Going Green at Brookwood Cemetery


It’s been twenty five years since the inspirational Ken West MBE opened the very first natural burial ground at Carlisle cemetery, and here at GFG Towers we felt that this landmark anniversary needed to be acknowledged. Members of the Good Funeral Guild felt so too, and, under gentle pressure from Stephen Laing we have co-opted fellow Guild members Emma Curtis and Sarah Weller to help us organise a celebratory day to commemorate Ken’s achievement at the beautiful, iconic Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey on Sunday September 9th, between 10.00 and 17.00.

Since 1993 when the very first natural burial took place, over 300 sites around the UK have been opened, and countless thousands of people have chosen this gently, environmentally responsible alternative to cremation or traditional burial. Despite this, natural burial lags behind in the statistics, being the choice of only around 1% of the population, which we think is a real shame. We’d love to help raise awareness of natural burial generally, so this celebratory day is a starting point for us. Watch this space for further developments.

In the meantime, the event on Sunday 9th September will be open to everyone to attend, with an opportunity to explore the fabulous historic Brookwood Cemetery as a bonus. The London Necropolis and National Mausoleum Company was established in 1852 to provide ‘a great metropolitan cemetery situated in the suburbs, large enough to contain all of London’s dead for ever’, in response to great public concern about the state of London’s cemeteries. Two years later, Brookwood Cemetery was opened and the London Necropolis Railway ran between Waterloo station and two private stations in the cemetery, carrying coffins and mourners directly into the cemetery grounds. Since then, over 240,000 people have been buried here, and the cemetery is a hidden wonder of beautiful landscaping, quietly fading memorials and mausolea, immaculate military cemeteries and gems such as the only Zoroastrian cemetery in Europe and the St. Edward Brotherhood, a small Orthodox Christian monastery.

Set in the heart of Brookwood Cemetery is the natural burial area, Gillian’s Meadow, and it is here that we will be gathering to commemorate the establishment of natural burial as a viable alternative to the existing funeral choices. The Open Day will run from 10.00 until 17.00, and along with the ceremonial tree planting, there will be activities throughout the day to encourage guests to explore incorporating nature and ritual in their end of life decisions.

Death cafe picnics will run alongside rustic crafts, mandala and garland making, story telling,message writing and a ‘Time to Altar Grief’ installation, there will be a book tent where you can browse through all kinds of books on death and funerals, a chance to meet and chat with people working in the funeral industry who can answer any questions you might have, an opportunity to see a grave prepared for a natural burial, and Sound in the Woodland. We will also be offering Forest Bathing walks, allowing the opportunity to learn about the healing benefits of being among trees and nature, in the perfect setting. Bring a picnic and a rug and come and spend the day immersed in the beauty of Brookwood.

It will be a wonderful day, commemorating a hugely important movement inspired a quarter of a century ago by the brave innovation of Ken West and Carlisle City Council. We’ll be inviting all of the UK natural burial site owners and operators to come along and join us in acknowledgement of Ken’s influence, as well as local dignitaries and friends of Brookwood Cemetery. Members of the Good Funeral Guild will be coming along too, and the day will be open to the public to come and be part of.

Oh, and there will be cake. Lots of cake. With a very special centrepiece cake created by Conjurer’s Kitchen.

Details about Going Green at Brookwood can be found on Facebook here.


Green Funeral Director of the Year


Lorna and Jo Vassie of Higher Ground Family Funerals

Jo Vassie is one of the leading figures in the world of natural burial; her site near Dorchester currently holds the Natural Death Centre’s People’s Award for the Best Natural Burial Ground in the UK.

With a custom built facility and a determination to be able to provide undertaking services for the many families that asked for her assistance, Jo is a great example of the no-nonsense, sensible and down to earth approach, which does away with any fluff or complications when it comes to caring for the dead.

She has an unfussy, straightforward and completely unassuming nature and brings this approach to her work caring for both the dead and their families, and she and her small family team are successfully growing this complementary business alongside their main love, which is of providing the highest quality natural burial.

In 2013, after years of trying to encourage her husband to consider offering an undertaking service for families choosing to be buried at Higher Ground Meadow, Jo and her son Tom decided that it was time to bite the bullet. They converted some space on their farm to suitable premises for caring for dead people, and bought a 9-seater vehicle that Tom adapted by removing the two back rows of seats and adding a shelf with rollers.

At the time of entering for the awards HGFF have carried out 71 funerals including some cremations, although invariably the majority of funerals involve a natural burial at Higher Ground Meadow. Bodies are cared for naturally, no toxic chemicals are involved and they don’t embalm, nor stitch mouths together or use plastic eye caps. Jo and her daughter in law, Lorna, take care of the bodies in their mortuary, and they take pride in making people look as nice as they can for their families. Some are dressed in their own clothes, others in a cotton gown supplied by HGFF, and all are laid on a thick cream coloured calico sheet before being placed in their coffin. All coffins are biodegradable, and the very reasonable costs are all displayed online.

Families are encouraged to be involved with the funeral, and hired bearers are rarely used – where necessary, four local men will help out but most families are pleased to do this part themselves with Jo’s help and guidance.

One of the many testimonials received reads; ’ How can I ever thank you enough? You have been there for me and my daughter every step of the way during this terrible, bewildering and heart breaking time. Everything you have done for us and for my darling husband has been so perfect. What you do for the grieving and the passed over is so very, very special. You are an angel, I am certain. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart”


Runner Up in this category: Only With Love

General Election blues … and greens

Posted by Richard Rawlinson

With Funeralworld including many small businesses, will their owners and employees be voting in the 7 May General Election for the party they feel supports the UK’s 4.9 million small businesses the most?

But what can a government actually do other than make supportive noises encouraging enterprise, and championing the role of small businesses in economic growth? Cut business red tape? Improve access to finance? Lower business rates?
One regret for me is that the Tories have allowed environmentalism to become a left-wing cause (eco-warriors fighting for the future victims of capitalism). In fact, environmentalism is not just about the radical re-ordering of society, but also about conservative causes such as conservation and safeguarding resources. It’s what Edmund Burke describes as a partnership between the dead, the living and the unborn.

It was the state-controlled projects of the Soviet empire that destroyed landscapes and poisoned waters. It’s private ownership that more often than not confers responsibility for the environment.

A fine example of this is woodland burial sites. It’s a shame that these pastures green are sometimes perceived as more for alternative types than mainstream conservationists who are equally keen to leave nature in good shape for future generations.
Will any of the party’s manifestos propose, even in small print, legislation in favour of the re-use of graves after a period of, say, 50 to 75 years? Doubtful given the fear of tabloid headlines about MPs digging up great grandma.
When reuse has been piloted in London, there’s only been praise that traditional graveyards are no longer dead space.

In Greece today, and some other Orthodox countries, a body is buried only for about six years, at which time the grave is reused. There’s no scandal when, in a religious ceremony, bodily remains are dug up, the bones cleaned and stored in an ossuary.

Perhaps the disused crems of our utopian future could reinvent themselves as ossuaries.

What would Doctor Who’s funeral be like?

Posted by Melissa Stewart

How does the Doctor’s experience of intergalactic death care compare with our earthly experiences? What would he think of arrangements in an average high street chain?

In the 1985 episode ‘Revelation of the Daleks’, loosely based on Evelyn Waugh’s ‘The Loved One’, we learn a little about the Doctor’s attitude to funerals. By all accounts the good Doctor is an existentialist believing that when you die that’s it.

The story is set in the Tranquil Repose Funeral Home on the planet Necros. Renowned for their funeral arrangements for the galaxy’s elite, the deceased are placed into suspended animation until a ‘cure’ for their death is found and they are returned to life. These people are called the ‘Resting Ones’. But all is not well, the Tranquil Repose has been taken over by the evil Davros who is using the deceased in the storage hub to make new Daleks.

Outside the funeral home is the ‘Garden of Fond Memories’, where statues of the Resting Ones are erected in their memory. It is the job of the staff Mister Jobel and his student Tasambeker to upsell and this they do via the ‘perpetual arrangement’. Sound familiar?

While your body is ‘suspended’ you can opt to have music and information played to you by ‘The DJ’ to keep you abreast of music trends and news. You don’t want to be out of date when you come back do you? For a just a little more the DJ will also read you messages from your loved ones. And then there’s the memorial statue!

In the Garden of Fond Memories is a statue of the Doctor, made of polystyrene but sold as stone. Davros has put it there with the intention of killing the Doctor. The Doctor stares at it and declares “No, no, this is dreadful. Do you realise how much a thing like this would cost …… America doesn’t have the monopoly on bad taste”. He turns his back on the statue and it collapses on top of him. Jobel appears in a half hearted attempt to rescue him knowing his actions are not really necessary  “I am Jobel. I am very important here, I am the Chief Embalmer”. The Doctor replies “Are you touting for business?  The Doctor pushes the statue off himself stating “It’s all part of an elaborate theatrical effect”.  Tasambeker later stabs Jobel in the heart and is himself killed by a Dalek.

At the end of the episode The Doctor says “This place is called Tranquil Repose. I think we should leave the dead in peace don’t you? I know somewhere that is truly tranquil, peaceful, restful. A panacea for the cares of the mind.”

“Planets come and go. Stars perish. Matter disperses, coalesces, forms into other patterns, other worlds. Nothing can be eternal.” – The Sixth Doctor, Colin Baker.

So it’s a natural burial for The Doctor then, if he ever stops regenerating.

Book Review: R.I.P. Off! By Ken West

RIP Off! is Ken West’s thinly-fictionalised account of his pioneering introduction of natural burial to Carlisle in 1993. It contrasts the enthusiastic reception his invention received in the media and among the public with the fear and loathing it stirred up in local undertakers.

They didn’t understand it. They saw it as a threat to their commercial interests and their professional status. They didn’t like Ken’s mission to empower the bereaved with information. They didn’t like his advocacy of low-cost funerals and his imputation that undertakers charge too much. They were infuriated by his charm, his humour and his success in creating publicity for his revolutionary way of disposing of the dead. They conspired to undermine and discredit him.

Considering the battering Ken took in real life from the Dismal Trade, you’ll not be surprised to see him settle scores in RIP Off!. He does. But his weapon of choice is not invective but satire. He debunks but he doesn’t put the boot in. He is gracious in victory. This is not how some undertakers may see it. If so, they may console themselves that it could have been a lot worse.

I suspect Ken has cause to feel much angrier than he lets on, but he refuses to cast himself as victim and he rises serenely above rancour. This is descriptive, I think, of the strength of character he must have needed, as a local authority officer, to steer his innovative scheme through all manner of committeedom all the way to implementation. It is rare to see the public service at the cutting edge of anything. In addition to zeal, persuasiveness and perseverance, there must have been cunning, too – of the most ethical sort, of course. 

RIP Off! reads more like a thinly fictionalised memoir than a novel because, though it has conflict a-plenty, it doesn’t have a conventional plot which concludes, after a period of suspense, in a resolution. It begins as story, then becomes more episodic and anecdotal. That’s not meant as a criticism. There’re plenty of insights into the hidden world of the funerals business to keep you turning the pages, together with some cracking stories reworked, they have to be, from personal experience; many of them are much stranger than fiction. As for resolution, well, in real time, we’ve still some way to go.

Ken sets out his stall early. He characterises undertakers as a “mafia” as early as page 2. He pinpoints with deadly accuracy their insecurities and vanities: “all Round Table and moral rectitude”. He has a go at their disposition to think too well of themselves. A great many people who work in crematoria will cheer when they read:

“The measure of a dominant funeral director was his belief that he could call the tune at all the local cemeteries and crematoria; that he could act as the top dog, as if he owned the entire facility and its staff.”

Okay, Ken can occasionally be cruel: “Brian said he could always get work because he had an O level, and this made the more cynical funeral directors refer to him as the professor.” But he can be kind, too. The portrayals of Roger, the cut-price undertaker, and Graham, who ends up working for a corporate, are not unsympathetic.

The undertakers’ trade association, BALU, embodies the pomposity and secretiveness of its members, viewing them as “the only ones who could judge what people really needed. They were convinced that too much information would confuse and upset the bereaved; that they can be told too much.” Not much change there, then.

If the independents are nothing to write home about, the corporates are worse. When one undertaker sells up to a corporate based in Manchester of all places, “it stuck in [his] craw that although he had not provided cheap funerals, he had never been this greedy.”

It is the settled view of the undertakers in RIP Off! that the hero, Ben West (see what I mean about thinly disguised) is “an isolated green weirdo” and a “fucking smartarse.” Worse, he is “an advocate of change and this … was intolerable.” The story is an account of the undertakers’ fightback. Each side enjoys victories. Or, rather, the undertakers win some skirmishes but Ben is in the business not of picking a fight with them but of campaigning in the public arena for cheaper, greener, more authentic funerals. Everyone is left standing at the end, by which time, the record shows, natural burial has gone global.

Not necessarily in the form Ben West originally envisages, though. West is an environmentalist and, appealing as natural burial is to those who would tread lightly on the Earth, and it is one of the undertakers who comes to understand what natural burial comes to mean to most people: “Graham realised that Ben had got it wrong all those years ago. Sure, there were a few people wanting to save the planet but the majority were seeking something else, here and now, something that enabled the soul to go on.”

Briefly, the future isn’t green, it’s spiritual.

It is Graham, too, who reflects at the end of the book “that [Ben] was still a voice in the wilderness.  Where are they, all those young activists, the new greens, who were going to step into his shoes and give funeral directing a hard time?”

I think we may be slightly more optimistic. The novel describes restrictive practices, notably the prevention by threats of a coffin manufacturer and carriagemaster from dealing direct with the public. Today, a good many coffin suppliers deal direct with the public, as does James Hardcastle with his self-drive hearse. 

Running alongside the story there are lots of good anecdotes in RIP Off!, many of them funny, some touching, some instructive. There’s an exhumation. There’s a glimpse inside a path lab. There are the messages people leave on graves for their dead ones, including one beginning with the words ‘We have moved…’ There’s a Last Supper coffin whose depiction of Christ and his disciples the audience mistakes for a depiction of Showaddywaddy. And here’s a thing: did you know that the corpses of alcoholics burn faster and fiercer?

The humour throughout is, come to think of it, dark shading into black. And Ken can be extremely funny. Roger’s ancient bearers occasionally let him down by dropping dead. “This was a double-edged sword; he lost a bearer but he gained a funeral.” There is no sex in the book, but it concludes with an exhortation to readers to have more.

RIP Off! isn’t just an account of the birth pangs of natural burial. Its broader theme is the British way of death and there’s no mistaking where Ken’s heart lies. It is with simple, down-to-earth funerals organised by empowered people whose farewells are heartfelt and whose understanding is that our dead bodies must be returned to the earth whence they came in such a way that they can give the most back.

RIP Off! offers the general reader a fascinating and demystifying insight into the secretive world, both exotic and banal, of death and funerals. It will likely encourage the brave and the self-confident to take matters more into their own hands. It won’t stop people using undertakers, but it will likely alter their relationship with them.

Those who work in the funerals business will agree that the book holds up a mirror of some sort to what actually goes on. It is unquestionably informative and very funny. Whether Ken’s mirror distorts truth, and if so how much, is a matter for hot debate.

Buy your copy in time for Christmas here

Have Cambridgeshire’s badgers moved the goalposts?

If you want to be buried in Fowlmere, Cambridgeshire, you’ll find the fees attractive but the rules, perhaps, restrictive. The parish council has placed a ban on coffins made from wicker, cardboard, bamboo or cotton. See the full document here

Why so? It has been suggested to us that badgers may be at the bottom of this: that the parish council wants to disincentivise them from digging up the dead. We have not been able to verify this so, to be absolutely fair, we have to declare that we have no idea why certain coffins are preferred and others deterred. 

If it turns out that badgers are the culprits responsible for this bureaucratic interference with the rights of Brits to bury their dead in anything they darn well please (so long as it doesn’t outrage public decency), where is the evidence that they dig up the dead? 

The answer to that is that the there are numerous reported incidences of badgers disrespecting our dormitories of the dead. You can check out a selection by clicking here, here, here, here and here

The diet of yer average badger comprises mostly earthworms and leatherjackets. But they are also known to predate on hedgehogs, lambs and rabbits.

They are also known to take carrion. 

Including the flesh of dead humans? Well, not to our knowledge, and we’ve done a fair amount of digging over the years to get to the bottom of this myth. Even those burial grounds that commendably bury shallow report no incursions by foxes and badgers. Simply, the theory goes, nature’s larder affords them tastier fare. Where badgers have dug up dead people in burial grounds this has been in the course of ‘clumsy’ pursuit of their normal diet. Their disturbance of the dead has been inadvertent — they have merely shouldered them aside. 

Have Cambridgeshire’s badgers moved the goalposts? We have invited Fowlmere Parish Council to account for its ban on certain coffins, and you can, too. The name of the clerk to the council is Mrs Jackie Wright and her email address is 


The parish council will next meet on 17 December, and Mrs Wright has undertaken to draw the attention of the councillors to an email I sent on 21 November asking to know why they have banned ‘eco’ coffins. You may wish to do the same. 

The GFG blog represents all points of view. If you’ve got something to say and an urge to say it, we’d be pleased to publish it here. We reach close to 2000 people every day, so this is a good place to get your message out. Send your words to charles@goodfuneralguide.co.uk.

Dying what comes naturally

On Thursday the GFG donated an entire day to the Natural Death Centre — an act of generosity which has earned us the highest self-praise. We  agreed to deliver People’s Awards winners’ certificates to those owners and managers of natural burial grounds upon whom the People had bestowed them. As our 54-seater luxury executive coach vroomed away from the GFG-Batesville Shard, we were filled with a keen sense of adventure.

First stop was Upper Bryntalch Farm, Montgomeryshire, Wales, on which is situated Green Lane Burial Field. We were shown round by Ifor and Eira Humphreys and daughter Delyth. The burial ground occupies just an acre towards the top of a swooping slope that runs down to the Severn flood plain, and it commands, as you can see, wonderful views. The site is managed as a hay meadow. Graves – just £500 each – are set comfortably apart from each other, and only a small proportion of the whole site is  earmarked for burial. Everyone wants a plot at the top of the hill, but there’s too much shale up there. The site is bounded by woodland, and we particularly liked the green oak obelisk to which families can affix a plaque bearing the name of their person who’s died. It really does mark this place out as a sacred space. Graves are designated by a single cobblestone with a number — you hardly notice them. The house you can see in the slideshow was once lived in by the composer Peter Warlock, an attraction for musicians. Many families hold their funeral at the graveside in the fresh air. Some come on from church or their village hall.

Verdict: a natural burial ground that keeps it simple, occupies a sensationally beautiful site, provides access and parking that does not scar the ground, and is run by very, very nice people. Our score: 10/10

We celebrated being in Wales by stopping off in the county town, Montgomery. It’s an idyllic place glowered over by one of those (now ruined) castles built to subdue the revolting populace, a symbol of historic minority-abuse that makes English people feel prickly guilt when they visit the Principality. We browsed the market and, as a gesture of appeasement, bought some leaks. We marvelled at the ironmonger’s, one of those old-fashioned establishments that stocks everything.

Next stop was Westhope, some ten miles north of Ludlow. This is a seriously remote place whose approach reminded us of John Betjeman’s line: ‘By roads “not adopted”, by woodlanded ways’. You wouldn’t necessarily want to be a freshly polished hearse motoring to a funeral here. By the time we got through, rain had set in with some vim, but this was not something that our hosts, Andy Bruce and his daughter Fay, seemed to be aware of in the least. That’s countryfolk for you. 

The burial site is an old orchard. It’s been an orchard since time out of mind. In it stands a Victorian estate chapel built on the foundations of an earlier chapel dating back to the thirteenth century. You can hold a funeral here, if you like. It doesn’t have an especially churchy feel, probably because it does not host a lot in the way of regular worship. The site is grazed by Castlemilk Moorit sheep, a rare breed, now. They were bred to be decorative, and so they are, especially the lambs. Andy likes eating them. The apples are highly spoken of, too.

The sheep keep the grass down when it’s growing. They overwinter indoors and have their lambs there. When it’s time to let them out, the abundant spring flowers, daffodils and crocus especially, have begun to die back.

Verdict: Unique, mildly eccentric. Simple and natural. Very beautiful and agreeably remote. Andy and Fay are lovely people and they look after you really well. No website, which greatly enhances the sense of discovery. 10/10.

Finally, on our way back, we called in at Ludford Park Meadow of Remembrance in Ludlow, which had not won a prize but deserved to. How Lin and Roger Dalton came to own it by accident is a long and twisting story. Briefly, the church cemetery is now full, the townspeople still want to be buried there, so the strip of land adjoining was bought and made into a natural burial ground thanks in great part to the perseverance of Lin and Roger. 

It doesn’t appeal to the sort of folk who want the sort of away-from-it-all burial ground characterised by Green Lane and Westhope. Ludlow people want to visit their dead often, so they’re allowed a 15″x15″ stone plaque at the head of the grave – scarcely detectable when we looked round. (The rain was now falling profusely, by the way.) And there’s a gravelled area with vases where people can bring their flowers, rather than place them on the graves. 

What Ludford Park manages to pull off very well indeed is its relationship with its regimented, headstoned neighbour. Its special magic is that it doesn’t feel unkempt. 

The burial ground has been so popular that it is now three years off being full. Lin wants to buy a strip of land from the farmer over the fence, but he won’t sell. This doesn’t dismay Lin at all. She has set her sights. 

Verdict: A burial ground which has its own distinctive identity, yet rubs along very happily with the cemetery next door. Trees at the far end add to its beauty. Admirably and sensitively adapted to the particular needs of its clients. Run by very, very nice people. 10/10. 

I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes. ee cummings

It’s all good at Clandon Wood

Friday and Saturday 21 and 22 June marked the opening of Clandon Wood natural burial ground in the Surrey Hills, south of Guildford. The moving spirit behind the venture is Simon Ferrar, a man whose meticulous research has made him really quite famous in Funeralworld. There can’t be anywhere he didn’t visit, nor any person he has not interviewed. We remember well when he rang the control tower of the GFG-Batesville Shard with the excited announcement, “I’ve found it! I’ve found a site!’ We googled it and verily, even at that stage, it looked good from the air. 

It has to be said that he’s got it absolutely right. Thirty acres of English meadow already, though planted only last year, looking really verdant and supporting a rich variety of wildflowers and, of course, attendant voles, raptors, owls, field mice and the voracious food chain that supports any English idyll. 

Tons of people came. We missed the ceremonial opening by sundry assorted clergyfolk and the Mayor of Guildford, Diana Lockyer-Nibbs, a splendid name. Emma Curtis, a shamanic celebrant, uttered a marvellous pagan blessing. There were some seriously brilliant speakers to follow, including Ken West, Fran Hall, Kristie West, Barbara Chalmers, Rachel Wallace, Pia Interlandi and sundry folk from local wildlife orgs. 

There was even a funeral. Simon Ferrar rehearsed his own, his pallid corse drawn by horse and cart, followed by a long procession, and in the mid-afternoon he rose again from the dead and did it once more the next day. Good idea, that, to enable people to see what a natural burial looks like. 

We very much like the ceremony hall. Indeed, we liked everything we saw and everything we heard. We thank Simon and Dani for their hospitality and their warm welcome. 

An intimate and loving burial

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.