One sunny afternoon back in the 60`s when I was about seven years old, I was playing in my Maternal Nan`s back garden and I was suddenly drawn to an old enamel bread bin, you know, the sort of thing that is back in vogue now.
It was lying dormant behind the garden shed so I pulled it out from the weeds and grass that were growing around it, unveiling worms and other such creepy crawlies.
I placed it on the sunny lawn and pondered, `It needs a wash`! So I took it to the outside tap and rinsed off the earth and then left if to dry.
Now what happens next is quite bizarre for a young girl to be doing but please bear with me and I do believe all will become clear.
As it was very warm there were an abundance of flies making their mark on the day, some were full of zest and there were others, who shall we say, had seen better days!
I decided that those who were no longer with us needed a resting place and I had just the place for them... the bread bin!
I put earth in the bin , about and quarter of the way up and then I put each and every dead fly in a neatly parcelled piece of toilet roll and then gently placed the white soft caskets of toilet roll on top of the earth.
The next stage was to gently place more soil over the top of them. With the task completed I knelt over the bin and observed my undertaking, now they were buried neatly beneath the earth, everything looked bleak and dark but as this was a beautiful summers afternoon, there was an abundance of colourful blooms in the garden.
Mmm this needs colour I remember thinking...!
I looked around the garden and was careful in my choice of picking, this needed to be dainty and delicate little flowers, not blousy blooms or traditional roses, it had to be a natural creation.
I gathered daisies from the unmown grass, buttercups and buds of delicate pink fuchsias' that were abundant on their stems, these are what I can remember picking.
This needed a base before the buds and naive blooms could be placed on the top, so I set about picking the long blades of grass and covered the bare and unwelcoming soil with them.
The grass created a carpet of green and now all I had to do was to set about placing the gathered flowers, one by one to create a resting place to the flies.
A transformation had occurred, the dark and cold looking grave now looked less daunting and scary.
So much thought and detail that had gone into this, it is an afternoon that has stayed with me.
I really knew nothing of `death` at this age, being `dead` just meant that the person wasn`t here.
As we all mature `death` has more of an impact on us individually and I like many others became fearful of it....what happens when we die, a sense of emptiness and darkness, how could that be it?
It wasn`t until I was in mid twenties that my view on `death` changed. I suffered a traumatic miscarriage, which resulted in a minor operation but due to hospital negligence, routine procedures were forgotten and when lying on the operating table I had an out of body experience, which then changed my views on death from there on.
Since that experience, my awareness of `something else` became increasingly prominent in my life!
Was this awareness of 'something else' telling me that funerals and coffins should be more than dark clothes and caskets, lack of light and colour, was someone, somewhere, preparing me that summer afternoon back in the 60`s for what I would endeavour to do in the future....delicately painted eco-friendly coffins....I very much think so!
That day was many years ago now and much water has passed under the bridge, to bring me to where I am today...it appears that right from that sunny afternoon back in my Nan`s garden, I am a nurturing being, who loves nature and all things bright and beautiful.
So, if it all begun at the tender age of 7, what and whom led me to where I am now, painting and personalising coffins ?
I was a shy and retiring child, I was afraid of anything that seemed `out of the norm` in a health related way. The mere sign of a wheelchair, broken limb encased in a plaster or anyone with a disability and I would shy away, perhaps because the unknown can bring out the fear in the best of us and especially the young and innocent beings we all once were but it maybe a huge surprise that later in my adult life, I went on to be a carer in many aspects of nursing.
Caring in the community for those with a spectrum of needs ( wheelchairs were seen on a regular basis) caring for Adults with Learning Disabilities and then when I became a Marie Curie Nurse.
Just because they had an illness, disability or were in the last days of the life, I would never treat them any differently to anyone else and the one sure thing I always tried to bring into their lives, was laughter, for what is life without humour!
Memories of bathing a lady and throwing plastic ducks up and down the bath, I can see her now laughing and for a few minutes forgetting all her worries and pain...caring is not just about washing, toileting and dressing, it`s about feeding the soul with love and laughter and in this instance, it was right to the very end, that I helped her through caring and humour, for I was with her when she took her very last earthly breath.
I had known this lady from when I was in my late teens and so it was a shock when I was called up by the Agency I worked for to attend a meeting, in respect of her care.
I informed them that I knew her and I suggested that they ring her and ask if it was ok with her, as I knew she was a very proud lady, she might not have wanted someone she knew, washing and toileting her.
The return call came quickly and the agency told me she was looking forward to seeing me.
It was many weeks later that she told me, that she remembered looking at me that very day we were all called together and thinking to herself, Sue has been sent for a reason!
I certainly was, as I wasn`t only her Marie Curie Nurse but I attended the house as a carer to wash, dress and toilet her and as a Carer for Carers Break, to allow her husband sometime to himself...so I spent many hours with her on a weekly basis.
I remember vividly one September night, when days were balmy and the nights brought a Autumnal chill but this was to be another one of those times when my faith of `something else` was confirmed.
As the night shift progressed, it became increasingly colder but not the sort of cold you would feel as summer was turning the corner, this was a deep coldness that run deep into your bones and no matter how many layers I wrapped around me, it made no difference.
The whole of the room was filled with not just a presence but many beings, so I knew deep down that this would be my last night with my beloved lady.
She was restless and I pulled my chair up close to her and held her hand, I knew she was frightened but her time had come and it was my job to ensure that she was as comfortable as possible and right up to then I was helping her to overcome the fear with laughter, she looked at me and smiled.
I washed her face and hands and combed her hair as we awaited for the arrival of the local GP, for even though she had left this earthly plane, she would have wanted to look her best.
I left as dawn was approaching and remember thinking how blessed I had been to be with her on her `Journey to Heaven`...my work was done!
The devastation of losing a loved one can never truly be forgotten but this lady had a truly devastating illness and it would in my opinion be selfish to want her to carry on, existing instead of living. Her funeral was a true delight and she wanted everyone to wear colour to mark the occasion and celebrate her life...she, like me, loved colour and the nature that we live amongst.
Back then, alternative coffins were not really available but I am sure that she will be looking down on me now and saying what a wonderful idea, to have a colourful and personalised coffin, that represents the person's life and is made with love for the person who has passed and with respect for the planet, as I use eco-friendly paint and products.
I personalise a coffin with the same care, compassion and love as when I was caring for my patients, it is not just a box to` send you off in`, it`s a carrier from this world to the next!
Love and blessings