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Ashes to ashes

  Sun 23rd September 2012

My 70-year-old acting teacher and friend died suddenly this week. A heart attack in Market Square, which sent him lurching back for a fatal bang on the head. He was forever young, and went without the indiginity of tubes up the nose and other instances of the pointless prolongation of life that is misnamed "care". "'Get up, find a space, and stand in it'," started one of his close friends in her tribute.

In the car coming back from the wake, I wondered aloud why Christianity has to stick its oar into funerals all the time. A surprisingly short day: I joined a couple of stragglers who, like me, were back in Lancaster three hours after it had started. A funeral, surely, lasts all day.

As soon as I found out his funeral arrangements, I rang Kirsty. To tell her that a friend had died and that the girls might have to get their own tea and be on their own for two or three hours. "Yeah, it's David, my old acting teacher. The funeral's on Friday at 1.15 and then we're all going up to Bolton-le-Sands for the wake, so I'll probably be back at about six or seven."

Although I know Kirsty better than to receive anything like sympathy, I wondered whether I might receive a brief expression of regret at my loss, or a suggestion that she could get any of the numerous reliable neighbours round here to look in on the girls whilst she's entertaining her boyfriend in Kendal.

She hardly paused. "Well, you had the the other weekend off for the cricket." I felt a hot flare of anger at her lack of empathy. "Yeah, but I've got to go to his funeral haven't I?", challenging her to oppose it so that I could let loose the volley of indignation I was repressing.

The funeral reminded me that I should circulate to my daughters, to Kirsty, and Kim, (who would be good in a crisis) my wishes; the most important amongst which are that, after my body has been plundered for anything that might be useful to anyone else, I want to be buried, not cremated; and I do not want the slightest mention of Christianity nor its secular equivalent, "spirituality", at my funeral. I find cremation repellent, a violent, disrespectful act made even more odious by its inevitable recall of events of the past century. How we have normalised the burning of our deceased loved ones is incomprehensible.

When I am dead, my body will be lowered into the ground in a cheap, flimsy cardboard coffin, into a grave at Scotforth Cemetery in Lancaster. Worms will consume my body and I will be recycled into the wings of flies and the legs of fleas.


Almost agree with your wishes for departing this “Vale of Tears”

What’s wrong with cremation?
It has the same effect on the mortal remains as does rotting in the ground, just a lot faster.

Sun 23rd September 2012 @ 19:05
Comment from: Homer [Visitor]

I hate the thought of cremation too. I don’t like the thought of your hair catching fire. Although it could be watching Diamonds are Forever at a formative age.

My friend is an amateur archaeologist and the pit they’re digging this month has already revealed two medieval skeletons. It’s quite moving to see them under a bog standard cow field in the next village.

Sun 23rd September 2012 @ 19:40
Comment from: [Member]

TSB: No it doesn’t, it’s entirely different. Cremation reduces you to a phial of ashes (which are often mixed up anyway, so “Mum” is often actually some bloke you’ve never known.) And why would you want to get rid of someone quickly? You’ve known him, you’ve had drinks with him, you’ve procreated with him, her–and then you burn them? It’s revolting, the nearest thing to murder that’s allowable by law.

H: What an interesting thing to discover. All these people put into body-burning ovens are doing a great disservice to archaeology.

Sun 23rd September 2012 @ 20:08
Comment from: isabelle [Visitor]

Your thoughts on cremation v burial reminded me of a lovely interview a couple of weeks ago on radio 4 with a woman who had cavorted about with her mothers body in her camper van. She took her to the supermarket,the seaside, to say goodbye to old friends, to all the places she hadn’t been able to get to for years; before burying her in a farmers field somewhere outside Harrogate.

Mon 24th September 2012 @ 12:10

My condolences. Your sensei is gone, although at 70 years old it’s not *that* sudden. That’s exactly how I want to go too.

Cremation is considered a necessary and dignified end in some cultures. In India the widows used to throw themselves onto their husband’s pyre! Who are we to judge?

Mon 24th September 2012 @ 12:13
Comment from: [Member]

Isabelle: What a great story. Wonder if she propped up in the passenger seat?

Ideally, I’d like to be buried beneath the awe-inspiring oak tree which was outside my window on the farm where I lived for eight years, but getting the permission from such a conservative man as the farmer is would be nigh on impossible.

UB: Sod cultural relativism, certain things that other cultures do are just wrong, and suttee is one of them. I realise that funereal practices are determined by climate first of all, and that in India you don’t want bodies hanging around too long. But that doesn’t excuse encouraging a wife onto a pyre.

Editor’s note: We apologise for the misspelling of “cemetery” in early editions of this article.

Mon 24th September 2012 @ 13:01
Comment from: [Member]

sorry for the loss of your friend - although it is shocking to those of us left behind when it is so sudden, i suspect it is the least painful way for someone to hit the end, and like you, appreciate it when some of us get out with our dignity mostly intact…

i had been horrified when my atheist friend, who used the call sign “recreational blasphemy” was posthumously subjected to a full catholic mass at his funeral. fortunately, he didn’t have to sit through it…

Tue 25th September 2012 @ 02:21
Comment from: [Member]

Of ways to die, I wouldn’t mind pinching that for mine.

Whilst I’m fairly sure my family would respect my wishes, I do need to spell it out in black and white to avoid the fate of your friend. It’s so unfair and selfish, a hijacking of someone’s wishes and life and outlook, when they’re not really in a position to object!

Tue 25th September 2012 @ 09:59
Comment from: smallbeds [Visitor]

Condolences, looby. However close a death, it always tends to sharpen the mind on these things.

Tue 25th September 2012 @ 12:00
Comment from: [Member]

Yes, I am constantly aware of my own mortality. The practical reminders seem to come more and more frequently.

Tue 25th September 2012 @ 12:17

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