Donald Sunderland Hill: a very fitting send-off

tree with candles

October 26th was a remarkable day. It was the day we hand-delivered our dad to life’s engine of renewal on his first step back to the stuff of stars. We held our ceremony at the residential home where he had lived the last year with Mum. She grasping less and less of the substance of life, and he falling foul of a need to take care of her at the expense of his own health, despite having no need to do so. The people we invited: a small group of family who had laughed with him through most of our lives; and friends who had laughed, danced, and reminisced with them both, gathered with staff from the home and elsewhere to help us send him on his way. We had a cherry tree to plant, and the home had kindly dug the hole for us earlier in the day. We had candles to light up the darkening evening, and we had strings of solar lights to sparkle through nights to come, outside the lounge window where Mum sits with her cup of tea.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have my dad. At least not as readily to hand as we had expected. Seeing the lovely food, and the gathering guests, Mum had beamed and asked ‘Is this a party?’  We reminded her that, no, it was for Dad, because he was gone now. ‘Oh,’ she said, appearing to take this on. A moment passed. ‘So how’s your dad getting here, then?’ My sister did not miss a beat. ‘He’s already here,’ she told her. But neither of us had checked, and he wasn’t. And so it came to pass that my sister and nephew raced off down the road to the funeral director’s office, while I held the fort with the Vera Lynn/Ken Macintosh mega mix.  They returned some 20 minutes later with our dad in a bag, weaving nonchalantly through the small assembly and placing him discreetly in position for his curtain-call. That he almost missed his own funeral would have creased him up with laughter. It very nearly finished us off for sobriety, and it was hard to delete from imagination the Benny Hill soundtrack that must surely have been playing in some cosmic theatre of the absurd. He would have loved it, and regretted only that there was no stuffed-shirt present who might have failed to see the funny side. Puncturing pomposity was a hobby verging on job description.

tree with candles

By the end of the day, we had rested our Dad in a place close to Mum’s favourite position in her preferred lounge. There is a tree that will blossom in spring with the blooms they brought to every house they lived in, and in due course, it will be joined by their other favourite, a Mock Orange, when Mum’s turn comes around. She has already said this is what she wants. A wonderful afternoon spent with lovely, gentle, people; good food, music of an era that brought us to liberation and never went away, and soft rounded wine to mellow the soul. He would have loved that too.

11 thoughts on “Donald Sunderland Hill: a very fitting send-off

  1. A very touching and amusing story, glad you found your dad so he did not miss his own funeral. Love cherry trees. I’m glad he had such a nice send off. Bet he was hanging around somewhere watching you all…

    1. Thank you, Alannah. I’m pretty sure not everyone would have been so amused but we don’t seem to do anything without a slapstick element to it! Earlier in the day, talking at the garden centre to the man who knew all the details of our tree’s purpose, we were completely cracked up when he offered us a handful of bone meal to ‘get the roots established’. We said we thought we had that covered.

  2. What a beautifully written post. You made me laugh and cry all in the space of minutes. Thanks for sharing your dad’s farewell with us.

    I’ve never heard of anyone doing something like this over here, but I like the idea. I wouldn’t mind ending up under a rose.

    1. Thank you, Linda. There’s a growing movement here for natural burials which usually take place in woodland areas and leave no markers ( My parents spoke of this as a preference and, if Dad had specified a site, we would have gone with it. He didn’t, and so we chose the nearest best option which also would not require Mum to travel. It was a first for the care home, and they were fantastic. It seems they’re happy for Mum to have the same option in due course, despite the undercurrent of sheer logistical lunacy!

        1. I suspect genealogists in the future will spend more time trawling Facebook than headstones. Some cemeteries are already going for ‘double decker’ burials due to lack of space, and sooner or later, we’re going to run out of wall to scratch our names on. At least in cyberspace, no one can nick the brass off your memorial plaque!

  3. Such a touching post, Suzanne. Thank you for sharing this experience with us.

    1. Thank you, Christi. It was a very personal day for us; hand crafted and hand delivered, and with such a lot of support from the staff team there. Not to everyone’s taste, I’m sure, but it was just right for us.

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