Thursday, 18 October 2012

" 'elp!!"

Reading  Tom Stephenson's recent blog entry on Gallows Humour has got me thinking about funerals. I have been reminded in particular, of some of the services I have attended, that have been somewhat "bizarre" due to the simple fact that humour (albeit gallows in nature) has played a large part.
Back in the 1980s, and on the way to my Grandfather's funeral, I was driving up Prestatyn High Street with my sisters and brother in law when we were effectively side swiped by a lorry which had tried to negotiate a difficult turn. We were already late for the service and  so my sisters and I had to abandon the car ( Ann clutching a hip flask full of brandy) to gallop up the length of the High Street in order to "beat" the coffin into the church. Not an auspicious start to a sombre event to be sure.
As a nurse, I have often felt it was right to go to a former patient's funeral.
Mostly the reason for doing so, is a deep seated respect for that particular character and their family, but occasionally the reason for going can be purely one of a sense that either "it was the right thing to do" or in some other cases that there was simply no one else to go.


I recall a patient I shall call Sid from years ago, who was admitted to the spinal Injury ward I was working on as a junior staff nurse. He was what we call now as a bit of challenge. Then we called him quite simply as a bit of a pain in the arse
Before being paralysed from the neck down, I always suspected that Sid was a "difficult character" a Yorkshire Miner all his life, he was a hard drinking hard man, that fixed problems with a sharp tongue, colourful language and his fists.After his injury, all his former coping mechanisms had been removed,as he could no longer move, a muscle, nor could he swear to any effective degree, as he had a tracheostomy in situ
However Sid had a huge amount of spirit. He could drive a chin controlled electric wheelchair with deadly accuracy. He knew what he wanted when it came to personal care and he could communicate those wishes with the assertion  that bordered on aggression.
and begrudgingly the ward staff warmed to him
Looking after him within the rehab environment was a challenge, and it was dreadfully hard work, especially as one of the few words Sid would utter when something needed doing was a slightly breathless "'elp!".
"Elp!" was uttered what seemed like a million times a day,
At times that one small abbreviated word could almost reduce a tired nurse to tears! and I am sure it was the last word he did utter, for one day when all of the younger and fitter patients were being roused in their wheelchairs to attend gym, Sid collapsed and died.
His funeral was held in a rough miner's town, and at the crematorium, I noticed that all of hard drinking and hard talking miners sat on one side of the chapel and all the hard drinking hard talking rehab nurses sat on the other.
The chaplain, did his speech.  A miner friend performed another, and we the nurses that knew Sid only  as  "hard work" heard all about a guy's life that we did not really recognise...We were only brought back to the "reality" of the situation when the Chaplain put his hand on the coffin and in response to something in the eulogy he uttered the words
"what would Sid have said about all this?"
In the silence that followed, and before the giggling started, somewhere amid the nurses' ranks a tiny voice whispered loudly..........

"'elp!"

51 comments:

  1. I think humour not only has it's place at a funeral / remembrance event but in many ways acan be a good thing. Just because someone has passed away doesn't change who they were when a living and breathing individual just a short while before and if they would have appreciated it then who's to say it's not as valid a form of 'mourning' as other more sombre 'traditional' forms. I think it can be a great release, and I bet you lot had Sid spluttering to himself. :-)

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    1. He did a lot of spluttering. Remember he had a tracheostomy

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  2. You're up early!

    I am very touched that you would attend a late patient's funeral. That shows true respect. I'm proud to know you.

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    1. Unfortunately, I have been to a few patient funerals over the years....up at 4 am cro..couldn't sleep

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  3. :-)

    I often find that the happiest social occasions are funeral wakes. The actual funeral service/ceremony is usually a grim affair with everyone trying to walk a tightrope, putting on a brave face which is not so over-solemn or distressed as to upset everyone else. But the after-gathering, I think, is a release for so many people in a "Thank God that's over!" kind of way, who find themselves laughing along merrily with people they've never met before nor are likely to met again - unlike wedding receptions which can seem so forced and even stiffly formal, or at least until the drinks start flowing.

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    1. I always think that there is a forced hysteria just lurking under the radar at funerals

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    2. Yes, I think you've got a point there, J.G.

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  4. Fabulous! and so very very human a response.

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  5. I've done the awful late to a funeral ( lost our way ) slamming hand on car hooter as friend driving got out of her car for everyone in the glass fronted building to turn & look at our grand entry.

    After my step father suffered a stroke he kept saying "White Rabbit" over & over. He was trying to ask the time & must have had an image of the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland !

    As they lived in north Wales, my mother went to the Alice in W shop in Llandudno ( Alice Liddle the real "Alice" spent childhood holidays there ) to buy a white rabbit ornament as a present for one of the nurses.

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  6. great story! I want Kate Bush singing Wuthering heights at my funeral. Wonder whether the family will be bold enough to comply!

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    1. Will the vicar be singing it?

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    2. Wouldn't that be a scream!

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  7. Tony has demanded "I Got My Thrill on Blueberry Hill" and the theme from the TV show "Mr Ed" ( a talking horse !!) for his funeral. I'm all for it as it shows a great sense of humour and you need a bit of light relief as you leave the church.
    ..mmmm.....Must give my funeral some thought. I'd like to raise a smile too.
    Cheers

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  8. What was the name of that film of a Joe Orton play, where the funeral procession follows the hearse at about 80 MPH? That was a good one.

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  9. Great story and I think Sid would have got the joke.

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  10. A funny thing that happened at my brother's mother-in-law's funeral was that the balloons that were decking the hall released themselves rose into the air, then started bouncing aimlessly around the mourners. If there had been any feeling of reverence before, it completely evaporated as people tried to either beat off the balloons or gather them in.

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  11. I attended a funeral earlier this year where the coffin was painted with a star system and the priest, instead of saying 'peace be with you' said 'may the force be with you'.

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  12. Love it. Black humour has saved me many times. Shortly before my father's death he had immense fun arranging his own funeral. 'Goodmorning Rabbi, you don't know me, but I wan't to arrange a funeral' 'I am so sorry. Whose funeral do you wish to arrange?' 'Mine.'
    And I am glad he had the chance because I would arranged it very differently. Not out of malice, but because I didn't know.

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  13. I am sure Sid was "upstairs" having a chuckle as well....

    Gill

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  14. Ha! Ha! If you see Sid tell 'im! By the way when Sid muttered "ELP", he was probably trying to tell you that he was a closet Emerson, Lake and Palmer fan! Was the rough miners' town in question Harrogate?

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  15. We go for ice cream after a funeral. It's a family tradition and what with neices and nephews and grandchildren to the 9th generation, the ice cream crowd gets larger. We'll raise a cone to Sid, too, next time we're gathered.

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  16. My friend R went to his cousin's funeral. His cousin had a green funeral,the coffin was wicker. During the service, flies began to circle over the coffin. My friend R got the giggles,which turned into laughter.He bowed his head and laughed into a hanky. A family member seeing R's shoulders heaving,and thinking R was bereft, put his arms around R whispering "there, there" which made R laugh even more...he had to leave.
    Jane x

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  17. I've been late to the last two funerals we've had to attend (hubs Mother and Aunt) and both were packed wouldn't you know it. I find it interesting to hear peoples memories of the deceased which often have no relevance to how I knew the person. I detest going to funerals. You are a saint to go to your patients remembrances.

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  18. I love your sense of humour John. You are such a great storyteller.

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  19. I dislike funerals and shall not be attending mine.

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  20. What a great story. How sweet that you go to patient's funeral. I think that is far above and beyond what your profession requires of you!

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  21. Nice to know there are people like you out there....even for Sids!

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  22. Do you think that we British are the only ones who have gallow's humour? I think it is a fantastic way to lighten the atmosphere but other countries don't seem to go in for it

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  23. This post convinces me you are the next James Herriot. Though he wrote "animal stories," they were really about the people around him, and that's exactly what you do, with the same warmth and humor.

    He wrote a lot about animal shit, too, as I recall.

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  24. Awww this brought a smile to my face...reminding me of the funeral of my Great Aunt Tilly...she was a gruff old thing, but once ya knew her ya loved her...she liked her brandy in the afternoon. Her funeral was set at the time she would usually have her afternoon drink, almost everyone that attended brought along a flask of brandy, and at the right moment as the coffin was lowerded tipped their flasks to tilly...I am also reminded of my fav movie death at a funeral,lol

    nice post :)

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    1. Have a look at Tom Stephenson's blog entry today Monkey... it is much better than mine!

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    2. well you both know how to make a fella chuckle :)I haven't felt this good since they killed shane off the walking dead.

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  25. John, I loved that little story. All power to Sid. I hope he's sitting up there on a cloud somewhere reading your blog. Perhaps his last word will be 'elp!'

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  26. I bet there's many a funeral service where someone is giving a glowing eulogy to someone's life and personality and half those present are scratching their heads thinking, that must be someone else you're talking about, he was a cantankerous drunken old git....

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  27. When i worked in banking, i or other bank employees used to attend either our deceased customers' wakes or funerals.

    At my MIL's funeral, one of her nurses was present and solemnly touched the coffin as she went up for Communion. I recognised that nurse right away--she had been one of my MIL's daycare charges years before, and although Emily was now mid- to late twenties, she had stayed in my mind as perpetually six years old.

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  28. Love the story, three cheers for Sid, 'elp,'elp, 'elp!

    XO
    WWW

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  29. Thanks all for your comments... I guess the thing that is most noticeable is that many of us have humour filled moments at these terribly sad times

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  30. I bet I knew him - was he from Pilley?
    One of Gary's long lost Aunts turned up very late at his dads funeral recently. She burst in with her benefits sticks hooked over her arm, forgetting to limp she raced down the crem! We couldn't understand why she had bothered to turn up as she hadn't seen him for at least 20 years, but she left after bagsying the dining table and 3 piece suit! xxxxx

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    1. Hilarious Diane - rofl !

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    2. i THINK HE WAS DI!

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  31. I think the whole humour at a funeral thing gives us balance at a time of sorrow....better to laugh than to bawl our heads off I guess.

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    1. congrats on your retirement jimbo!

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  32. I remember my uncle's funeral as an affair at which everyone laughed and joked - it seemed a fitting end for a popular and warm man; I hope mine is like that too

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    1. I would love to be able to watch my own funeral.... I think we all would......>

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  33. Awww, what a great story! sniff, sniff...

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  34. Have a wonderful Friday and weekend, John!

    Good story, too, I think. Thanks.

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  35. A more fitting ending could not have occurred!

    Love it!

    Cat

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  36. I love this story! Humor is the perfect elixir; it has an uplifting effect, one that enhances the humanity of such somber occasions. Those are the moments you remember, and as a result, the souls who have departed.

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  37. Loved the story...comic-relief is needed at all times in life!

    Lana

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  38. Oh that was too great! Chuckling here, and sad, too. I love the way you tell a tale, John.

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