Making an exit
The news that the cost of dying is overtaking the cost of living is just killing me – according to the University of Bath’s Institute for Policy Research it costs more than £7,622 to shuffle off this mortal coil – a rise of 80% in nine years. Some of the bills are, like death itself, unavoidable, but isn’t it time we stopped being prissy about funerals and just admitted that there is nothing more guilt-tripping than being urged to buy gilt handles for your casket?
If we could have buried my dad in a cardboard box we would have – we did try, but couldn’t find one man enough for the job, so we went for the cheapest possible wooden one. If we could have bought it flat-packed we would have – “It’s what he would have wanted”. He was an incurable DIYer with the best equipped carpentry workshop for miles around. Had we spent a penny more than we had to on something he could have run up in a couple of hours in his workroom, the sound of his spinning in said-offensive item would have drowned out the eulogy.
The most expensive part of my father’s funeral was the burial plot – under a tree in a woodland cemetery which, if I remember rightly, cost a little over a thousand pounds, grave diggers included, ten years ago. My mum, in an alarmingly uncharacteristic display of forethought, bought two at once – not quite BOGOF, but still a relative steal.
We didn’t hire a minister. He was of the “leave me out for the binmen” school, so we managed perfectly well by corralling all the chattier members of the family – of which there are no shortage – into organising a DIY joint eulogy.
The wake was easy. My sister and I pretended we were just planning another family do and went on a supermarket run for sausage rolls and salad and then, when people asked (as they always do), if there is “anything we can do” we weren’t shy – we said “yes” and asked them to help with the food. It was the best thing we could have done. Being in a busy kitchen with your and your parents’ closest friends buttering bread and mis-timing the boiled eggs didn’t take the pain away but it created a kind of emotional duvet that certainly muffled it for a bit.
The headstone was home-made – again we twisted a few arms and I asked one of my parents’ best friends’ sons if they could make one. They had spent a lifetime sharing and invading his various workshops and would disappear together into the workshop every holiday, occasionally emerging temporarily scuppered, for a cuppa and a good swear, before returning, refreshed, to try plan B. Eventually they would unveil their latest creation – a restored card table, a re-conditioned clock or, if I was home, a new, miraculously undented, wing for the car – to universal indifference.
So hearing my dad’s friends describe how they had worked together on his wooden ‘tombstone’, imagining the spirit of my dad standing over their shoulders, knitting his not inconsiderable eyebrows together in exasperation at not being able to give advice, was worth a ton of hand-carved marble.
So, when you go – and preferably before – let your family know how you’d like to be sent off. If black-plumed horses are your thing, then go for it. We had a horse-drawn hearse for another family funeral and they were a knockout – dramatic, comforting and reassuringly timeless. Just what was required. But don’t waste money on things you and your loved ones never cared for. If you want to spend money on silk and satin for your family don’t wait till they are dead – get them a fancy frock or a suit they can wear now, don’t throw it away on coffin lining later. Use the money now to take them on holiday, buy Barbra Streisand tickets, or just blow it on an unnecessary amount of tea and cakes at the garden centre – it’s a much better investment.