Dying for a laugh

My hubby's determined to die with a smile on his face...

Published by: Zoe Beaty and Gail Shortland
Published on: 28th April 2010

Sat looking at a photo of me and my hubby Brian, I didn’t know what to do – smile at the happy memories, or cry for what lay ahead.
If only I’d known then what was coming, I’d have burned every second of that holiday in Mexico into my memory.
It’s not like we’d be going back again because, instead of planning our next trip, we were planning Brian’s funeral. Just weeks earlier, he’d been told he had terminal lung cancer, and had just months left.
Running my finger over his face in the picture, I sighed. ‘There you are,’ said Brian, sticking his head around the living room door. ‘I’ve decided, I want my coffin shaped like a pint of Guinness.’
That was one thing that hadn’t changed since his diagnosis – his sense of humour. The smile on his face now was like the one in the photo… ‘What, love?’ I croaked.
‘Are you crying?’ he asked.
‘Just reminiscing,’ I sniffed.
He took the photo. ‘That trip was for your 50th,’ he said.
On the day of my birthday, he’d told me to get dressed up for dinner. As we’d walked along the beach to the restaurant, I saw a trail of rose petals leading down to a table for two. ‘Isn’t that lovely,’ I’d smiled, thinking nothing of it.
‘Happy birthday,’ he’d whispered, leading me towards it.
He’d planned the whole thing.
Looking into his eyes now, I hugged him. It was heartbreaking, planning the funeral of my husband of 11 years, especially while he was still alive. Having to watch him keep positive, and think of others…
But if Brian could plan such a beautiful surprise for me, I’d do everything to make his funeral exactly what he wanted. And with Brian about, it was going to be nothing but fun… ‘Now, about that coffin,’ I said. ‘I know it’s your favourite tipple, but really!’
He grinned cheekily. ‘It’ll be a right laugh,’ he chuckled. ‘Besides, can’t think of anything that sums me up better, can you?!’
Suddenly, he looked serious. ‘I’m not going to waste what time I have left, not when I could be organising my own funeral,’ he explained. ‘I… I can’t bear the thought of you trying to do it, it’ll upset you too much.’
Bless him. Fancy thinking of others at a time like this.
Taking a leaf from his own book, I plastered a bright smile on my face. ‘You just like planning things,’ I teased.
‘What do you mean?’ he replied, a twinkle back in his eye.
‘Remember our wedding?’ I said.
Five years after we’d got together, he’d phoned me out of the blue. ‘What are you doing on March 26?’ he’d asked.
‘Nothing that I know…’
‘Then you’re marrying me!’ he’d cheered. Simple as that then!
We’d spent the next few years travelling the world, from Venezuela to Japan – Brian was a taxi driver, so in his spare time the last thing he wanted was to sit still!
Well, unless he was fishing. He’d spend hours at it, grumbling about ‘the one that got away’.
His fishy friends hadn’t been forgotten in the funeral arrangements. ‘I want my ashes thrown into the sea – so I can see all the ones that got away,’ he said.
Just a fortnight after his diagnosis, he’d now pretty much planned the whole thing, even down to the flowers. He’d decided every guest would bring a red rose.
My rose would go into the coffin with him, so I was always beside him. The rest would come home so I’d feel like I had my friends and family around me. ‘But I just want you,’ I felt like screaming.
All I could do, though, was enjoy what time I had left with him.
We’d hoped to take one final trip to Mexico, but doctors said he was too ill to travel. He was coughing constantly and getting breathless just walking to the kitchen to make a cuppa. I was worried. If he couldn’t make his last wish come true, would it knock him back and send him into a downward spiral?
No, not my upbeat hubby! Determined to wring every last bit of fun he could out of life, he decided to do something else… ‘I’m buying a Jaguar,’ he said. ‘If I can’t go to Mexico, I may as well enjoy driving around town.’
Within days, a racing green Jag was in our driveway! Brian jumped into the driver’s seat, then posed with his arm hanging out the window, fag in hand. ‘It comes with a lifetime guarantee,’ he joked. ‘Don’t think I’ll need it, though!’
See what I mean about his sense of humour?! Nothing could stop him having one last laugh.
And thanks to my daughter Leanne, 31, and her husband Simon, 40, he still got a holiday. ‘I’ve drunk Guinness all over the world, but never had a pint in Dublin,’ he always said.
So they booked a trip to Ireland where we toured the Guinness brewery! Sat supping the black stuff, white froth lining his moustache, a smile came across Brian’s face. ‘Hey, I’ve had another idea,’ he said.
What now!? ‘I’ve been thinking about my wake,’ he started. ‘If there’s going to be a party, then surely I should be there?’
‘What do you mean?’ I frowned.
‘We should arrange it for before I die,’ he shrugged.
At first, I wasn’t too sure. Saying goodbye to Brian was going to be hard enough, but to have him there when we were doing it…
‘Won’t it seem like we’re celebrating the fact you’re dying?’ I worried.
‘But it makes perfect sense,’ he urged. ‘I need to see my family and friends before I go. I want to have one last night with everyone.’
Only he could think of something so wacky… How could I wipe the smile off his face now? Thing was, I didn’t want him doing too much – after all, I didn’t want him being so ill he couldn’t enjoy his own wake! Boy, that sounded odd! So, I called our friend Paul Johnson and explained Brian’s plan.
‘That’s a fantastic idea,’ he cried. ‘I’ll organise everything, then he can really enjoy himself.’
Before we knew it, our local hall was booked and Paul’s band, the Albino Crocodile, agreed to play. More than 250 people turned up to celebrate Brian’s life, including my daughter Nicola, 38, her husband Brian, 43, and their children Lauren, 16, Bethany, 15, and Christopher, 10.
‘I can’t believe they’re all here to see me,’ he gasped as we walked in.
The band played for hours and we sang and danced to his favourite songs – Always Look
on the Bright Side and Walking on Sunshine.
But his smile didn’t last all night.
I spotted him looking around the room, a lost look on his face, a pint of Guinness in his hand.
‘Love, everything okay?’ I worried.
He looked up, tears in his eyes. ‘I don’t know who’s come to say hello, and who’s come to say goodbye,’ he said. It was like he’d suddenly realised how much he was going to be leaving behind.
What keeps us smiling now are the fantastic memories we have from that night. Four months on, and Brian’s doing really well. We know time’s running out, but I try not to think about life without him – when I do, I feel breathless.
Instead, we’re living every moment together. ‘Always look on the bright side,’ he tells me.
So I am – my brave husband is still with me, and I’m going to cherish every second we have left together.
Susan McGurty, 57, Jarrow, Tyne and Wear