Charmel knew she wanted her mom’s funeral to be light, colourful and quintessentially British. So she planned a celebration of life with plenty of tea and cake.
“Mom was beautiful. She looked like Princess Diana. She was very sweet. Very gentle. She was a mellow soul. Very British - she loved her afternoon tea, cups of tea, lemon cake. And she loved reading too. She died of a brain tumour. She wasn’t really with it when she went, so she hadn’t really left behind any wishes for her funeral. The only thing she said was that she wanted her flowers spelt “mum” with a “u”. Being from Birmingham, we’d always called her “mom” with an “o”. But she wanted it spelt the British way.
“When I planned her funeral, I didn’t want it to be too depressing. I just wanted to keep it as light as possible. A celebration of her life. We didn’t want things to be too dark and depressing. My dad’s funeral had been a traditional Iranian funeral. Everything was black, everyone was sobbing. I wanted mom’s to be different. There was laughter at the funeral. It was light-hearted.”
“The funeral went very smoothly. it ended up being a really beautiful day. We chose a traditional hearse with flowers – her “mum” letters, spelt properly with the “u”, and one with her name, “Polly”. Then 2 limousines for family members behind. We asked people to wear bright colours too. One lady wore a bright pink dress which was brilliant. All of the pallbearers wore light blue ties because she loved blue.
“I didn’t want it to be too depressing. I just wanted to keep it as light as possible. A celebration of her life.”
“Between 50 and 70 people came. She was a teacher; she used to teach English. She’d regularly meet old students for dinner. Some of them came to the funeral and did readings. Some were pallbearers. The comedian Joe Lycett used to be one of her students too. He wrote a speech for someone to read at the funeral on his behalf.
“My best friend was a student of hers. Mom introduced us to each other when we were 13 and we’ve been best friends since. She led the funeral. She introduced speakers and did some readings. My mom’s best friend spoke. So did one of her old colleagues.
“I did a eulogy for her on behalf of her children. That was the most moving part of the day for me, when I spoke for her. I’d spent a long, long time writing and rewriting the eulogy. I wanted it to be spot on, honest and authentic.
“We chose a burial for Mom. It’s what she wanted. We’d buried my Dad; Iranians don’t do cremations. And mom wanted to be buried with him. When we buried her, we didn’t have a priest or anyone like that. It was lovely. We all threw flowers after her. But it did feel a bit awkward. We were her grieving kids and there were no parents there to guide things. Other guests didn’t really know whether to stay or to leave us to it.”
After the funeral
“We held a reception after the funeral. It was at a different location. We had it at a really nice, beautiful hall. It was a graded building. People get married there too. It had views over the fields around it and a big marquee. It was beautiful. We had a quintessential British theme with lots of cakes and sandwiches.”
Charmel’s tips for planning a funeral
“The day went really well. There wasn’t really anything that I’d have done hugely different. I’d planned my dad’s funeral before this and it helped me to know what to expect. I knew how things would go from that… from choosing a coffin to knowing where the body’s kept. I knew what to expect.
“In terms of advice, I think it’s easy to get really carried away when you’re planning a funeral. Like you can when you’re planning a wedding. You start looking at all the expensive stuff. But I don’t think a lot of that is needed. We were basic with parts of Mom’s funeral. In the meal options we chose, picking the music ourselves, taking photos ourselves. You don’t have to go all out with the most elaborate options.
“Remember it’s okay to cry too. I was desperately trying not to cry at my Dad’s funeral. But I’ve realised there wasn’t any need for that. It’s okay to cry. It’s a funeral. It’s the time and place for it. I didn’t restrict myself in how I expressed my feelings at Mom’s.”
To thank Charmel for sharing her story, we’ve made a contribution to The Brain Tumour Charity in memory of Polly.