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Open Features: The Cost of Dying

Linda McLean tells of a man in dire circumstances who still had many a laugh in him.

“Hiya!” I said mischievously, poking my head round the door.

There was no need to knock in this welcoming house. The door was always open. Besides which, I hoped to surprise him. We exchanged a hug.

“Hullo, there, angel. Long time no see. I was just doing my hoovering,” said Gordon.

“So I see.”

I looked round the tidy house, all vacuumed and shiny but with no-one to appreciate his efforts. Through the patio doors the garden also looked immaculate.

I looked at Gordon. How long had it been? Two years, perhaps. He was looking older. His hair was very definitely grey now. His frame seemed smaller but his blue eyes still twinkled and sparkled impishly. He was caring for his wife Alana, and this left him virtually housebound. She no longer attempted to get up. He had to do everything for her.

He was a true friend, dependable, non-judgemental.

“What’s happening with Alana?” I asked.

“Och, she doesn’t do anything anymore. On the days we go to hospital I ask her to stay up with me for a couple of hours when we get home, but she won’t do it. She just wants to go to bed and sleep all the time. It’s some life, I tell you. Four years married, and I’ve been on 24/7 duty for three of those years.’’

Gordon married again in later life after his first wife had died. He was hoping for happiness and companionship, but after they had been married a year Alana had a stroke. She could walk with assistance but seemed to have lost the will to live.

She no longer read, listened to the radio or watched television. She lay curled up in bed, in a fluffy blue jacket with a hood that went right over her head. That was how she spent her days. Nobody visited her. She had nothing to say.

“So what have you been doing?” I asked.

“I’ve just been arranging my funeral,” said Gordon.

“Really? When is it? Do I get an invite?”

We laughed together. I hadn’t expected such a reply.

“You’re terrible,” he said, not for the first time. “I know this guy Don, who had an ice cream van but he now runs a funeral parlour...”

“Is this a long story?” I interjected.

“No, no. Don’t be so impatient. I’m just telling you Don had an ice cream van and that’s how I knew him, then he moved into the funeral business. That’s all.”

It seemed a strange move, but life has many odd variations, which is what makes it so interesting.

“Anyhow,’’ he continued. “I went to pay for my funeral, because he was always nagging at me. ‘It’ll never be cheaper to die than it is now.’ That sort of thing. He’s a really funny guy.” He smiled wryly. “So I went down and asked him how much it would cost me to die. I was only interested in a cheap funeral. Can you believe, he asked me if I wanted an oak or pine casket?’’

I made the appropriate noises and he continued.

“I told him I wanted a CHEAP funeral. No trimmings or frills. Cardboard would do for the casket. It didn’t have to look pretty. I mean, let’s face it, I won’t be there to appreciate it. I asked him again what was the rock bottom price would be. Don said he could do it for two thousand pounds. Did I want music, or hymns or anything at the service?

“I told him I would like a humanist service. And I love Elvis. Could he arrange for me to have ‘Return to sender?’ I would love that, and it would give everyone a good laugh.”

We laughed together at the idea. Knowing the man, it was most appropriate.

“Don said that was fine. So with everything included, it will be £2,100.”

I was stunned. Some ten years previously I had been involved in a funeral, and the price was nothing like that.

“And that is the price for all time,’’ said Gordon. “I can live another ten years and they will still have to honour that agreement.’’

When we think about the cost of living, we should remember that the cost of dying goes up just as quickly.

It can be expensive to Return to Sender.

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