Well my Dear Reader, it’s been a very stressful few months which sadly culminated in the death of my beloved father four weeks ago. The last few days were peaceful for him as he died at home with a house full of family and dogs, in his own bed in clean jim-jams… what more could we or he ask for. My brother was down from Surrey, while my cousin Lauren drove Auntie down from the Lakes arriving for – what turned out to be – Dad’s final day. I will always remember the sight of Mum and Auntie sitting with Dad – who was not really with us by then – but somehow I think he hung on for Mark and Brenda to get here.
I had forgotten how much organisation is involved with death and funerals. I called J Westacott and Sons in South Molton, and between Michelle and Dawn they provided me with the most professional, caring and friendly service. My first involvement with the firm was when they came to take Dad away. What’s that saying about getting older and policemen looking younger? Well the funeral chappie looked about 12. Professional and caring but far too young to work in the funeral business.
On the Tuesday I went in to the funeral directors to start the arrangements. Now before I go any further I must point out that my Dad by profession was a Chartered Accountant in private practice. He was also a business man with electronics factories in Haywards Heath and Rye. He dabbled in property and at one stage had a TV rental business, with the TVs stored in our conservatory. He didn’t part with his money easily and often said “how much” rather than pardon. He was very vocal about far too much money wasted on weddings and funerals. So I went to the funeral directors armed with that knowledge.
First question asked was what flowers we would like. “Er, none thank you”. I would pick whatever I had in the garden on the day. Limousines to follow the hearse? “Er, no”. Will you follow the hearse? “Er, no we will meet you there”. Next I had to thumb through the coffin catalogue. Blimey what a choice and what prices. There was little I liked until I was shown – unbeknown to me – the ‘budget range’ and there a choice was easily made. It was another “no” to an order of service. I turned my nose up at the ornate ashes urns so Michelle didn’t even bother asking if I wanted some of the ashes made into jewellery. Dad would have been proud of me the total cost… £2999.
Next I booked the wheelchair taxi to take Mum and I to the crematorium. It was booked to wait there and bring us back – a simple request or so I thought. My good mate Teresa Maddox was happy to do the catering for the wake back at the farm. I originally thought there would only be about 8 of us, but numbers soon spiralled and Teresa did me proud, very proud.
The day of the funeral dawned and I had a house full of people. I made enough tea to sink a battle ship and seemed to be constantly providing food and washing up. Cousin and Best Mate took dogs out for a long walk which was a great source of relief – at least some living beings in the house would be happy. I got the house and Mother organised. The taxi arrived on time. As soon as we hit the Link Road Mum started being sick. There is nothing worse than people being sick at the best of times, but I was really struggling to cope with it. I was desperately trying to keep myself and her clean, I jammed the blanket – to keep her warm- under her chin to stop sick going everywhere. On arrival at the crematorium she stared to feel better once out in the open air. The taxi drove off – I stupidly thought to park – after all he did have my jacket and sick blanket on the front seat. After the service I pushed Mum back outside to find the taxi or to find a distinct lack of taxi. Dawn – the funeral director – walked round and round the car park out onto the road desperately looking for our taxi but there was no taxi to been seen.The ********** taxi driver had driven off.
I phoned South Molton taxis to see what was going on – I won’t use them again. The chap confirmed the taxi had been booked to wait and do the return journey. There was no apology, in fact his whole manner was one of couldn’t really care less. He said he would call the driver and call me back. When he called back his attitude was still the same. So Mum and I were stuck. Stuck at the bloody crematorium while our family and friends left to return to the farm. I phoned Teresa to tell her to start serving drinks as soon as people arrived. My friends Karen and Vanessa stayed with us while we waited in the ‘book of remembrance’ chapel which was cold. Now I could make some comment about us being cold and Dad not, but perhaps a joke too far. Still no sign of the taxi nor any calls from South Molton taxis office, absolutely NOTHING. Nothing to keep us posted on where the car was or a grovelling apology… bloody nothing. After half an hour of waiting Vanessa called them again. She was calmer than me but her sarcasm was brilliant. I can’t remember the whole conversation but the bit about “Well of course the widow has to come back from the crematorium the only person NOT leaving the crematorium is the deceased!”. We had to laugh, we were stuck at the bloody crem, and I was starting to think it’s a bloody long way to push Mum home, but push I might have to do.
The driver came back and he clearly needs to attend charm school. There was some sort of apology but he didn’t register the severity of the situation. It was the longest journey back from Barnstaple I have ever made in the 10 years I have lived here. Mum was sick again, blanket jammed back under her chin, I couldn’t be bothered to talk to the driver I would just be rude. His driving irritated me, he irritated me, the car stank of sick and I had a headache.
The wake was lovely, Teresa’s food and service was brilliant. Wine flowed so I think Dad would have approved.
And on a final note. My big brother Mark came up with the idea of planting a copse of trees on the farm where we could scatter the ashes – overlooking Dad’s favourite view to North Molton church. Brother and sister walked down to the spot with dogs scampering around to contemplate his brilliant idea. My big brother said, with tears in his eyes, “…and we could bury the dogs here, Dad would like that. I could bury Meggie (his dog) here as well”. I turned to look at my brother, then his dog by his side and said “Bloody hell Marky she not dead yet, give her a chance”. Good job dogs don’t understand us…
PS Sadly we lost Mum last week, just 28 days after Dad. Eight years of courting followed by 62 years of marriage they are back together again.