When Paul was diagnosed with terminal illness, his husband Szczepan planned a funeral that felt more like a celebration party, to match Paul’s positive personality. 

“Paul was very outgoing. He had an absolutely fantastic sense of humour, a wicked sense of humour. He would walk into the room, and he’d light it up in seconds, everyone would be laughing. He did a PhD in Bath, worked at Nottingham University and then was a professor of organic chemistry at the University of York. 

“He was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. When you get that kind of diagnosis you know you need to plan. He didn’t want to see anyone upset. When people came to visit him he’d say, “no sad faces please”. When it came to talking about planning a funeral, we decided to have the conversation early, to get it done and out of the way. We talked about everything at once so we didn’t have to come back and revisit it. Then we just didn’t speak about it again. That was it. 

“Paul passed away at home. Our friend recommended the Co-op, so I phoned them. But I just didn’t know what to say. But they were fantastic from start to finish. They guided me through everything that was going to happen over the phone."

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When it came to planning the funeral, we decided to have the conversation early, to get it done and out of the way. We talked about everything at once so we didn’t have to come back and revisit it.

“For me the most important thing was to follow Paul’s wishes and to make sure that the funeral was fitting with him and his personality. I wanted to share the life he lived and the fantastic life we shared together.” 

Paul's farewell celebration party 

“The funeral was like a farewell party to Paul. He was very popular and around 200 people turned up to the service. He was the best and most loyal friend. He looked after his research group well. We’d have them at the house for food and drinks. The same with our friends. We loved to host. I come from Poland and Paul’s family don’t live in York either. So, we had lots of good and very close friends we’d see on a regular basis. Our friends became family in a way. 

“So, it wasn’t surprising that there were a lot of people there. His PhD supervisor. Colleagues from the universities. A director of our estate. He was an active member in local politics, so there was representation from local parties there. A big group of friends from the LGBT community. Friends we had round. Friends we went on trips with. 

“Paul loved champagne. He had this saying - he’d say ‘Champagne darlingsssss!’ with a glass in his hand. So we started the service with a bottle of bubbles. We used to have vodka shots too. It’s Polish tradition. When we visited my family, we’d always have a shot of vodka before leaving. So the funeral service ended with a shot of vodka for everybody on the way out too. It was the celebrant’s idea to do that. It was absolutely fantastic and everybody loved it."

Paul loved champagne. He had this saying – he’d say ‘Champagne darlingsssss!’ with a glass in his hand. So we started the service with a bottle of bubbles.
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“The funeral was the most beautiful funeral you could ever imagine. It was so personal. Our friends and family said it was the most beautiful funeral that they’d ever attended. It was sad. But everyone left with a smile on their face because it was a true celebration of Paul’s life. I hope I made him proud with it. 

“Taking the coffin out of the hearse was one of the hardest parts of the day. My friend helped me, he gave me a pep talk, saying ‘come on, let’s go, let’s do it’.  We had a wicker coffin with a rainbow flag around it and white lilies on top. I asked for a big bouquet that would cover most of the top of the coffin. The Co-op ordered them from a local florist in York. 

“It was a humanist funeral and we chose Louisa, an independent celebrant, to lead the service. She exceeded all of my expectations. She created a story about Paul’s life, comparing it to a cocktail. She compared parts to the spirit, the mixer, all working together to create this fantastic husband. She did it beautifully. 

“I did a eulogy about our life together, our trips we went on, some of the jokes that Paul would say and posted on social media. Two friends did readings as well. I tried to pick poems that were very meaningful. I didn’t want just pretty poems. I wanted them to send a message. We chose ‘Remember Me’ and ‘Death is Nothing At All’. Both of their poems sent the message that the person might have died but they are everywhere, and that you need to cherish the memories you’ve got together. Even though Paul might not be in the room with us, he’s looking after us in other ways."

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Taking the coffin out of the hearse was one of the hardest parts of the day… we had a wicker coffin with a rainbow flag around it and white lilies on top.

“Paul had chosen the music he wanted to be played. We had ‘Time to Say Goodbye’ by Il Divo. Then for the reflection, he chose ‘Over the Rainbow’ by Judy Garland. The original version because he loved Judy Garland. Absolutely admired her. During the reflection, there was a presentation with pictures. Our wedding. Things we’d done together. Some of Paul’s pictures. That was emotional. 

“Later, we played Kylie’s “Your Disco Needs You” which was our wedding song and this was also picked by Paul. He loved Kylie and we used to go to her concerts. We went four times together and he’d been to see her a few times before that. A real diva icon. The final song was Verka Serduchka’s “Dancing Lasha Tumbai” from Eurovision, one of Paul’s favourite Eurovision songs, which I chose.” 

After the funeral 

“We had a wake at the York racecourses because of the number of people who wanted to come. Over 200 people turned up. We were given the restaurant at the end of the racecourse. One of my colleagues who works in IT helped me put up a presentation on a screen with all of our pictures. Family holidays, trips, Paul’s pictures. There was a bar open between 12 and 4. We had beautiful sunshine over the wake and watched the sunset over the racecourse."

Afterwards, we had both of our families together at home. Some drinks, some snacks. A good chat. That’s something Paul would’ve wanted. He just didn’t want anyone to be sad.

“Afterwards, we had both of our families coming together at home. Some drinks, some snacks. A good chat. That’s something Paul would’ve wanted. He just didn’t want anyone to be sad. During his illness he was so positive. Before his operation, he’d said to me, ‘You can’t be depressed, you’ll need to pull yourself together’. He was so strong.”

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Sczcepan’s tips for planning a funeral 

“I’d say, if you’re dealing with a terminal illness, discuss things early. It made things easier for me. We had those conversations early and we knew that I’d have to deliver on them. But it meant that I didn’t have to worry, wondering ‘is this something Paul would’ve wanted’ whenever I made a decision. 

“Everything is already so stressful during that time. It takes some of the worry and pressure out of it. Because you know what the person wanted. Then you just have to try to put those plans in place as best as you can. It can feel hard to talk about these things, but it makes it harder if you don’t.”

To thank Sczcepan for sharing his story, we’ve made a contribution to Cancer Research UK – Glioblastoma in memory of Paul.