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Archive - Thursday, 31 October 2002
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Dying wish for DIY and no-frills funeral
GEORGE Johnston can rest in peace having achieved his life ambition to 'beat and buck the system' with a DIY funeral.
He was taken away from St Michael's Hospice, Bartestree, where he died from cancer wrapped only in a sheet, bound for the city morgue in a car hired by his son.
For George, 67, who kept The Swan Hotel, Kington, for 14 years, it was his dying wish to have a no frills funeral.
Son Rob Johnston largely dispensed with the services of a funeral director, to become undertaker, pall bearer and priest himself.
"He spent his life attempting to beat and buck the system and it would have delighted him to know he was able to beat and buck it from his coffin," said Rob, who believes the DIY funeral was unprecedented in several ways and the first of its kind in the county.
The initial hurdle for Rob was storing his father's body. Staff at the crematorium told him about a free service at Hereford County Hospital where his father could lie in cold storage with peace and dignity.
Next, he arranged the funeral, booking the crematorium for a week ahead. He brought the cost of the coffin down by buying a cardboard one direct from a maker. His father would have been happy with a black bin bag.
"We had a shroud on the coffin and flowers on top. It could have been a £1,000 coffin," said Rob, who added that the process achieved dignity and helped his grieving.
"I was inspired by the fact I was honouring my father's request. I did it with great pride and joy," he said.
The whole process came as a big eye opener for Rob, as well as staff at the hospice, morgue and crematorium, but he says others would benefit from arranging funerals themselves.
Rob, who markets health care therapy, is now prepared to offer advice to others wanting to arrange funerals and deal with some of the trickier issues, such as the transition of the body, the only part of proceedings he had help with.
"I hired a funeral director for the vehicle which was just a car, not a hearse, to take the body from the hospice.
"We just wrapped the body in a sheet. This part of the equation I would not recommend people to do on their own."
But there was still some fuss for George. The crematorium had been packed with friends and family, including George's wife, Barbara, and many stood outside.
Rob is happy to talk to anyone about his experience and offer advice. He can be contacted on 01584 873375 or 07796556123.
l Andy Tector, head of Environmental Health and Trading Standards, said: ''The council has provided a crematorium service to funeral directors or the public for many years.
" Provided all legal requirements, procedures and codes of practice are adhered to, individuals can choose to make their own arrangements, though the majority of families use funeral directors.''