon copy of my father’s.  We therefore dispensed with the services of a Funeral Director, having effectively already had the Dress Rehearsal, and knowing exactly what was needed.

Seven years previously I had shown up, at the same churchyard, with £150 in cash for the grave digger.  This time I had £200 on me, to allow for inflation.  When I had asked my siblings about mother’s grave being dug, I was told my younger brother had ‘spoken to Minstead’.

I was on costumes and props this time. Oh, and I was paying for it. Having cared for our Mother at home, for the last eight years, the logistics were handed over to three brothers.

I awoke on the day of my mother’s burial, for some reason announcing firmly that we needed at least three spades!  I determined to go next door and borrow a few spades from our neighbours, so that we could fill in the grave Jamaican style.  I felt that grief and shock were having their effect on my brothers and they needed to be more engaged in the whole process.  I was assured that the grave-diggers would have good spades, and we would surely be able to use them, and I was being a control freak.

Self-willed as always, I insisted on taking my own spade with me in the car boot.  Decided to get to Minstead early, in case there were lots of people having lunch at the Trusty Servant.  Parked at lych gate, and popped in to have a look at my father’s grave, where Mother’s bones were due to cuddle up with his.  Yes, there it was.  There was the rose I had planted, yes, there was the rosemary.  There was his grave.  …..Yes, there was the grave…..WHERE was the ***** HOLE?!  Surely the grave diggers were cutting it a bit fine?

We repaired to the Trusty Servant pub, to await more family who were due at 1pm for a burial at 2pm.  Eventually went back up to Church, to find my middle brother, wearing his Afghan hat and a foxy smile, deep in conversation with the charming, and very anxious Churchwardens.  They could not have been more apologetic, and had contacted the Funeral Director at J & L Sturney in Lyndhurst, who couldn’t understand how it had happened, but had now appeared and was anxious to make amends.  (Er, they hadn’t been engaged in the first place.. eek…)

I produced my spade with a flourish, which at least got a laugh.  Then I found myself consoling the Churchwarden, whom I now knew as Diana, thinking, ‘This is odd, here I am, trying to bury my mother, and yet here I am, comforting and reassuring this nice lady in a fur coat!’ ‘I am So-o-o sorry!’ says Diana.  ‘No, no, dinna fret yerself, everything is perfect, and clearly as it is meant to be’.   I couldn’t understand why SHE was so upset.  Then I got it, and said ‘Ah, if we were a different sort of family, this really would be a nightmare for you, wouldn’t it?’  On reflection, though, had we been a different sort of a family it wouldn’t have happened. I shared this thought with her too, and we both grinned ruefully.

A rather puzzled American friend, and younger brother (in full Afghan bandit rig) guarded Mother and her coffin, while surreal negotiations took place.  (It did give everyone a lot of time to admire the coffin, which, though I says it as shouldn’t, was as exquisite as a Fabergé egg).

I put my spade to good use and dug up the rose and rosemary carefully.  The grave digger came with his little JCB, and the troupe repaired once more to the pub while he did his digging.  Calling out a grave digger at short notice on a Saturday can cost upwards of £500.  You have been warned!  If you have a Saturday afternoon burial in Winter, get the grave dug on the Friday!

Suitably ‘refreshed’, the troupe gathered once again.  This time with a lovely confident FD, resplendent in top hat and tails, directing operations, whom we had neither really wanted, and didn’t really need any more now that the grave digger had been alerted.  He was doing his best to be useful and to put things right in case they had been engaged and somehow he hadn’t understood.  (He hadn’t, of course, it was just that the necessary follow-through hadn’t happened).  Anyway I liked him, and the whole thing was so marvellous it was now worth paying for, if only for the visuals when I came to write an insanely funny, one hour TV screen play based on the occasion.

The FD, who was remarkably composed, had indeed organised the grave digger, and after giving careful instuctions to the bearers, led the way, that we all knew, to the grave – Aha!  There was the hole we needed.  (But, WHO forgets to have the hole dug?!)  Should I warn him that Mother had promised to haunt anyone who wore black?

Mother was finally laid to rest, as the sun cast eerily beautiful shadows on the end of an extraordinary day.  I had brought tulips with me, for her, as a welcome from her husband, and to commemorate sixty years of a passionate love affair which had started in Amsterdam.  She was clearly determined to be the centre of attention, and to milk every last ounce of drama out of her departure.  If the only way of getting another four hours of being a Prima Donna was to orchestrate leaving the grave digging till the Last Possible Moment, then so be it!

The moral of the story is, even if you think you have experience of funerals, event planning, stage management etc, in fact, you cannot tell what effect grief and shock and various levels of family dysfunction may have on you – and having a decent FD (eg J & L Sturney) may well be A Very Good Idea!  When I settled their invoice, I asked if it had ever happened before.  Apparently it had, twice, in the whole history of that particular firm. A dubious distinction.

It took one brother several months to confess that he had had the blue form which the FD needed, in his pocket, all along.


  1. Charles

    It sounds like a lovely funeral – you got there in the end. But, I’m still not clear if your brother asked the churchwarden’s, who forgot to ask the gravedigger? Or was it the funeral director who forgot to ask the gravedigger? If he wasn’t previously involved – why did he turn up in full regalia? My rural JCB gravediggers charge £350. I think perhaps someone was being a little greedy, but then he did load up and get going immediately without notice. Perhaps the other £150 ish was a fine?

    J Sturney was a Fairways partnership business. Had they handled the whole job, the cost would have been fairly expensive.

  2. Charles

    Good questions, which I have been thinking about myself. It took a while to get to the bottom of it (no pun intended, but there it is, so I shall leave it). Will get back to you.

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