Cothiemuir neolithic stone circle
When Alex Dudley-Smith’s mother died this month, she set about organising a fitting sendoff for her. Here is her account of what she did.
The unexpected death of my mother meant we were not prepared in any way for the organisation and costs of a funeral.
This is the first time I’ve been responsible for sorting out a funeral and was anxious as I didn’t know where to start. But I did know what mum wanted, as we had often spoken of what to do with her body when she eventually died.
My mum died in hospital, so her body was held in the hospital morgue and I wanted to remove her body from there as quickly as possible and bury it. So I immediately started researching on the internet to see what was the usual way of doing a burial with the funeral directors, burial sites and coffins. It was expensive and, for me, it lacked something which at the time I could not put my finger on. I then started to look at natural burial sites, as mum had often spoken about wanting her body to be returned to the earth just as she had come into the world, completely naked!
Fortunately I found Natural Burial Grounds which showed photos of various sites in our area and there was one that immediately resonated with me and a burial plot was immediately arranged. The gentleman who runs Natural Burial Grounds organised this with the utmost sensitivity and kindness, taking a massive weight off my shoulders.
Next thing on my list was what to put mum’s body in. She had mentioned being buried in her birthday suit, but that was too much for me and the hospital would dig their heels in, seeing it as being disrespectful to the deceased. I then came across a YouTube video of an amazing lady who did her mother’s burial herself, completely from start to finish, collecting her mother’s body (which was wrapped in a shroud, no coffin!) from the morgue and going on a wonderful journey to the burial site, where she dug the grave herself and finally laid her mother’s body to rest. It was very inspirational and gave me the hope and focus that I could give mum’s body the intimate and loving burial she had wished for. Deciding that her body would be buried in a shroud, a beautiful American quilt with stars embroidered all over it, in remembrance of the joyful years we had living in Washington DC, and eventually laying her body to rest on a bed of roses. We did not have a minister, as we chose to do the service ourselves, each member of the family and friends playing a part.
Now the hospital had to be informed of my plans to collect mum’s body from their morgue. Usually this is done by funeral directors, but there is another way: you can do it yourself. This may sound daunting, as the idea of handling the dead body of a loved one can be strange to say the least. The truth is, it was the most natural thing to do. Having spent my whole life with my mother it seemed right to be the one to carry her body from the morgue to the burial site, rather then leaving it to a funeral director, a stranger, who had no connection with my mum during her lifetime.
I telephoned the hospital, informing them of the date and time I would be collecting mum’s body. Of course they were very unsure of what the rules and regulations are and I could understand their uncertainty, as most hospitals and doctors do not know the law on who is legally responsible for the body of a loved one. I was mum’s Power of Attorney and Executor of her will and therefore legally allowed to take her body from the morgue to the burial. If the hospital refused to release her body to me, they would be breaking the law! Wanting to make sure everything ran smoothly on the day of the collection, I did a dummy run the previous day, which was very useful in meeting the hospital staff who would be helping me with mum’s body, and essential in finding the pick-up point for the morgue. It was a first time for them, handing a body over to someone who wasn’t a funeral director, and a first time for me. On the day of the funeral, the transfer of mum’s body went quickly and smoothly, with the hospital porter remarking how good it was that family and friends were participating in such a way and that he expects to see more of this happening in the future.
Mum’s body comfortably positioned in the car and surrounded by roses, we began our journey through beautiful scenery of mountains, rivers and woodlands, finally reaching our destination where mum’s body was to be buried. The estate manager was there to greet us and had very thoughtfully built a board with straps, in order to lower mum’s body into the grave. This he made, knowing that mum’s body wasn’t in a coffin, something I hadn’t thought of! I’m so grateful for his kindness.
Everything about that day was so beautiful and I’m blessed to have had such a life enhancing opportunity. It is a day that my family, friends and I will always hold dear in our hearts and remember with joy and gratitude.
The burial ground was Cothiemuir Hill and the helpful man from the estate was Steven Clark, the grave digger.