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Morna's funeral 2nd February 2009

Morna's funeral 2nd February 2009- the same day as the celebration of Candlemas and the celtic Imbolc

I decided I wanted to arrange my mother’s funeral myself.  I have a dislike of conveyer belt type funerals, most probably inherited from my mother who always said she found undertakers and hearses somewhat foreboding and sinister.

For a good many years, well actually from the time I realised I wasn’t immortal, I knew exactly what I wanted done with my body when I no longer inhabited it. Simplistically, if there were any functional parts left these could be used (providing my family felt okay with that), followed by my burial in one of our hedge banks with an oak tree – grown from an acorn from my special Hartland oak – planted on top of me. I checked out the legal requirements so I didn’t land my family with an impossible task, and hoped, because I’d talked about it enough, it wouldn’t cause them any distress.

In our sanitisation of modern life we’ve become very good at prolonging life and very bad at coping with its ending.

We seem to have developed a deep embarrassment about death and a nervous reluctance to discuss coffins, burial sites and what happens when life stops. There was a comment in the Independent on Sunday last week on this very thing: in a recent survey the majority of those questioned said that they would sooner discuss the most intimate details of their personal lives than what their dead relative or friend might have wanted in the way of caskets and burials.

setting out the candles

setting out the candles

I knew my mother was dying. The fall she had after Christmas was the beginning of her last journey. After I accepted this, which took time, I knew I had to make those final weeks as peaceful and as gentle as I could; to give both of us the time and space, and love, to learn how to travel that ultimate path together and how to let go.

After she died it seemed the most natural thing in the world for me to bring Morna back to Locks Park  and continue to look after her here until we were able to take her to Kent and bury her alongside my father in the village she never really left.

I’ve never done anything like this before, but with the help of Jane Morrell, the author of the book We Need to Talk About the Funeral, and the support of my wonderful family it was a truly extraordinary and special experience. I won’t go into great detail here, but caring and administering to Morna daily and planning a funeral ceremony that was such a personal celebration of her life was a gift.

Morna's shroud

Morna's shroud

Morna, my mother, was buried in a shroud made from the wool of my sheep, by a friend, Yuli Somme. We took her up to Kent ourselves and decorated the church with armfuls of paper-white narcissi, ivy, yew, myrtle, willow and hazel. The music was heavenly, the hymns, reading and poems moving and poignant. She was buried beside my father, with the snow falling in silent white peace. It was totally spiritual, even magical.

Jeremy, one of Morna's godsons, took nine hours to get there in the snow. We took him to visit Morna's grave in the evening

Jeremy, one of Morna's godsons, took nine hours to get there in the snow. We took him to visit Morna's grave in the evening

On Wednesday we went to a funeral far away in Carmarthenshire. It was the funeral of a friend of my mother’s, a very good friend; she died last Thursday from complications following a fall on Boxing Day.

Morna, my mum, and Marjory always joked that they had some kind of telepathic communication. If one phoned the other always swore that she had her hand on the phone ready to dial the other’s number. Dates for visits or jaunts pencilled in diaries were often similarly mirrored. Far too many incidences to just be coincidences, I remember them saying!

Our families met and became firm friends when we all lived in Singapore. We children, their four sons and I, shared summer and Christmas holiday together. During those years we had enormous fun, and, as we teetered on the brink of childhood and adolescence, the spark of an innocent romance blossomed between me and one of the boys, an experience both sweetly delicious and excruciatingly embarrassing.  Eventually we all left Singapore, grew up and drifted apart, our lives taking different direction. But we still kept up with occasional news of each other through our mothers, whose friendship and contact continued.

I shouldn’t, therefore, have been too surprised when I received a call from David, one of Marjory’s sons, last Friday. Shattered, he told me of Marjory’s fall and subsequent death. The timing and similarity to my mother’s was hard to miss – just another of those coincidences.

Morna isn’t doing well at the moment. She’s all but given up eating, disappearing into her own vivid memory world. It seems our interruptions, when trying to persuade her to eat or drink, to change her and to move her or to encourage her to walk, painfully shock her into an unwelcome waking nightmare, bringing her face to face with her distorted, wrecked body. When she escapes she is – I think, I believe – once again happy, active and healthy, she can’t see what all the fuss is about. And I am in both her worlds – she knows me, her eyes seek mine, she talks to me and of me. But she’s diminishing in front of my eyes. This is so hard…

And so we went to the funeral to celebrate the long friendship of these two women, one still teetering on the brink of life, to share joint memories and to renew old friendships. Out of our combined bewilderment and heartache we reunited and found the warmth and fun we shared as children, almost forty years on.

my oak says it all

my oak says it all

Locks Park Farm

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I have a small organic farm on the Culm grasslands near Hatherleigh in Devon, with sheep and beef cattle. I've been farming in the county for more than 30 years. I've set up this blog to share views on farming and the countryside - please do give your thoughts.



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