Steph wasn’t able to be with her mum, Liz, when she passed away in another city during the Covid pandemic. But she overcame the distance to visit her in the chapel of rest and plan a beautiful Humanist ceremony.
“About May or June 2021, Mum started getting unwell. She was down, feeling depressed. She couldn’t remember things. The mental health team got involved. My brother was living near to her, but I was in London. I went back and forth to see her. But things started to get worse in August. The mental health team said they didn’t know what to do. She got admitted to a mental health ward but I knew this was different to a mental health episode. She went from a size 16 to a size 8. I knew something wasn’t right. On 3rd November, I got a phone call. She’d been taken into the hospital and had had a scan. She had a brain tumour. That’s what had been causing all of the issues. I raced from London to the hospital but they weren’t letting people onto the wards because of Covid.
“By the time the hospital had identified her tumour, they couldn’t operate on it. She needed a hospice, but there weren’t any rooms nearby – they were all full. So she ended up in a nursing home in Leamington Spa. She died on Boxing Day. My brother, Ollie, was with her. I had Covid at the time, so wasn’t allowed in. It’s understandable. But it was hard.
“After she died, the nursing home helped to an extent. They gave us a list of a few funeral directors in the area. But that was where the help stopped. Mum had no funeral plans at all. All we knew was that she wanted a cremation. It was all unexpected. No pre-paid funeral. No wishes. Nothing. We were starting from scratch. We picked the funeral director that sounded the nicest. We looked on their websites and looked at the costs. We were having to pay for this without any warning. Even though we cut costs in a lot of areas, it still came to about £6000.
“The funeral home gave me the opportunity to go and see her body. I did go and do it. I don’t regret it at all. I would’ve preferred to be there at the moment she passed, but I couldn’t be. I knew that she’d passed away, but going to see her gave me closure. I had to see her one more time to know that she had definitely gone. My friends went and saw someone she lost. She said you’d be surprised and that they make people look quite nice. I also had a bit of morbid curiosity.
“I’d been warned that when you go to see someone in the chapel of rest, they may not look the way you remember them. It’s true. But it still takes you by surprise. They made her look nice though. She went downhill so quickly that she looked different before she died anyway.”
“I think there were about 50 people at the funeral in the end. More than I thought. More than she would’ve thought as well to be fair. It was a Humanist funeral. We had a Humanist celebrant who was recommended by the funeral directors. We could’ve tried to find our own one, but I wouldn’t have known where to look. If I had known how to find one, I would’ve tried. But I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t know you could just go to the Humanist Society website to find them.
“She did a good job though. She had a meeting with us a week or two prior to the funeral. We went through bits and pieces so she knew what to write up. Mum’s brothers sent her some information too. She pieced everything together to make this massive eulogy that she did at the funeral service. It was nice because it was person-based rather than religion-based, which my mum would’ve hated.
“We didn’t have any other readings or poems. That’s the only thing I regret a little bit. The celebrant offered for us to do readings but we panicked a bit and said no. We did have music though. I had to pick music for the woman that doesn’t like music. Honestly, I have no idea how I chose the songs I did. My mum always made comments, joking saying she doesn’t want to live to an old age anyway. So we played Queen “Who Wants to Live Forever”. We had Billy Ocean’s “When the Going Gets Tough” on the way out because we used to dance to that one.
“I think that going into the funeral was the hardest bit of the day. It felt like that was the beginning of it really being the end. I wish I’d done more on the way in and made that part a bit more special. I didn’t realise how intense that moment was going to be. You’re expected to lead and go first. It feels quite daunting. But you can do it when it comes to it.”
After the funeral
“We had a reception after for Mum. She would’ve wanted a little celebration, so we wanted some food or drinks in a local place. We hired a room in the Holiday Inn which I thought would be harder, but luckily for us, we found someone we knew who was managing the space. She got us a good space that we could use for longer than we expected. They gave us a discounted price on rooms to stay there after too. We went and bought a load of food. We set it up ourselves to keep costs down. We had a great British buffet.”
Steph’s tips for planning a funeral
“Take your time. I know you will feel pressured to be rushed to do it. But don’t be. Sure, you have to set a date. The funeral directors will throw dates at you and it’s easy to feel under pressure. But don’t rush it. When you rush, you can miss things. I felt like I missed bits that would’ve made it a nicer experience for myself and everyone else. Breathe. Ask for advice. Remember that this is a funeral director’s bread and butter. They know everything about funerals and they’re there to help you. We felt embarrassed to keep asking questions but that’s what they’re there for. You’re paying thousands of pounds for this. You can ask as much as you like.”
“You have to be prepared for the fact that there’s usually someone waiting behind you to have their ceremony after too. It’s like you have your moment. But you’re not the only people there grieving. There’s always someone else waiting behind. As we were leaving the crematorium another hearse was pulling up. I wish I’d known what to expect. I don’t think I was fully informed on that.”
To thank Steph for sharing her story, we’ve made a contribution to The Brain Tumour Charity in memory of Liz.