The Ultimate Intimacy – caring for someone after their death

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          While some people find the whole notion of death abhorrent, my position is that it is a part of life. Like it or not humans are organic creatures whose natural lifespan, while long, is finite.

Family history research made that very clear to me as generation succeeded generation down the years. I also discovered, in the process of discussions with mum, that my maternal Great Grandmother was both midwife and a layer out of the dead. While funeral businesses thrive and help many of us in the 21st century to avoid too close an involvement in death, in 19th century life death was much closer to everyday reality.

It was my desire to care for mum, not only before she passed away but also after. I saw this intimate task as a natural extension of our time together, and could not bear to think of a stranger doing this for her. So I undertook to wash her body and dress her prior to calling the funeral parlor, talking to her all the while. I also washed her hair and set it in rollers, because she liked to look good not only every day, but especially on important occasions, and this was an important and special occasion…

I lit candles on the table where I’d set up images of my late Dad and brother, as well as flowers, her favorite jewellery and lipstick, a little bottle of pink Champagne and a glass. She lay in state with a blanket over her feet for the rest of the night and then in the morning I called the funeral parlor who went on to sort out the medical certificate and convey her to the crematorium.

It was a confronting thing to do, but  it was the right thing for me to do and I don’t regret it for a second. I also count myself fortunate in the sense that I was caring for a person much older than I am rather than burying a child. Or horrendously, but all too frequently in present times, not able to locate and bury someone dear to me, with whatever ceremony my beliefs require and I was prepared to undertake…