The story of four friends: chatting about death over dinner
Would you host a dinner party (with prosecco!) to talk about death? Well, Anne would - and did, bringing three of her friends together to talk about death over dinner. Listen to how the four fabulous friends - Anne, Lindsay, Maxine and Wendy - talk about how they think, feel and talk about death. With friendships that span decades of joy and heartache, these women have grown babies and families, carers and lives together. And now, they’re sharing their experiences, beliefs and fears about death.
Welcome the Fab Four's story.
Hosted by: Sam Meikle
Produced by: Spark the Difference
Here’s what the Fab Four share in this conversation:
00:09 These conversations are all real and can sometimes be a bit raw. You can always pause and take a break for a bit.
03:00 Meet the Fab Four: Lindsay, Anne, Maxine and Wendy
09:51 Different experiences of death growing up: a father dying when you're 13; feeling a void as you never had grandparents; and never really being up close and personal with death
23:16 Being a young Mum: how fear of not being there for her children meant one friend didn’t go to two funerals
27:37 Funerals can feel horrible: why would you want to go and upset a whole lot people?
29:10 How do you start talking to your parents about planning their funerals when they’re from a generation where they don’t talk about it?
33:54 Music at your funeral: what would you pick?
34:43 The Order of Service Scrapbook
36:39 When famous people die, are they “real” people? Where were you when Princess Diana died?
42:21 Thinking about your lifespan as a ruler
49:21 Remembering the first time the friends did Last Offices
54:18 Walking in front of a hearse: it's so important to know that actually other people give a damn and will act in a way that is respectful
56:12 Would you be buried or cremated?
59:46 What are you like when you go through a graveyard?
1:03:51 Final thoughts: this has been a very comforting and important conversation.
A note on looking after ourselves: these conversations are all real and can feel a little raw. If you’re struggling with the content that we’re talking about, please seek support. This might be from a trusted family member or friend. The Samaritans Team are always available to talk and you can contact them on 116 123.
The full transcript
Lindsay: So my name’s Lindsay. I have a background in nursing and I've worked for the NHS with having had a very rich nursing career that spans 36 years. And today I'm here with some of my very best friends; friends that I've known for a long time and friends who were very dear to me. And that's what brings me here is to share this moment and this rich conversation with them.
Wendy: That’s very well put. I like that.
Anne: My name is Anne Cooper. I am a nurse, still. Today I'm with a group of friends who are very special to me, collectively, but also individually. And each of them I have a unique bond with. And I guess it's my responsibility for drawing is all together today.
Sam: So thank you. And for our listeners as well, we are surrounded by mountains of food.
All: Very nice food. // Delicious. // We’re very sorry if you can't join us // We'll give you some sound effects // And some prosecco ladies, of course // Copious amounts of prosecco.
Maxine: My name is Maxine. I'm a nurse by background. I’ve worked in the health service for 37 years. Whilst I did a number of nursing roles, I then moved on to be a senior manager in the health service. I retired a year ago actually just about a year ago now and I’m busy filling my time, doing lots of other things. I miss the people that I worked with, and the work to a certain degree, but I'm also enjoying the freedom of being able to do what I want when I want. It's very liberating. I met Anne when I started nurse training, so I've known Anne probably 35 years plus, which is a long time.
Anne: The 31st of January it was, 1983.
Maxine: Was it? There you go. So I've known Anne a very long time. And I suppose whatever's happened to both of us, it's never stopped us remaining best friends really. We’ve sort of managed to keep that really strong tie. And through Anne, I know Lindsay and Wendini and I'd like to think they've become very good friends as well. And it's a fantastic bunch of people to be around - laughing and supporting each other through difficult times, good and bad. So it's a lovely environment and I'm here really cause I think the conversation will be extremely interesting.
Wendy: I'm Wendy. I actually can't remember how long I've been friends with you all. I really can't say. I'm not a nurse, but although I did do some nurse training when I left sixth form college, which is a long, long time ago, cause I think I'm the oldest here - am I the same age as you Max?
Maxine: I think we might be the same age.
Wendy: So maybe we've got some characteristics in common. But for most of my career was a career’s advisor and I worked in a six form college more latterly. And I've been retired for about 18 months. And like Max, I like the freedom to just do what I like really get up when I want, that's the most crucial thing. That feeling is important - what can I do with my day today? I can do all sorts of things and there are all those possibilities in front of me.
I think it's interesting that the subject that we're talking about and to be able to talk about death because actually I think in our friendship group, we could talk about this any day and actually we would do this anyway, wouldn't we? Because there's nothing that's off limits and we talk about everything, don't we? And we'd have to particularly this last year, we've had some tough times haven't we? So I think we would, you were talking about anyway. It's okay, we’ll record it.
Sam: So we've got listeners from all around the world. How would you describe your accents?
All: Ohhh, Yorkshire. Very Yorkshire. // Oh - like Game of Thrones everyone! Winter is Coming! // That's what we sound like. // We do! // We sound like Game of Thrones // You see, I don't think I do have a Yorkshire accent // Yes you do Maxine // You do! // You've got a very Yorkshire accent! // Do I? // Yeah // Not the Queen's English then? // No. // But not as Sean Bean as we could be // I think we're all very Yorkshire
Sam: And in Game of Thrones, that's the Starks - from up north?
All: The Starks, yes. But a lot of them have that accent. I think they're putting it on [laughter]. // John Snow, John Snow talks with a Yorkshire accent and he's not from Yorkshire // He's not from around here. But yeah, that's what we are.
[Prosecco cork popping]
All: There are no White Walkers in Yorkshire, can I say? And no wall and all that kind of thing. // I've not watched any yet – you’re spoiling it for me now. // I haven’t! I’ve not given anything away! // I’ve got the box set for the summer // I don’t think I have the energy to watch that // It does take a lot of energy // I might be something I watch when they retire.
Sam: Next question. Growing up, what did you know about dying and death?
Maxine: I think I knew quite a bit because my father died when I was only 13. I think I had an early baptism to it really. I was there when he was dying and there when he died. So I think I'm quite accepting of death actually.
Anne: How old were you Maxine?
Wendy: Were you actually there at the moment when he died?
Maxine: When I was there when he became ill, we were on holiday. He became ill on a bus between Filey and Scarborough. He had a ruptured aortic aneurysm and died in Scarborough hospital. And it's really bizarre because I went to my nurse training at Scarborough Hospital, but that wasn't the reason why. It's bizarre really.
Wendy: That would be so traumatic though. That’s so quick.
Maxine: Well it is, but it's also I think - I don't know - I think when you - yes, it has an impact on you, but I think, I don't know. I think you then know that death's inevitable. And it's part of living. So I think I've exposed at a very early age and quite accepting of death.
Sam: What about your friends at that age - did you talk to them?
Maxine: I had one very, very close friend. I think I felt more sorry for my mother really, probably. Cause I think it impacted on the rest of her life. And I think, I don't think it did for me. I think it's very sad what happened, but I think it's exposed me to reality probably.
Wendy: I suppose as a 13 year old, you're not having to cope with the practicalities of it. You could just get on with it. Whereas your Mum had to think why am I going to do now and how am I going to feed this family – and how – there would be so many adjustments to make.
Maxine: But you also think, she must've only been in their early forties cause he was 50 when he died my father. So when you think that and you think how we are now, I mean it must have been horrendous for it, but I don't think see that so much as a child to be honest. Cause I think you'd quite wrapped up in your own little world. But I think, I just think, well -
Anne: I think it happens. I've known you a long time and I think you're quite tough. Do you think that's got anything to do with that? By the way, I love you, even though you're tough.
Maxine: I didn't start off tough today. I think I'm a bit of a fatalist. Yeah, there are lots of things you can do to help yourself, but there's also things that are beyond your control really. I think I'm a bit of fatalist really.
Wendy: You know, it's really interesting cause I was thinking about tough and I was thinking about you actually [points to Anne]. I was thinking about mental health because a friend of ours who’s got some mental health issues sometimes and she can be a little bit fragile. And I was thinking about how I've had some stuff going on and you've had some stuff going on.
And I thought, ‘well, Anne is the constant here. She's the one who's tough’. And I thought, I wonder whether it's to do with - you had some early experience with your parents splitting up and you had your diagnosis of Type One Diabetes, which is life changing, isn't it? We talk about it quite glibly amongst ourselves and we do that on purpose because we don't want to make a big deal of it because it's a thing, it’s just part of you. But it must have made you tougher. It must have. And it must've in some ways brought some benefits mentally. Once you've processed and you've done it – do you think that's made you stronger? I don’t know whether I’m overthinking it?
Anne: I've absolutely no idea.
Maxine: I don’t think that’s the right word, I think it's resilience.
Lindsay: There's a difference there between being somebody who can go through really difficult experiences in life and come out the other side - not toughened as such, but with a degree of resilience that they can offer and be available to other people. And that's what I see.
That’s what I see in the friends around me is that actually they are - I see in you three, I see a resilience, which means you can survive very difficult circumstances, including knowing that your husband may die before you or experiencing a sudden death of your father, but actually still have something to give to take from that experience and still have something to give. I think that comes from probably, we all experienced a love as children that we don't always readily appreciate and account for - a security that you take it for granted.
Wendy: You take it for granted don’t we? It’s true, because it's normal for us, isn't it?
Lindsay: But it was really interesting listening to Maxine. So I was born with no grandparents, so I never have experienced death, because the death happened before I was born. But I still have a void. I never had the love of a grandparent. My parents never had parents to support them in raising me. And a big family. And that was really hard actually for my Mum and Dad.
They both lost two sets of parents very quickly as they were starting to have their own babies. So that level, a whole layer of support that might have been a supportive network for me where I might have experienced some love from - I never experienced the grief and the loss of them, but there's a void. Never had a grandparent.
So actually I'm really lucky - or my children are really lucky, that they have had two sets of grandparents. So my husband's parents and my parents who, between them, if you added it all up, have got over 120 years of marriage, cause both had been married for over 60 years.
My father died two years ago of vascular dementia. That was my first experience. I was in my 50s when my father died. But I have the joy of knowing that my children grew up with loving grandparents and have that history. And that was a layer missing.
So I find it quite interesting thinking of it in terms of death is that actually there are people who were significant to us in our lives that we never meet because they died before we came along or died before. We have a living memory of them, but there's a void because they're not here. So it's not that that was traumatic, it's just that having seen my children's experience of grandparents, I know that I never had the experience of grandparent. Might've been bloody horrible!
Maxine: I think it's difficult. I don't think you can compare circumstances. I don't think I have been disadvantaged because my father died when I was young. It's difficult, isn't it? I find it hard to sometimes compare scenarios.
Wendy: Well, it's your normality, isn't it? And you've been okay.
Maxine: Yeah, I think so.
Maxine: Well, if you took a positive from it, you could argue that. Yeah.
Wendy: Testament to your Mum, though.
Anne: She was a resilient woman.
Maxine: She was. It's funny though, as an adolescent, you think she was awkward as hell, but she's probably had to be like, hadn't she, to be fair to her?
Anne: She was as awkward as hell - she was.
Sam: Is she still with us?
Maxine: No, no, no. I don't think she'd mind me saying to be honest.
Anne: She'd probably laugh.
Maxine: But when you look back as an adult yourself now and you think, actually she wasn't awkward as hell. She was probably just trying to get by and manage, wasn't she? But it made her awkward.
Wendy: And you should be awkward, shouldn't you? Your kids are adolescents - you should be bloody awkward with them. You shouldn't give them exactly what not. I think one of the worst phrases I hear is where parents say, “oh yeah, he's my best friend. She's my best friend.” And you think, ‘No! Fucking grow up. You're the parent here. Your job is to say, “no, you can’t do that”.’
Anne: I think we might have to cut the fucking off the tape.
Sam: No, no - I had to put an explicit rating on, so you can say whatever you want.
All: [Laughter] It’s X rated! X rated!
Sam: iTunes took a month to approve the podcast. I've already been banned from Twitter. So.
All: Have you? // Really? // OK.
Sam: Yeah. For violating their terms of content in talking about death.
All: If you see some of the things on Twitter - some of the rubbish.
Sam: But, it’s been revoked. They were concerned that I was encouraging people to commit suicide, which I didn't think –
All: I think given the whole kind of Meghan, yeah. They're all going to be very cagey about it at the moment, aren't they?
[Anne passes around figs]
Maxine: No, I don’t want figs.
Anne: Yes, you do. Good for your bowels.
Maxine: No I don’t. I don’t like fruits. No figs. I won’t be eating a fig.
Sam: And Anne, what about you?
Anne: And I was thinking, so I feel like I have never - it's of course it's not absolutely true, when I've heard you talking - I never really been up close and personal with death. And I remember when I was younger, the first time that I really came up personal with death was when I was asked to do Last Offices as a student nurse. I'd never seen a dead body.
I remember when I was diagnosed as having Type One [diabetes] actually, and I was in hospital and I was on an adult female medical ward and it was an old fashion Nightingale ward. I was 16. And I remembered them drawing the curtains around the beds. And me thinking, ‘what's going on here?’ And I remember them trundling the tin wagon along the ward.
Wendy: Guess what’s happening now..?
Anne: And I remember thinking, I've never been this close to anybody who's died before. But I sort of have that feeling of being distant from the reality of it. Because everything that's significant that's happened - like my Grandma and Grandad dying, which probably the nearest - happened when I wasn't there and I never saw them. And I was never encouraged to go and say goodbye to him or anything. And my Grandma and Granddad on my Mum's side were quite important to us.
But then there have been some things that have been significant. We've got a very close friend - I'm not going to say who - but we've got a very close friend who died very suddenly and quite unexpectedly and that did have quite a marked impact on me. So I've got this very strong sense of - I don't know whether everybody else experience this? I think it's fairly common, where for ages after he died, I used to see him in places and I’d just catch sight of him. Then I’d look and it wasn't him, or it was somebody else, or there was nobody there or whatever.
And that sense of - it does wears off. This has happened to me with him. It was very distinct as we’ve lost and other friend's husband as well with him. I used to think, ‘oh’, and then I think, ‘oh no, it's not him, cos he's dead’. I really strong sense of them being present with me but not present in the physical sense of it.
Wendy: I wonder whether that's partly to do with this is that big thing about death, isn't it? It’s being able to accept where they are – where they’re gone? And this is one of those things that I think has probably been with humans forever. When somebody dies, where are they then? Where have you gone?
That's when people make up these things about whether they’re just in the next room and they’re just out of sight. And it's really hard to accept that somebody who you knew so well and had so much meaning to you and their personality has just gone. And I think that's - I know it's just a real big image to conjure, isn't it? Where are they actually gone? Are they gone to somewhere else? Do they just not exist anymore? You can't actually accept that they don't exist anymore. So I think that's why you see them in places -
Anne: Is it just my brain just not accepting it? So it's a really strong feeling for me. So much that I remember it happening to me and I remember the depth of, ‘oh, it’s not them. It's not possible, because they don't - they’re not alive anymore’. But it happens for a good while after they died and then it sort of stops. It stops. It passes, it sort of moves on.
Lindsay: So I share that experience and I think it’s because you’re used to seeing somebody of a certain physique, driving a certain car and then you think, ‘oh, that's familiar or that must be them.’ And it's not them.
But it's interesting because when I was a midwife and young in my twenties and had my babies, I have two colleagues who were in my midwifery set, who died. Both of them died of breast cancer. And they both had very young children - they had babies when they died. So we'd all done our training together, were of childbearing age and we'd had our babies together.
And I could not face that because of the fear of not being there for my babies and the emotional sort of space I needed to occupy as a mother - and the fear of not being that happening to me and not being there for my children meant that I couldn't face the reality that they were dying. It was better to deny it.
And so I didn't go to either of their funerals and I regret that now that I'm in my fifties. But it was too scary, because there was just too scary to accept that friends who I’d done my midwifery training with - and friends who we'd lived with and gone through all of that and we'd all met our partners for life and had our babies and then they weren't there.
They both died of a very similar cancer, associated with being postnatal and all the changes – all the hormonal changes and it was just too much. And I feel really bad about that to this day. I feel like I've never - I feel like I was a bit disrespectful. So I think I was protecting myself, but it feels like I was a bit disrespectful to their death and their dying because it was just too scary.
Wendy: But you've raised a really interesting point about whether death is more frightening when we have more responsibilities and duties. So when we think about being young women with our babies - death is not frightening. Although it seemed very distant to us, obviously it wasn't for you because of what you've just described – but you don't sort of think about it when you've just had a baby. That's the last thing you think about isn't it? You don’t think, ‘what if I die?’ It's not something crosses your mind frequently. But perhaps as you get older and you're less needed, it becomes less scary? I don't know.
Is there a point in life where it ever becomes not scary?
Lindsay: I don't think I'm scared. I don't think I'm scared to die now. But I would really been scared to die when I've got three young children.
Wendy: You’re not frightened for you, you’re frightened for them.
Maxine: Yeah, I think that's true.
Lindsay: I wanted to be there for them. I wanted them to have a childhood where they had Mummy was there, you know, we're big Mummy lion to protect them and give them the best. And so I couldn't, I couldn't deal with it then. Where was actually, it would be the complete opposite now. If I was in that situation again with those friends - if they wanted me to be there, I would it be there for them. But I couldn't be. And it was easy actually to make an excuse - I was too busy cause I've got three babies and was working.
Wendy: I think what you're describing is really common though. I think a lot of people struggle, especially at that age cause you’re just not used to it. And I think we're all more able, as matured women to deal with those difficult things - and things that are actually more difficult than death as well. We're more able to deal with those things, aren’t we?
Sam: You touched on funerals - not going to these friends’ funerals? What do you think a funeral is for and who is it for?
Maxine: See, I think funerals are really horrible. I jokingly would say to Simon that I don't want a funeral.
Wendy: Have you ever been to a good one?
Maxine: No, never. No.
Wendy: They’re never an enjoyable, but is there one where you think, “they did well there”. One where they were given a good send off?
Maxine: Yes, a good send off is - by all means have a great party in my honour, but don't stand in the cold drafty church –
Wendy: Maybe do it in a jolly way?
Maxine: Because why would you go and want to upset a lot of people?
Anne: I sometimes think, in weird moments, I sometimes think, ‘I wonder who would go to my funeral?’
Lindsay: See, I’m flaky. You’ve heard that I’m flaky when it comes to funerals. If it’s a good friend, I don't turn up.
Anne: Don’t you think that’s weird thing to think that? Then I think to myself, ‘why do you think about that for?’
Wendy: No! Don’t you think about which music you’d like? I keep changing it!
Anne: I saw a hearse the other day, with one of those wicker coffins and I’m definitely wanting one of those, for sure.
All: [Signing] “City of Stars”. “Take me to Church” // No, that wouldn’t be appropriate! // We could do our Bohemian Rhapsody! // No! // No! We won’t!
Wendy: It's funny because my Dad died a couple of years ago, so just a week away from Lindsay’s Dad and we had to plan this funeral and everything. And I thought that will be the time when my Mum went to say, “well, I want this and I want this and I don't want that”. And she hasn't. She hasn't even told me - how bizarre is this - so she said to me afterwards - my Dad had one of these plans with the CoOp, so they paid in advance. So the funeral was all paid for. Cheap and cheerful. So that's fine.
And she said, “well we only did it for him.” And I'm thinking, “why? Why would you only do it for one of you – and not the other?”. She said, “I’ve only done one”.
So she said, “well, I might do it though. I might do it.” And I said, “well, yes, you better tell me if you have”, because how awful would it be? So she paid all this money upfront to the CoOp and then she didn’t tell me - and I’d have to get George Brookes in [another funeral company]. So she doesn't actually tell me, but she's still tight lipped on the subject. And I wonder, when you are actually going to tell me? How bizarre is that?
Lindsay: Oh well we've paid for my mom's up front. So that's all sorted.
Wendy: You can’t raise it, you can't say, “right Mum, I've got some leaflets – and I’m thinking we ought to go with the CoOp. They're cheaper. What do you think? I've already put a down payment”. She's not going to take that well is she?
Anne: No. Not really. I wouldn’t – I don’t think it’s a strategy that I would recommend.
Wendy: A little bit insensitive.
Sam: So how would you raise it? Because I rang my Mum, she lives in Australia - and I said, “Mum, I'd like to talk to you about death and dying”. And she said, “do you want to know which jewellery you're getting?” And I was like, “no, no no no”. OK, I’m doing this wrong.
Lindsay: But while we’re on the subject… yes!
Sam: Yeah, I’ll take this, this and this… there's four girls in my family. But how would you do it?
Wendy: We don't do it.
Lindsay: How we’d do our own? Or how we’d discuss it with our parents?
Sam: Either or? Would it differ how you would talk to your parents about it or your children?
Wendy: I think this is the crucial thing is that my Mum’s from that generation where you don't talk about it. And it's a very difficult thing to talk about. It's like when you talked about the questionnaire you did with your Dad and I thought, ‘there's no way that my Dad, when he was alive would have done it.’ He might do it now perhaps if I had the technology, or if I had a ouija board or something.
Or my Mum – wouldn’t do it, because it's just too emotional. It's too - and she said a funny thing when we were planning on my Dad's funeral, we were looking at the music, we were looking at different things and she said, “oh no, I don't want that. It’ll make people sad.” It’s a funeral! What do you -
Maxine: No. But that’s why I don’t like them.
Wendy: It was overt emotion. That’s what she didn’t want. She said, “don’t push it. You don’t need to push it”.
Anne: They’re allowed to sniff behind their handkerchiefs, but no more.
Wendy: But she’s right. You don't need to make people break down. You just need to do something and then get on and get your cup of tea and your egg sandwich really.
Lindsay: Well, I’m different. I want you all to really break down. I’m going to go for seriously traumatising you all.
Anne: Well Rob has told me already, he's already got his call in. He wants us all to where posh black dresses with veils on.
Wendy: Yeah, boobs on show. I know what he wants.
Anne: He absolutely wants it to be done properly. He’s made it quite clear to me. Whereas I want you to come in whatever you're comfortable in. I want you to think kindly of me, but I don't particularly want you to cry ‘cause that makes me uncomfortable.
Wendy: Well, that’s unrealistic, isn’t it?
Lindsay: Can I wear me walking boots and walk the dogs in?
Anne: Yeah, yeah yeah, just come and have a cup of tea afterwards. But I don't want anybody to be uncomfortable, either physically or emotionally.
Wendy: You know how people take dogs to weddings and they have a big white bow put on them? Could you take them to a funeral as well?
Anne: Well wherever I am in my wicker coffin, I don't want your dogs there. [Laughter] Just let me tell you that.
Lindsay: That was my most traumatic deaths was when Levi died.
All: It was sad // It was sad.
Sam: Who was Levi?
Lindsay: Oh a dog. We don't have to go there.
Anne: So I don’t know about music and stuff though, because I can't decide whether - I quite like - am I a Christian or am I, I don’t know - but I quite like Pompey stuff. I like hymns.
Wendy: Sometimes, I think – Mozart’s Requiem, I want.
Anne: Yes. I quite like Christmas carols actually, so -
All: [Laughter] We can all sign the Holly and the Ivy // In the middle of July? // Or can we have The Little Donkey // No. You can’t having The Little Donkey // Once in Royal David's City -- Once in Anne's City? // Yeah, yeah. You’d change the words // It can't be all about you, you know, at your funeral. [Laughter]
Anne: Well let me tell you about Aunty June's what she does. So Aunty June is 87 and very, very, very sadly lost both of her two children in a single weekend to a couple of years ago. So she's left at 87 with no children.
But what she does, is she's got - she leant me it - she's got a book. It's like an encyclopaedia thickness book. And in this book, every day has a page sort of thing. And on it she writes things and when everyone’s died.
In this book it'll say our RIP x person and then she'll keep all of the Order of Services that you get. It's like littered with them all. Of course it know she's 87 - it's a lot. Well she scours the local newspaper to find them and then it's like a jungle telegraph. So when she gets to the Dewsbury Reporter and she looks through somebody’s died. She then goes on – it’s like a ringing thing where they're ring somebody and then they ring somebody else and then they all turn up at the church to get the Order of Service and then she puts it in her book. Honestly.
Wendy: It's a bit like collecting football cards. Or Top Trumps!
Anne: It does! And I look at them and I think - I mean I find it very difficult throw them away when I've got. I think to myself, “it’s not something that I’m going to pin it on my noticeboard.” Well she's got a solution.
Lindsay: The Order of Service Scrapbook.
But, can I just tell you, talking about death - Chewbacca died today. So rest in peace Chewbacca. He was part of my children's childhood.
Anne: Never mind all that, what about when we went through that period like 18 months ago when Bowie and everybody - everybody seems to be dying. And I thought how can that be? How can those people who doesn't seem to be, in my head anyway, old – or, that much older than me, suddenly start dying?
Wendy: Because they're not real.
Anne: But they are real people.
Wendy: No, they’re not real people.
Lindsay: Chewbacca was.
Wendy: What I mean is - obviously they are real people, but the way the presented to you, they're not real. That's not real. You saw all this stuff about David Bowie? What sort of toothpaste did David Bowie use?
All: Colgate probably // I don’t think he cleaned his teeth, his teeth were always quite manky // He didn’t have good teeth did he?
Wendy: But, what was his favourite time of day? Which shoe did he put on first? We don’t know. They're not really real people. So somebody tells you, “David Bowie is dead”, but then somebody could come along and say, “well, actually now that's not true at all”. How would you know?
Anne: Okay, so then, that might be true then. So I remember one day I was in this house and I was in our bedroom and I switched the television on. And guess what had happened?
All: Elvis had died // David Bowie had died // John Lennon?
Anne: No, no. Lady Diana. And I felt a bit sad and it was all very difficult. But then what happened? What happened? Why? I mean - I didn't - I’m with Wendini, I think my view was, ‘I didn't know that person, so I can't participate in this mass of grief because I didn't know who she was.’
Wendy: But that was weird that. And it was hard not to get caught up in it. I was driving into work and they were playing all this sad music, ‘the drugs to work’. And I’m driving into work going, “oh God, she’s dead”. I mean she was the age as me, so there was only a couple of months between us.
Anne: Was she as old as that Wendy?
Maxine: She was the same as us, yeah.
Wendy: I can’t say it for the microphone, but F-off! But yes she was. So I felt this affinity and then I’d think, ‘how could I feel any affinity with a woman who was brought up in this -’ you know, she was the closest - she was more royal than the royals! She could trace her lineage back from Henry VIII.
Maxine: But it’s funny isn’t it? How for her death you can remember where you were and what you were doing?
Lindsay: Yeah, Keith went downstairs to make a cup of tea and he came back up and said, “oh, Princess Diana's died”. But for me, it was about that association. So the sadness was about the young children. So for me it was less about being able to associate myself with princess, clearly I’m very closely aligned to any princess. Just for the record, I think I might have royal lineage. But -
Lindsay: Yeah, I’m Scunthorpe royalty!
Anne: When you die, I’m going to strew rose petals in the path of your hearse for you. And throw roses onto the bonnet as you’re going past.
Lindsay: But for me it's about untimely death. And the untimely death – it was, it's like a Greek tragedy, isn't it? That immediately brings to mind, Bob – // Cratchit? // No! Gedalf. You know what a Greek tragedian life he has had with the deaths in his family.
It's about untimely death, isn't it? So it's where there’s the association of, I’m a Mum and I've got young children and I could have been in a car crash. I could have had breast cancer. And then it's like actually when you are - you've got children that are out there taking risks in the world and then somebody else has a daughter that dies - somebody famous and if they've publicly – you think, “what if that happened to me? I would hate to lose my child.” So I think for me it's not about whether they're a real person to me and that I personally knew them, but I feel the loss of them as parent.
Anne: I sometimes wonder if I am not emotionally a good person cause I can't connect with it like that at all. But there's part of me that also says when these sorts of things happen, it's too difficult for me to think about the consequences of it. So I don't think about it. So when people like when Aunty June lost both of her children, and I've only got Steven - and I think about losing him and him dying, I just can't think about it.
Maxine: I think that's your coping mechanism though, I would agree with you.
Anne: Part of me just says, “I actually don't want to think about that. And if it happens then I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.”
Wendy: I think you’re right – I think you’re right to do that.
Anne: I’ll tell you what I’ve been thinking recently - so, recently I've had this real strong visualisation of a ruler and suddenly realising that if that ruler is my lifespan, I'm sort of nudging down to the right hand side of the ruler. And viewing it as a ruler, it's a really visual thing and sort of thinking, ‘shit, I don't feel like I'm moving in that end.’ But actually this - I just keep looking at this rule are thinking there's not much left.
Lindsay: Is that when you were asleep? Is it like a dream? Or a conscious act?
Anne: No, no – a conscious active thing.
Wendy: I think the trick is - and what I've learned this year is, the trick is to not do that. I really do think that.
Lindsay: Yeah. I find that scary.
Anne: Yeah, I am quite good at living in the moment.
Wendy: I think we're encouraged to think and sort of plan and to - it's almost the moral thing to do almost, it’s your conscience that makes you think about – face these things that are very difficult to face. And actually, what I realised is - it’s best if you don't face these things cause it doesn't help you.
Anne: Do you think it's the lifetime thing, because I've just stopped doing my full time job and things have been happening to all of us? And you physically start to – you know getting to the gym, bloody hell, you’re killing me! So you start to realise that your body is not forever, is it?
Maxine: I think you’re right though Wendy. I think you can spend so much time planning and looking forward that you don’t enjoy the now.
Lindsay: But I think there's a balance in that. So I'd like to respectfully challenge you on that because I think of course we don't want to go round our daily lives having morbid thoughts and thinking we've got less life to live than what we've lived. And this might happen or that might happen. But equally, I think there's something healthy about taking stock of where we're up to. So I guess it’s a balance.
Wendy: Yes, I'm not disagreeing with that at all. I think you've got to do that too.
But this year we've had some, we've had some, some bad news about my husband's health and I've been looking into it and getting more and more information about it. And I saw something recently about a young woman who's got the same diagnosis and she says, “I just don't think about the future”, because she's got young children.
“I just don't think about the future. I just don't think about the future.” And I thought, 'actually, yeah, why? Why not?' You know, that's the most way forward. And once we've stopped and I've notice I've stopped thinking about the future, and stopped thinking about trying to look for signs for things changing and things getting worse - but my husband's gotten better because I'm not looking for stuff.
And I think he's picking up on that and it works better as a result. And he looks better as a result. I think you've got to - and it's true of all of us, isn't it? You know, we know something about his health, but that could be, we're all ticking time bombs –
All: Yes // I am // Yes yes // We all are.
Anne: Well I had that doctor tell me -
Wendy: And you’ve had that to deal with. All of your adult life, you've had that in the back of your mind and you dealt with them and you've developed a strategy. And our strategy and I think it's possibly the same one is to think, ‘right, fuck it. It’s fine. Just get on with it’. Anything could happen. Something else could happen.
Anne: I guess you’re right. So he said - we were walking across the car park at the hospital and he said to me - a very senior doctor, and he said to me, "Oh, I'm really sorry you've got Type One [diabetes]. That means you're not going to live a long life."
Wendy: He said that to you?
Anne: He actually said that to me. I’d be in my twenties, in my twenties. And it's interesting actually, because I actually don't think about it at all, because I don't need to. I just concentrate on doing what I see. I do think about tomorrow, but I don't think about the longer term stuff.
Wendy: I don't think about it and I don’t think, ‘my friend Anne is going to leave us before the rest of us.’ I don’t. I genuinely don’t.
Anne: If I do, that's what happens. I just don't think it's a necessary thing to blemish my living. And today I'm into living. Yeah.
So, but this week Rob and I, we've been to see the solicitor, it felt so grown up. Oh my God. So grown up, although I nearly fainted as a Yorkshire woman when I got the letter that outlined the cost of all of these procedures to participate in planning for our death. So I took the wrong fork when I was the girl. I should have been the solicitor, that's for sure.
So we went along and we wanted to do the right thing. We wanted to make it uncomplicated for Steven. And we wanted to just be ordered about it. And I guess there's all sorts of – there’s less consequences of doing it now. It's easier to do it now than to leave it right later.
But it felt very grown up. I thought, ‘are we really going to the solicitor to talk about our wills?’ Is that really what we're doing?’ And this woman - who was about 10 - is going to charge us thousands of pounds for the privilege of doing my will? I thought I could write it on an envelope -
All: Well you probably could really // Yeah // We’ve done our own will // It is quite complicated though // It was on a piece of paper that went in an envelope // Okay // A4? // Yeah // That's long.
Wendy: It sort of begs the question doesn't it - are there some jobs where people are more grown up than others? So solicitors, they’re proper grown up, aren’t they? There must be.
Anne: Nursing's quite grown up.
Wendy: Nurses are a bit naughty, aren’t they?
All: Are they Wendy? // I think that’s a terrible characterisation // Terrible // Terrible
Wendy: I don’t mean in a rude way, sort of Carry On - Barbara Windsor way. I just mean, they can have quite black humour. Get people in the treatment room with gas in the air...
Anne: I felt really grown up. Talking about nursing - I can absolutely remember doing Last Offices for the first time, can you?
Wendy: That's the first time I'd seen a dead body.
Sam: What’s a last office?
Anne: Laying somebody out and it, and making sure that everything's attended to for them. I remember that quite a silent, quiet activity. It’s a very quiet activity and for me anyway, a very careful and very traditional. There are some things that we do, which are sort of a bit traditional. So I know I've just read the Molly Case book. I started to read it about nursing. Molly describes doing last offices and she's much younger than me. Decades younger than me. She talks about doing last offices and the shroud. She talks about the shroud and she's very paper like, which it is and putting it on. And she talks about putting a label on the body, which is what you have to do. And she talks about getting a flower and sellotaping it. And I can remember doing that.
Wendy: You picked up this almost superstitions from other nurses. There’s one about putting the flowering on, cause in those days, you’d have flowers on the wards, you have flowers on the ward. So you’d nick them from somebody else and then you’d wrapped a sheet around and put another label on. How am I doing? You remember things from when you were 18 a lot better. And then you'd open a window, don't know.
Anne: You do open a window.
Lindsay: Well, the nurse did that when my dad died, she opened the window to let the spirit go. After all the hard dying - because when my dad died, I'm not kidding you, the energy that it took him to broadly this last breath, we were like when is this man going to die? You know, the energy - and he could see the fat from his body just disappearing because the amount of energy he was burning up with breathing and it was very physical act. And then to think, actually let a spirit go now, cause his spirit has been with him.
I'm a mindfulness practitioner and one of the things about mindfulness is understanding the breath and that from the minute we are born, we are born with our breath. And it is the one constant thing we have throughout life.
Our breath does not leave us until the minute we die. It is the constant thing we have.
So thinking about your breath and breathing is really important in mindfulness and yoga. There was something so physical about my father's death and the breathing and the breathing at the end actually that I was so pleased when the nurse said like, “let his spirit go now, spirit off you go”. So the spirit could be released from that really sort of physical, hard, arduous labor.
Anne: So Lindsay, if you were on a ward with me now and we were doing last offices. Would you open the window?
Lindsay: I would and I would let the spirit go.
Anne: I would. I would definitely, I think, yeah. And I would, if I could find one in the modern day wards where you're not allowed flowers, I would also respectfully put a flower on the vest of the shroud.
Wendy: It’s that respectful it has. Because I think sometimes, especially now in hospitals where there's that much faster turnover, there's a feeling sometimes that you're just a number. And I think if you were you're subverting that aren't you? So you're saying, “you're not just a number. I didn't know you when you came in and I didn't know you before but I'm noticing you're now.”
Maxine: And I think that's true because I think no matter how difficult it is working in hospitals these days, I think that's one thing that is still done quite well - not in every case, but in a lot of cases.
Wendy: But in the back in the day, the hearse would go past and all the men would take their caps off to showing their respect.
Lindsay: I cannot tell you how grateful I felt that the nurse did that. But talking about hearses – when my dad died and we had his funeral. So my mum and dad live in a cul de sac in a small estate - new to them, in the nineties or eighties.
It was the most dignified moment I've ever known - is that the chief undertaker walked and then the hearse followed him.
And he walked all the way as far as he could until we joined the main road. And then he got into the car and it was beautiful, clear blue sky day. It was the 4th of November, it was the day before bonfire day. And it was such a respectful thing. And I think there's something about,
Wendy: ‘Cause they're holding up the traffic and I just think it's fine, just do it.
Lindsay: And he walked in such a dignified way and I thought he's honouring my father's death.
And it's that gift that other people give to you. When you lose someone, I think it's so important to know that actually other people give a damn and will act in a way that is respectful, that makes you think your parent or your loved one is respected; that their life was respected and it was so lovely and everybody was moved by it. We were a big family and so my children will never ever - that vision, that image of that will be in their head forever.
Maxine: Can I just add - the only thing that I think does bother me about dying is – I think I’ve had this conversation with you before Anne is - would you be buried or would you cremated? I don’t want to be cremated though.
Anne: It’s very final.
Maxine: How would you know though, that you don’t know that you’re being cremated? That’s my fear.
Wendy: Sorry? How would you know -
Maxine: How would you know - the only thing that worries me about death is how do you know when somebody’s died that they've completely gone, that they're not going to feel being buried or being cremated? I've got this – I think I’ve read too many novels…
Wendy: Yeah. But that comes from a time when they used to bury people and it was really difficult to tell when somebody had died or not. So there have been cases and I think it was, it happened fairly regularly often, people dying and not being dead at all and waking up. And then they’d have to clear the graveyard and they’d find scratch marks on the coffin. So it was a real thing.
Anne: Don’t tell me these things!
Wendy: It's an irrational fear. Because now they have an ultimate test. They know you’re dead. And they used to do it really quickly.
Anne: And also, I'll let your spirit out the window so you’ll be fine.
Wendy: And also they would have buried them really quickly within about 24 hours. But that is just not going to happen.
All: Four weeks at the moment to wait to get cremated // It’s when that curtain comes though // At the crem? // It’s awful that curtain // I agree // I need to not do that // You have cryogenics // Or a big chest freezer in your garden, yeah // That’s not environmentally friendly is it? Being cryogenically frozen // You could be in a freezer // Don’t they shrink you down? // Think of all that electricity for the freezer // Don’t you become like dust? Another kind of dust? // No… I don’t think so.
Anne: I used to have the same anxiety, but I have decided that when you’re dead, you’re dead. I don’t worry about that, somebody will sort that out. As long as I've got a wicker coffin, they can do whatever they want with it. But I did love – can you remember this, that book that we read, at book club, The Brief –
All: The Brief History of the Dead! // I loved that book // I absolutely love that book //
Anne: And I keep going back to it and the tenant of the book is that you only really disappear completely, ie. your spirit disappears when there is nobody left in the world with a living memory of you.
Maxine: Do you believe all that? Do you believe it?
Lindsay: I would like to believe it.
Anne: It’s very reassuring. Very reassuring.
Lindsay: Because you’re in this holding place with other people.
Anne: I think it's just a fascinating - I think you're right. I think that we construct these ideas that keep us, make us feel more comfortable –
Maxine: They're your coping mechanisms.
Anne: Also give us hope, cause we don't really understand. I mean part of me - I have got a bit of logic in my being and a bit of science in my being, that when the lights go off, they go off.
All: Yeah. [Silence]
Anne: Does anybody else do this though? I guess we’re of a really weird generation where things are quite liberated now compared to how they where when we were kids. What are you like when you go through a graveyard? Do you like me really, really not want to actually step on the graveyards
All: Oh absolutely yes!
Anne: And if for some reason you have to, does it make you feel really, so uncomfortable. This is absolutely stupid. You know, but I walk very carefully walk through. And at St Mary's where Rob's Dad's buried, the water levels down there are not great. So it's fine where the burial area is, but they're quite close together and the quite orderly and you can't sort of get to look at the stones without sort of nearly walking on the graves.
Wendy: Sorry, sorry – excuse me. Sorry!
Anne: Yeah, that's exactly right. But there’s that new part of it, where there's new people buried and there's babies and children and there's all that, but then you got up to the old part of the graveyard, which is much further up and there's all the decrepit stones and I sometimes think to myself, the paths have gone. I have no sense of where I'm walking and whether I'm walking on people, or their remains. It just feels really weird.
Wendy: Well the church I used to go when I young and where we got married - it was a really old church yard. What they did in the end was take the headstones, all these graves that had collapsed and everything and they made them into a path. So the graves, where they are and that cause these people have been long in – you know, 200 years ago - and even walking down the path I feel like, sorry, sorry. And they’re not there!
Anne: Do you think that's the way we were brought up?
Lindsay: But it’s an interesting thing cause I obviously, I walk the dogs a lot in that area.
Anne: Say hello to Rob’s Dad when you’re down there next.
Lindsay: And I have an interesting thought about it because I actually let the dogs off the lead and I sometimes think, ‘is this really disrespectful?’ and then I think, ‘actually, no if I was dead under the ground - and I don't know, whether it was a headstone or not. I'd actually want to think of people joyously walking the dog or enjoying the moment.’ I don't want people to be worried about it because they’re not going to hurt me, I’ve died!
Wendy: There’s some cultures where they go to the grave and take a picnic and have a feast.
Lindsay: That’s how actually I’d want it to be. To think that actually life still goes on. There's a woman in her 50s, walking her dogs and enjoying –
Wendy: She's got really good hair. Really good hair. Just been done.
Lindsay: She's trying to defy age. But she's walking along and she's contemplating the world and enjoying walking her dogs. And do you know, the reality is that actually there are dead bodies upon dead bodies over each other. And when you're walking along the paths, there will be people dead and buried under those paths.
Anne: I quite like going in and looking at headstone and contemplating the name and looking at when they died and sometimes the older, the better.
All: Yeah // it’s quite contemplative // I agree.
Sam: I'm wondering as you've been discussing for the last hour and a bit, what's come up for you and have you been talking about things that you haven't thought lately? What's this experience been like?
Wendy: I haven't talked about anything that I’ve not talked or thought about lately. I’ve thought a lot about this lately. So nothing new to me, but I don't know about you lot?
Maxine: I think you do think about your own mortality. I think as your parents die and as you'll get older, I think you do. And you're looking for the - well, partly for me, I’m a hypochondriac anyway, but you're looking for things aren't either not right.
Anne: What I'm finding interesting about the conversation that we've had is how normal it's felt to me, that having this conversation with you people, my friends – and that actually, it's not exactly a cheery after dinner conversation, but it is something that –
Wendy: It’s been funny though. We’ve laughed about it.
Maxine: Yeah. It's quite reassuring though. Because I would say that I'm a fatalist and I’m quite pragmatic about dying, but that's not to say that I aren’t a little bit fearful. And actually it's quite nice to talk about in a more light-hearted way to find some things funny, even though it might not be appropriate to everybody.
Wendy: Yeah, I think you’re right. Yeah, I agree.
Lindsay: I think for me it's the realisation that when I was younger and I had responsibilities of children, I denied and hid away and avoided close friends who died. Whereas now I - and I feel sad about that. However, I don't fear death and I feel quite - it'd be okay. I feel quite liberated.
Maxine: I find that quite comforting though Lindsay, that you'll feel quite not afraid at all. Cause I think I've got a little bit of fear in me. I think we all have to a certain extent, but hearing other people's views and approaches it takes that away a little bit for me.
Lindsay: I think it might be to do with – I suppose there's no reason to think that I wouldn't live till I'm a hundred, and I'm 54 now. I think it's to do with my learning around yoga and mindfulness and knowing that actually we can cope with a lot more – we’re a lot stronger than we ever know.
I think there was some circumstances and some conditions that are hideous. But on the whole, I think we would cope with our breath being with us to the end and knowing that’s our steady friend. So I think I've taken quite a lot of comfort in all of that. So yeah, I think I'd be okay.
Anne: The other thing I would say it's quite a complicated subject because there’s one’s own mortality in death. I’m being very non-Yorkshire there and saying “ones”. That’s a very Her Royal Highness thing to say -
Wendy: Has she been drinking water from the south?
Anne: So, your own mortality. And then there's the people who were critical - as I call it - scaffolding to my life. And then there's other people and so on and so on and so on. And so thinking about all of those things makes me feel different about each of those. And it's trying to work that out for yourself, isn't it? Tried to work out, what would I do if I lost Rob, what would that mean?
I've already talked about what would happen if I lost Steven. And so I think it's quite a complicated matter and the fact that I can talk to you guys about it, is a comforting thing. A really comforting thing. I know that I'm not on my own. I know that you won't laugh because I say something that might be on the face of it, quite ridiculous that it's a comforting thing to do.
Lindsay: But you know earlier we talked about the difference between being tough and resilient and we explored that a little bit and I think as well is that actually we're all quite wise women. And I think we would be more than survivors when those that we love dearest, die. Because – maybe because we have each other and we have the ability to articulate life and death in the way that we can. So I'm not saying it wouldn't be extremely hard, but I know that we’d all come out the other side.
Anne: Do you think that - this is something that just struck me with what you've just said. Do you think that if we do think sisterhood as a broad term is important in this conversation, ie. if we'd had our husbands here, whether we would have had the same conversation?
Maxine: I don't think we would. When I said to Simon – Simon said, “what does that mean in your diary?” cause it says in my electronic diary, ‘ANNE’S – death research’ and he said, “what does that mean?” And I explained what was happening and he went, "why would you want to go and do that?" I can't see – or certainly my husband wouldn't - I can't see our other halves sitting around the table having a similar conversation, at all.
Wendy: Absolutely not.
Maxine: And I think that's a male/female thing.
Anne: Does that make us lucky?
Wendy: Do you not think we’re the richer for it though as well?
Maxine: Oh, I agree. Yeah. Yeah.
Wendy: Men say this, “women talk too much” and all that kind of thing. But isn't that a plus? It's a great thing that we can talk about these things and get support from one another. Whereas you know when I die, Mike's going to be on his own.
Anne: I think, ‘if I was taken tomorrow, I think thank God for all of my friends, they’d look after Rob’. I honestly think that. I honestly think that the sisterhood network and their spouses would actually be the ones who would pick up the slack for me. That's a terrible thing is - sorry, you're all responsible.
All: Well, we would do it, wouldn’t we? // Of course we would // We would look after him.
Anne: Would you come and check the cleaning and things, cause he’s not very good at wet cleaning.
Wendy: Can I say,I'm not going to do the wet cleaning, whatever that is.
Anne: Wet cleaning is bathrooms and kitchens. He’s good at vacuuming and all that, but not wet cleaning.
Wendy: Okay. I still won’t clean his toilet, but we'll get someone in. A young person.
Lindsay: Oh dear me.
Wendy: I used to work with someone a long time ago and I used to say to her on a Friday, “see you on Monday” and she used to say, “yeeesss, if I'm not took” - if I don't die in between now and Monday morning.
All: I'll see you on Monday. God willing, God willing. // If I'm not took. // Or, inshallah.
Anne: Shall I open another bottle of prosecco ladies? I think so.
All: Can I have a cup of coffee or a cuppa tea? // And me Fondant Fancy // Oh yeah, we've got Fondant Fancies and chocolate // Wow.