In the February edition of the Ghost Geek Newsletter, I explained that I was reading Caitlin Doughty’s From Here To Eternity. Well, I’ve finished the book now, and it has found a way to my ‘top books’ list. It hit a very personal note for me and in this book review, I’m going to discuss visiting my mum in the chapel of rest. So, if you’re bereaved yourself, or if you’re a family member, you may not want to read on.
You may already know that my mum died unexpectedly in September 2017. My family and I, who were present in the hospital, were asked if we’d like to see her in the room she had died in. Unfortunately, because she died so soon after arriving at hospital there had to be an investigation and so the breathing tube that has been placed in her mouth and down her throat couldn’t be removed. This meant that when I visited her with my aunt and uncle, it wasn’t the comforting ‘she looked as though she was sleeping‘ moment many people describe. It was a memory that haunted and troubled me.
Mum’s funeral was almost one month after her death and, as she wished to be cremated, I knew that the time between her leaving the Coroner, and the day of her funeral would be the last chance I’d ever have of seeing my mum again. The woman who had raised me and whom I had spoken to on almost every single day of my 30 years of life. My whole family was pretty traumatised by her sudden death, and nobody else wanted to visit her in the Chapel of Rest because they just couldn’t face it. To save anyone else from the stress of having to take me there and wait outside (which was offered by many relatives and friends), I hopped on a train and went to visit her alone.
Mum had been dead for nearly a month at this stage, and death does things to a human body in quite a short space of time. When I walked into the room in which mum lay in her coffin, there was a large frown on her face that I’d never seen before. I know this is because of the way in which a Funeral Director makes viewing our deceased friends and relatives void of the gaping mouth that death provides, but it was still alarming .and when I got the train home I sat alone and cried the whole journey home. Which is pretty awkward on a train in Britain, because everyone pretends you’re not there.
The frown on mum’s face replaced the breathing tube in the thoughts that refused to leave my head as I grieved, and it was so difficult.
Then, many months after mum’s funeral, I bought Caitlin Doughty’s second book From Here to Eternity in which Caitlin visits different communities in different global cultures to learn how people deal with death in different ways. I don’t want to spoil any of the fascinating things that Caitlin writes about, but it is a truly mesmerising read. And, strangely, it helped me to find closure from my trip to the Chapel of Rest. Because I realised that the way mum’s body reacted to death was natural and normal. Had I walked into the room to find her laid out like a radiant Snow White post-apple-biting, that actually would have been far more alarming for me in the long term. It wouldn’t have been a testament to the fight mum had given in her final days, it would have beautified her death and that wouldn’t have been fair to her. When I realised that, it relieved me of such a burden and I was then able to find comfort when I thought back to being in that room with mum, touching her hair for the last time and saying my last goodbye to the her .
From Here to Eternity helped me to find the closure and acceptance that many books about grief failed to. After reading it, I re-found my interest in life and death and the culture which surrounds it. Reading about some of the up-close-and-personal ways in which people around the globe live and take care of their dead made me see something wholly beautiful in the frown that haunted me for so long. You should buy the book.
I’ve decided that if I come back as a ghost when I die, I’m going to haunt Mexico. Seems a ghost would be welcomed there.