Life and Death

. . . and on to the undertaker’s

All these reflections on life and death have led me to a perhaps surprising subject which might be of interest to normal educators (popularly known as home schoolers). Life and all its problems are not quite over when you die… even when you’ve got through the funeral, there’s still the interment.

When we had our stillborn baby, nearly fifteen years ago, we knew straight away that we wanted to make all the arrangements ourselves. After all, this was someone we had looked forward to loving, nurturing and helping for forty years or more. Now everything we would ever be able to do for her would have to be done in a mere few days.

We couldn’t have done it without help. My father-in-law, who is a carpenter, made the little coffin, and my sister-in-law lined it with satin. Our families, friends and church family pitched in with the multitudinous tasks necessary to a funeral. Our next-door neighbour went with my husband and helped him dig the tiny grave. I was not well, but I managed to rise from my bed to wash my little one and lay her out for burial.

Was it hard to do these things? Oh, very hard. Yet how much harder it would have been – how much more painful, even now – if they had been taken out of our hands by soft-shoed professionals. People we thanked for helping said again and again, “I’m so glad to be able to do something.”

But we ran into a snag. We were in hospital, and it seemed that the hospital staff were not accustomed to the ways of normal educators. Again and again we ran up against a horrified insistence that an undertaker be called in to perform some function or other. Now my husband happens to be an organist, and was therefore acquainted with all the undertakers in town. He consulted one of these acquaintances, who was able to inform that there is no legal requirement for an undertaker to undertake anything at all. “As long as the person is buried in a legal place,” he advised, “you can do whatever you like.” I’ve heard some interesting stories since.

In the end, we had to ask the undertaker friend to come in and sign some papers, as the mortuary staff were stubbornly refusing to release the body. After that, the day was ours.

Of course, it would be a lot harder to do with a larger and heavier corpse. But people used to do it. Burying your dead used to be part of the nitty-gritty of life, like tending your sick and nurturing your children, not something sealed off in a weird world of plastic veneer, plastic music and plastic grass. I’m not saying everybody has to do this. But it’s one more thing we could consider buying back from the realm of the professional, the commercial, the impersonal and the faceless.

RIP 001


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