Article by Gina Kirkham
“… oh, and I don’t want soggy butties and people weeping and wailing at my funeral. I want a party, a damned good knees up, is that a deal?”
Sheila Jane Radestock January 2006
I’ve lost track over the years as to how many times the phrase ‘I don’t want soggy butties’ whispers through my mind. Normally it springs to the fore at some poor unfortunate’s traditional funeral where the sandwiches alternate between being squashed and soggy or stale and curled up at the edges…..…and that then makes me wonder how others viewed my Mum’s funeral, or Celebration of Life as we preferred to call it. Is it ever truly possible, or even normal, to say you had a wonderful time at a funeral? Is it respectful to stagger away at the end of the event, mildly drunk, swinging your shoes in your hand because your feet are killing you from too much dancing?
Yes, yes and absolutely, yes!
A life lived well
A life well lived, well-loved and very much enjoyed is a life to be celebrated. We can grieve for their passing, but at the same time we need to acknowledge and cherish their presence and influence in our lives.
My mum was bright, bubbly and fun. She was gentle, loving, intelligent and kind. She was adventurous, danced in puddles in her bare feet and adored life. She also possessed the dreaded ‘Stare of Imminent Death’, a barely perceptible at first, twitch of the right eyelid, quickly followed by the raising of the left eyebrow as her lips disappeared into a think straight line, and then……. BAM! If the recipient didn’t die on the spot, they were at the very least pinned by fear to the old Smeg fridge in the kitchen. Even when the dreaded diagnosis of terminal cancer was given, she turned it around, made it about us, how we would cope, how our lives would be without her…
……and then she delivered her immortal speech outside the local hospital on her leanings towards parties, fine farewells and her hatred of soggy butties.
Giving her a fabulous party
So, as you can see, my Mum was an amazing lady, and amazing ladies don’t just die and have normal funerals. Amazing ladies have Celebrations of their Lives and with that in mind, we set about giving her a party to end all parties.
She did believe in God, Angels and another life after this earthly one, so our local church was booked for the service, but instead of sombre readings, we drafted our own. We sat huddled together, my brother, sister and me, at first weeping tears of painful loss, looking at each other wondering who was coping the least, whose grief was the strongest and how would we find the right words to honour her?
Then as we wrote, we laughed, as we remembered we felt her warmth again. It was all there, the love, the happiness and the laughter, the good things in her life, which in turn had become the good things in our lives. These were the memories we would share at her Celebration of Life. There would be no mourners only guests. We asked for tears of laughter, not sadness, and in accordance with Mum’s favourite poem, When I Am Old, there would be a dress code.
We booked a lovely room with a real wood dance floor at a local hotel and hired a Ceilidh Band. I can still see the Manager, excitedly proffering his red leather bound Function Menu, as I asked him as to what celebratory feasts they could provide. His jaw almost hit his shiny shoes when he realised our happy day was for a funeral, not a 21st or Engagement, as he had envisaged.
We found people were clearly very uncomfortable at the thought of, in their eyes, celebrating a death rather than as we saw it, celebrating a life.
We chose Mum’s outfit carefully. Her favourite purple silk trouser suit, a flowered lilac scarf and no shoes. Her ‘pretty feet’ were to remain free, ready to jump in the puddles of the afterlife.
We were ready.
I wept when the beautiful voice of the Soprano sang one of Mum’s favourite songs, Ave Maria, the hairs on my arms rising as her voice rose and filled the church, then I laughed until a cried, along with the hundreds of others, as our Eulogy to Mum was read to the packed church, a sea of red and purple. Her exploits, malapropism’s and achievements heralded to all who knew and loved her, we then said our goodbyes to a woman like no other…
….and then we Celebrated.
Celebrating a wonderful life
We drank, we danced and we celebrated her most wonderful life, the love, joy and happiness that she had given us, and yes, we even celebrated her ‘Stare of Imminent Death’.
In a brief spell of time that day, we saw sunshine, rain and snow through the windows of the hotel. All Seasons for a woman of all Seasons….….and there was not a soggy butty to be seen.
Just as she had wanted.
About the Author
Gina was born during the not-so-swinging 50’s to a mum who frequently abandoned her in a pram outside Woolworths and a dad who, after two pints of beer, could play a mean Boogie Woogie on the piano in the front room of their 3-bed semi on the Wirral. Being the less adventurous of three children, she remains there to this day – apart from a long weekend in Bognor Regis in 1982. Her teenage years were filled with angst, a CSE in Arithmetic, pimples, PLJ juice, Barry White and rather large knickers until she suddenly and mysteriously slimmed down in her twenties. Marriage and motherhood ensued, quickly followed by divorce in her early thirties and a desperate need for a career and some form of financial support for herself and her daughter. Trundling a bicycle along a leafy path one wintry day, a lifelong passion to be a police officer gave her simultaneously an epiphany and fond memories of her favourite author Enid Blyton and moments of solving mysteries. And thus began an enjoyable and fulfilling career with Merseyside Police. On reaching an age most women lie about, she quickly adapted to retirement by utilising her policing skills to chase after two granddaughters, two dogs and one previously used, but still in excellent condition, husband. Having said goodbye to what had been a huge part of her life, she suddenly had another wonderful epiphany. This time it was to put pen to paper to write a book based on her experiences as a police officer. Lying in bed one night staring at the ceiling and contemplating life as she knew it, Gina’s alter-ego, Mavis Upton was born, ready to star in a humorous and sometimes poignant look at the life, loves and career of an everyday girl who followed a dream and embarked upon a search for the missing piece of her childhood.
Handcuffs, Truncheon and a Polyester Thong is released later this month
Meet Mavis Upton. As mummy to 7-year old Ella, surrogate to far too many pets and with a failed marriage under her belt, Mavis knows she needs to make some life-changing decisions. It’s time to strike out into the world, to stand on her own two feet … to pursue a lifelong ambition to become a Police Officer. What could go wrong? Supported by her quirky, malapropism-suffering mum, Mavis throws herself headlong into a world of uncertainty, self-discovery, fearless escapades, laughter and extra-large knickers. And using her newly discovered investigative skills, she reluctantly embarks on a search to find her errant dad who was last seen years before, making off with her mum’s much needed coupon for a fabulous foam cup bra all the way from America. Follow Mavis as she tackles everything life can throw at her, and revel in Gina Kirkham’s humorous, poignant and moving story of an everyday girl who one day followed a dream.