`I have no regrets. I have lived my life to the full. I have enjoyed my career and my leisure time. I would like to live longer, but there is nothing more I have left to achieve.’
Recently I had the emotional task of planning a funeral for my closest relative, My Uncle David. His life was cut short by pancreatic cancer. When my Uncle phoned me to give me the sad news of his cancer he said to me ` Try not to be sad Patsy. I have no regrets. I have lived my life to the full. I have enjoyed my career and my leisure time. I would like to live longer, but there is nothing more I have left to achieve.’
I wanted the funeral to reflect my Uncle’s personality and way of life. As I am passionate about flowers I wanted to provide a fitting floral tribute.
I looked through the funeral director’s book containing sample wreaths and I thought `Ostentacious and ghastly in equal measure!’ I wanted a floral tribute that reflected my Uncle’s life and was truly personal to him. I really do not like lilies, although they are commonly associated with funeral services. Symbolically, these flowers are meant to show that the soul of the person has returned to a state of innocence. White lilies symbolise purity and appear at funerals more often than other varieties. Stargazer lilies symbolise sympathy, which is why they are often recommended as an appropriate option for the loved ones of the deceased. Lilies just weren’t the right thing for my Uncle or me. I was quite dismayed at the ubiquitous array of floral tributes that seem to be churned out for funerals. From my Bridal Bouquet Paintings I know that a lot of thought goes into the flowers at a wedding and a good florist will strive to create something unique for each and every wedding. Why not for funerals?
I chose Hilary of Eliza James Flowers to provide my tribute for the simple reason that she understood what I wanted. Hilary’s style of floristry is to include as much local foliage, seed heads and herbs as possible in her work. She loves searching the hedgerows for berries and leaves and her preference is to use flowers cut from the garden where possible. I asked for hedgerow style flowers for my mum’s funeral tribute in the nineties. I was very disappointed. I do believe the florist didn’t really get what I wanted and used conifer clippings with a few berries in a very sparse floral sheath. My tribute looked quite sad compared with the others. However the other tributes contained either lilies or commercially grown ostentacious blooms which did not reflect the free-spirit of my mum. I was determined to do better this time!
I asked Hilary James to provide a fitting floral tribute for my Uncle, who loved to walk in the Dorset countryside and along the coast. The design was to be full of rich colour and texture and a celebration of Autumn.
Hilary was inspired by a walk around Stourhead Estate. She sat peacefully watching the leaves falling from the trees on a beautiful Autumn afternoon.
Apart from decorating the funeral casket I planned to hold a Funeral Tea at my Uncle’s Yacht Club and wanted floral tributes there too.
Hilary proved to be an amazing florist as she is so passionate about her work. She is a wonderful person to work with as she has such a caring nature, an essential character trait when working on funeral flowers!
I have grown up in a family that loves the outdoors and country walks. My Uncle retired to Dorset and enjoyed long walks along the Dorset Coastal Path and in the countryside. He made friends with Kate and his knowledge of wild flowers increased immensely on these walks with Kate as a guide.
When Mr Smiles and I visited my Uncle in Dorset he always planned quite strenuous walks as he knew we were trying to lose a few pounds and get fitter. I often struggled to keep up! We would also walk whatever the weather and last Christmas was particularly vile weather for a strenuous, bracing coastal walk!
The floral tribute was made with a lot of love by Hilary James full of references to my Uncle’s life. The casket arrangement was made of hedgerow flowers, berries and foliage which would be seen by my Uncle on his country walks. Hilary used beautiful foliage from the Tregothnan Estate in Cornwall.
I specified that crab apples should be included. On my wedding day I gave away home-made crab apple jelly as Bridal Favours. The crab apples had been picked with my Uncle on a walk in the New Forest and lovingly made into jelly using my mum’s preserving pan. Uncle David gave me away at my marriage to Mr Smiles as he had given away my mum (his sister) years before. In his speech at our wedding my Uncle said of my new husband `Simply by getting to know him a little I knew he was a good man, a hard worker and would take care of Patsy. He also makes her extremely happy and I am sure she makes him happy in return. What more could I ask than for Patsy to be happy with a wonderful man, and a man I welcome with warmly open arms.’ It was a very happy day. He wanted to wear the same suit which he could still get into – his `posh’ suit for formal occasions. I decided to hire him a new suit to be the same as everyone else. My Uncle enquired whether he should wear this suit for meals at the Somerleigh Court Palliative Care Nursing Home, even though his illness had got the better of him and he could hardly eat. I decided Uncle David should wear his best suit for his last formal do of his funeral.
The crab apples were a stunning shiny rich ruby red colour with flashes of orange and yellow. However they proved a challenge in the design as they were on thick stems and were very heavy!
Apart from his love of walking my Uncle maintained an allotment. He hardly ever needed to buy vegetables as he was largely self-sufficient. It was obvious something was drastically wrong when my Uncle’s diet changed in March and he no longer fancied vegetables for dinner. Uncle D was known for his strawberry growing on his allotment. So much so that he couldn’t make a sailing trip as he was harvesting his strawberries and making strawberry jam! I asked for strawberry leaves in the design. They were placed so I could see them in a cluster, like a miniature strawberry patch.
When Hilary was out foraging for teasels and haws she found a beautiful baby teasel which was bright and green.Hilary decided to use this as her interpretation of new beginnings in the circle of Life.
The design was heralded by huge Magical Ruby Red hydrangeas in rich burgundy, orange and purple hues. Hydrangeas remind me of family holidays by the coast.
I also asked for dahlias to represent my Uncle’s allotment.
It was hard to source dahlias in November, However Hilary managed to find some deep purple Black Fox and red Red Cap blooms. Viburnum Tinus from the garden was chosen to lighten the design and Eucalyptus Parvifolia shaped the arrangement, a gentle foliage giving movement. Each end of the long sheath was marked by Photinia Red Robin, chosen for its strength to support the heavy crab apples. Red Robin was placed at various focal points to convey a rich Autumn feel and was enhanced with the Red Cap dahlias and the crabs themselves. Light was introduced by Golden Sparkle, a golden tiny leaved foliage.
A love of Sailing and the Coast
Apart from walking as a leisure pursuit my Uncle had a life long love of the coast and the open sea.
In addition to decorating the funeral casket I planned a Funeral Tea at my Uncle’s Yacht Club and wanted floral tributes there too. Uncle David was never one to sit on his laurels. He used to go out before work and go canoeing for a few hours. This was in a canoe that he had built himself! At the start of his career with Marconi Satellite Communication Systems Uncle David joined their sailing club and purchased his first sailing boat White Lady in 1966 for £60 together with a trailer.This started a lifelong love of the sea and sailing as a leisure pursuit. White Lady was a wooden boat which leaked. Barry Doul crewed for my Uncle and part of this job was to bail out water!
My Uncle’s philosophy was always make do and mend. He used an old motorcycle engine to run one of his boats. He had a can of petrol in the kitchen which caught fire. Luckily he managed to extinguish the fire before too much damage was done! Other Marconi friends Roger and Jon would also crew for him, having wonderful fun over the years exploring the Blackwater, Stour, Orwell estuaries and even as far as the Swale on the far side of the Thames.
Working for Marconi took Uncle David to Trinidad and Tobago where he enjoyed the warmer climate for sailing.
In 1972 Uncle David purchased a new boat, a Vivacity 650 which he named Calypso remembering his trip to the West Indies. Calypso was moored at Bradwell Cruising Club where my Uncle was an active club member, exploring the Essex coastline and the French coast.
When his longstanding friend Roger died of pancreatic cancer my Uncle purchased his boat Dubldee from his widow Celia. How ironic that my Uncle should also die of this horrible disease. Dubldee is a Trapper 501 for those of you in the know!
When David moved to the Dorset coast in retirement he joined Redclyffe Yacht Club and became an active member. He joined many group trips and was known there for his strawberries grown on his allotment which he brought along to summer barbecues.
I was able to sail with him on occasions and came to appreciate why my Uncle liked his boat so much. My Uncle’s favourite place to sail to was Warbarrow Bay on the Dorset coast. He would row out to shore and have a decent walk along the coast. He often caught a mackerel for his dinner, washed down with a glass of wine. He liked to anchor up for the night, enjoying the solitude of the sea, listening to the gentle waves lapping against his boat lulling him to sleep. My Uncle had lots of interests and friends. However he was also a very private person. He never married, but was very content and chose to live a simple life. One of his favourite musicians was Acker Bilk. It seemed very fitting to play Acker Bilk’s clarinet piece `Stranger on the Shore’ at the funeral. My Uncle listened to this piece of music in the last hours of his life. I was able to get him to visualise being moored up in the peace and quiet of Warbarrow Bay as the sun was setting. David then gently slipped his moorings (figuratively speaking) and passed away.
I chose to host an afternoon tea to celebrate my Uncle’s life at his Yacht Club. Although it was quite a way to drive I was delighted with the turn out . When I visited the Redclyffe Yacht Club I was struck by the peace and tranquillity of the River Frome where my Uncle’s boat is moored. I provided Dorset Apple cake and a cream tea, my Uncle’s favourites. We managed to get Dubldee moored along side the pontoon by the club house. Hilary then made a nautical themed wreath to be placed on the Yacht. The wreath included bright blue hydrangeas and dark blue anemonies. I had provided Hilary with images of Dubldee so she could compliment the yacht livery. I made a tribute card with my watercolour painting of Dubldee and this was tied to the wreath.
The floral tributes at Redclyffe were vastly different to those on the casket. The aim of this design was to capture my Uncle’s love of the Dorset coast and his passion for sailing. The tables, serveries and the porthole windows at the club were dressed in navy blue, white and natural colours in French grey buckets. The design had a blue and white Nautical theme. Beautiful shiny navy blue Viburnum berries matched the dark blue stamens and centres of the white anemone Marianne Panda.
I chose Eringium Orion Questar, a wonderful blue sea-holly which added texture and fitted the coastal theme. White roses complimented and gave light and there were natural additions of the seedhead Scabiosa Stellata and Myrica Gagel to give interest and height.
At the end of the tea I gave away the posies in the French grey buckets to guests. Hilary also re-assembled the flowers from the casket and any remaining flowers. These were given to my Uncle’s nursing home Somerleigh Court, in gratitude for the wonderful care he received there. The blooms and foliage were made into fireplace arrangements. There was a huge blue and white bouquet made from the residue of the massive blue hydrangeas which was placed in the reception area and three smaller posies were given to residents in need of a bit of cheer.
I am so grateful to Hilary of Eliza James Flowers as her designs formed such a wonderful fitting tribute to my Uncle.
Hilary James ` My brief was done. I was proud that I had executed Patsy’s wishes entirely. I am thankful that Patsy gave me the opportunity to design and construct these most precious tributes and I am glad they gave her comfort at a harrowing time in her life. I hope that the images and notes remind her of her love for her Uncle and her determination that his passion for the coast and countryside of Dorset and her special memories of times shared together, were portrayed in all of the flowers, foliage, fruits and berries that went into the tribute.’