Josefine - Interview 30

Age at interview: 57
Brief Outline: Josefine's husband, Nicholas, was killed in a car accident in 2001. Josefine was shocked but understands that death is part of life. She arranged a 'green funeral' and buried Nicholas on her own land. She has had tremendous support from family and friends.
Background: Josefine is a psychotherapist. She is a widow and has 1 child. Ethnic background/nationality: White German.

More about me...

In June 2001 Josefine’s husband, Nicholas, was killed in a car accident, which happened on a little country lane. He had been to see his mother. His mother was driving, and as she pulled out of the driveway another car came round the corner and hit their car. Nicholas was taken to hospital but was declared dead on arrival. He died of a broken neck. He was 52 when he died.
Josefine was at her home in London when two policemen called to see her. They told her that Nicholas had been killed and they suggested that she should go to the country to be with her mother-in-law. Josefine was deeply shocked. She felt quite calm as she went with a friend by taxi to the country. That night she also felt calm because she felt that Nicholas was with her, his presence embracing her, like the duvet that was wrapped around her.
The next day Josefine phoned her son, who was working in Germany. He came back to England and joined Josefine. Other family members and friends gathered at the house too. They went to see Nicholas’ body in the mortuary. Josefine wanted to stay with her husband for as long as possible. She wanted to touch him and hold him, and she and her family and close friends went to see him every day for three days.
Josefine and Nicholas had a Buddist view on life and so Josefine asked the coroner to wait for three days before doing a postmortem. She did not want Nicholas’ body to be disturbed during those three days. During the days following Nicholas’ death Josefine and her son each had close friends with them all the time. She felt that was very important.
One day, about ten days after Nicholas had died, Josefine was crying and feeling very emotional. Suddenly she felt that Nicholas was with her. He touched her and told her that everything was alright. Josefine was amazed, but seeing Nicholas made her feel at peace. For about a year Josefine had similar experiences, sometimes called “after death” communications. She also had dreams and was able to communicate with Nicholas in her dreams. This convinced Josefine that there is some kind of life after death. She was amazed at these experiences but through some research found that these experiences are very common.
Josefine and Nicolas founded The Natural Death Centre in 1991. It provides information on all types of funeral choices, but is especially known for advice & support on family-organised, environmentally-friendly funerals, and Natural Burial Grounds (see The Natural Death Handbook). Josefine told the officials at the hospital that she would organise the funeral.
Josefine returned to her own home and started to organise two big events, a funeral in the country, on a piece of land that she and Nicholas owned, and a memorial service in London. She went to the hospital with friends to fetch Nicholas’ body and with friends she prepared Nicholas’ body for burial. They massaged his body with essential oils and then dressed him. Josefine found this a profound experience. Friends met round the open coffin, which was in the house.
The preparation for the funeral on site took a whole day. Josefine and her son and his friends dug Nicholas’ grave. It was situated in a clearing in the wood. They chose a bamboo woven coffin, which everyone decorated with flowers as part of the ceremony. They held a ceremony beside the grave and friends and family talked about Nicholas. Then they had a tea party in the field as the sun went down they danced around the grave. Josefine felt it was a wonderful funeral.
Nicholas had made a video which he wanted played at his funeral. Josefine and her friends watched it many times. It was played at the memorial event in London, the day after the funeral, and on other occasions. She is so glad that Nicholas made this video. About 300 people came to the event. People watched the video, talked about their memories of Nicholas, drank champagne and danced. A year later Josefine also held a memorial service for Nicholas in a church, where this video was also shown.
The inquest took place in October. The coroner decided that Nicholas had died due to an accident. Josefine is happy with the verdict.
Josefine still misses Nicholas, and she wishes he were still here and they could grow old together. She is also sad for her son who has since got married, as Nicholas was not there to share the experience. But she is happy.
Josefine was interviewed in 2009.

Josefine was not in favour of organ donation. She does not think bodies should be used for spare...

Organ donation was never discussed at all?
No, I’m so against organ donation, I’m sorry but I don’t think we are spare parts, we are not, you know. I don’t go along with the idea that it is a great thing but I just feel that way. I don’t want to support that kind of medicine that behaves like that or thinks like that.
Which thinks you take organs and put them in there, you take that bit out and put it in here. But I suppose I would give parts of my body to my family where it is sort of, if my body, if my tissue was, you know, it’s somehow acceptable to another, the tissue of somebody in my family, then I think yes but I don’t know. It’s an issue that I’ve always felt very strongly against, I could maybe change my mind.

After Nicholas died Josefine had experiences that convinced her that there is life after death....

Do you have a spiritual belief?
Yes but, you know, my spiritual belief you could say, I have a catholic background which I rejected when I was 14 and a Buddhist view on life without having been a signed up Buddhist. I’m not, I’m a spiritual person but I’m not a religious person.
But something extraordinary happened and that’s what I want to say really, I couldn’t sleep after Nicholas died and I had some sleeping pills at some point, can't remember. I couldn’t sleep very much and I was, I had no appetite and I think that these are all just part of shock, you know, also I had no energy really to cry, I wasn’t emotional at all. It was like as if that… takes you into yourself and I wasn’t in myself I was just doing things, you know, organising two major productions [the funeral and the memorial service] you could say and I was between two phone calls, the upstairs telephone and the downstairs office phone, giving information, speaking to people and I couldn’t bear to repeat myself. I just thought haven’t you got it already, no that’s the same. And so one day, it probably was about ten days after Nicholas died I spoke to somebody on the phone and I made an emotional connection and I cried and I felt, I was sitting down on the, you know, on the stairs in the hallway and crying and suddenly Nicholas was there and he bent over me and put both his hands on my elbows and I could, this hand I couldn’t see but I felt it, his hand, but this hand, I could see his hand and my arm my elbow here. And I felt such, I felt him standing behind me bending over me like that, I felt so, as if somebody had put a glass bowl over me, you know, like… a glass bell really. Sudden stillness… and I felt, like before I was very emotional, it was like, you know, I was tossed by my emotions and then I felt this stillness and I felt so, I took the time to look at his hand it was so nice to see the little hairs on the back of his hand and I felt as if it was the most normal thing in the world and I felt he was conveying somehow or saying, “I’m okay, you’re okay, everything’s okay” and I felt it’s okay. And this happened a second time and when it happened again I realised that it had happened, it happened in this moment when I was crying on the telephone, and then I told my friends, my son and my girlfriend who was staying with me and also people in the office and my mother-in-law and I was absolutely amazed, they were amazed too, unheard of, I’ve never heard anyone, I’ve never heard, I mean just so unexpected. I thought, “Oh wow, God there’s something I didn’t know, come now, come now”, I couldn’t make it happen that was so frustrating and so I thought well what a wonderful thing, it made me, it gave me something, it gave me I suppose acceptance and peace somehow, there was this feeling of and this stillness was a kind of, a real, on a cellular level an okay feeling, you know, it’s okay although I don’t understand it, it’s okay.
Did you talk to any professional counsellor or therapist yourself about these experiences?
Yes, yes I talked to my analyst about it and she was very accepting, she had not experienced anything like this herself but was open to not knowing or to something unknown, which you cannot easily slot into place. And what I feel about this now, although at the time it made me feel very strongly there’s life after death, I can’t say now what there is, I can only say there is; these experiences happen and I think we should allow people to talk about it and people who are working with people who are dying or bereaved should know that this is very normal.
Had you been, do you have an analyst you see regularly anyway?
This wasn’t a particular appointment?
No. And I went to see a medium it was just some months actually, it was in the, when was it, it was in September of 2001 so Nicholas had been killed in June and my mother was ill and she actually died a week after I saw this Medium. The Medium was amazing, I couldn’t make quite sense of it then but it’s, it’s amazing. I suppose I at that time, it was true I was surrounded by death and that’s what she said, I mean I don’t want to go into that, any of that. I have seen her many times since then say once a year maybe I’ve been seeing her, and it helped me to understand these experiences and just find they’re normal, these experiences I was having and…
What happens when you see a Medium what’s, what’s the aim?
I suppose the aim is to understand better this mystery. And Nicholas is, he talks to her.
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Josefine thinks funeral directors should tell families that they can choose whatever they wish...

I think funeral directors should always tell families that they have the right to do things themselves, and actually want to support them to do as much as possible for themselves. But of course funeral directors, unless they’re green funeral directors and influenced by The Natural Death Centre, will have a great interest to do as much, to earn as much money as possible, but I feel that’s grossly unfair and you know, we don’t live in Victorian times and to most people Victorian outfit, Victorian attitude, well the interpretation of it, the sombre talking and this ugly outfits and everything so, it doesn’t appeal. It shouldn’t be the rule of things and people should know what choices they have.

Josefine chose to spend many hours with Nicholas in the hospital mortuary before the post-mortem....

I don’t know how long we stayed actually, I think maybe two hours. And also we wanted, I wanted to touch Nicholas’s body, I didn’t want him with a wooden surround and covered up and everything and  you know, it was only hours ago he was alive, so why shouldn’t I want to be with him now that he was dead? And the other thing is he… he looked remarkable, like my mother who died a few months later, of cancer actually  and had only just been diagnosed three weeks before Nicholas died, she’d been diagnosed with cancer. She and Nicholas had this ecstatic look on their face, as if some orgasmic ecstasy had happened which also was a wonderful thing [laughter] you know, there wasn’t a scary impression, it was like an ecstatic expression on his face.
Were you left alone with him?
No we were all together but I actually, was I alone with him, but we went to see him for three days, every day.
You didn’t have to have a police officer there or?
No, no, no.
They left the family?
No they just left us [her and her friends], and also, yes. They made time for us, they were just so kind. I have one regret, that I didn’t bring a, I didn’t think of it, you know, [laughter] now I would  think a little bit better, I know a lot more now, but I should have brought a record player with me to play his particular Hari Krishna music to him, which he used as a way of meditation every morning, dancing naked around his room learning poetry by heart. And  this music is very beautiful and  I just felt it would have been, you see this is the other thing, this is just me and again the coroner was so kind, there needed to be an autopsy but I didn’t want his body interfered with until… I felt ready to let him go and I said to him “Look we have Buddhists  belief and we don’t want the body to be interfered with for three days” and he accepted it and so we had a sort of wake, for three days, we came every afternoon and spent , friends came also, spent time with his body in the room and you could feel his presence there. It was as if he was there in a way. And I left my scarf with his body somehow, because his head was bent backwards and I wanted it, and so I put my scarf under his head and by the third day I practically lay alongside this trolley with him, holding him, I was sort of getting used to, that his body was now cold and lifeless but was so familiar and, you know, it was important to be allowed to have that.

Josefine and her family acted as funeral directors. They had a daylong beautiful Quaker style...

I wasn’t ready for anyone to interfere with the body and also I’d told them that I would, we would organise a funeral ourselves and that we were the funeral directors and so they [the hospital mortuary] kept the body for us for a week.


When it came to Nicholas’s funeral we very much did what we did for our friend. We had a sort of initial ceremony down below in this field where there was a structure set up so that people could sit around the coffin and a Quaker style ceremony where you could speak when you felt moved to speak and it was very, very beautiful. I think every funeral should have such a wonderful set up [laughter] and there were lots of us there, the elderly people sat on chairs and we all sat around on the structure we built and then up the hill there’s this little area for the graveside and we had another ceremony there and a very set ceremony, and one beautiful thing you can do with a bamboo coffin is you can weave flowers into the lid and it looked like a piece of jewelry, so beautiful. And June at that time on our land there’s a lot of Rhododendron [in flower] and people also brought flowers, well, I asked everybody to bring just one flower anyway but it was just so nice to be physically decorating the coffin together whilst it sat above the grave. And then we had a tea party in the field until the end of the day and the end of the day was where we danced in a very big circle around the grave as the sun was setting and we went back home to London, we had a whole day.

I think there’s a journey you see between death and funeral, it’s a journey and you go on this together and I think to arrive together at the station and walk all the way to the site and then, it’s like a ritual it’s an important thing to be involved in. And people obviously were talking to each other on the train and, you know, so it was a wonderful, wonderful funeral, very satisfying and the next day we had the big event in London with a live band and the video being played three times on a big plasma screen and photographs of Nicholas all around the room.
Where was this?
A big space, a big space in central London which belonged to a close friend of ours. And so it was partially outdoors and partially indoors this event and I think about 300 people came, I don’t know.

Josefine’s husband was killed in a car accident. The police called at the house to tell her what...

In June, 3rd June in 2001 my husband Nicholas was killed on a Sunday evening in a little country lane he’d been to see his mother for tea whilst I was at home having been busy. On the way to the station, as they drove out of the little country lane, out of the drive into the country lane, a car came up and just as they had stopped to turn and see if the road was free, if the road was free, this car came up, it was an inexperienced driver and hit full frontal and the car turned around, spun around and Nicholas died of a broken neck.
And I don’t want to feel, I have never held the people responsible, neither his mum nor the other driver, I feel this accident could have happened any other time and  I feel I was in absolute shock when, I never suspected anything was wrong at all when Nicholas didn’t come back at 9 o’clock or something when I ran a group at home and it had ended and I was washing up and I didn’t think anything when the police came, two policemen came to the house. And it was half past eleven and I thought something happened to somebody else and they came in and said nothing and I said “What is it, is it my son?” and they said “No”, because I have one son who was at that time in Germany, working and I’m German. And  then I asked “Is it my husband?” and they said “Yes”. And because Nicholas and I had set up The Natural Death Centre together and The Natural Death Centre was set up in  1991 and The Natural Death Centre had taken us into becoming experts on green funerals family organised funerals and it had, it was sort of, being a psychotherapist death, you know, embracing death is part of life, that is sort of my daily mantra to, to live more consciously and more fully so I had even that very day as we lay in bed in the morning been thinking here I am lying in bed with you, one day, I imagined I mean, you know, no magical thinking involved, one day you will be dead, but here we are together alive, look at me and he did look at me but he didn’t really look at me in the way I expected. He looked straight through into the distance and I thought, “Well I don’t know what’s going on with him”, I thought our relationship had it’s difficulties and we had some arguments and  I thought it’s going to change and I’ll just take it lightly I won’t intrude and ask him what’s going on. And we had a wonderful parting that day and just really amazing and when he left that day to see his mum for tea, and I was about to work, I said to him, as I kissed him goodbye what do you say “Come back to me safely” and I never say anything like that. And he didn’t come back, you know, he didn’t come back and that night the policemen, they were probably feeling terrible and I was just blank when they told me he had died in a car accident. 
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Josefine lost £2000 from social services because she was not aware it had to be claimed within 3...

Were there any practical things you had to cope with?
There were practical things, I was self employed and I did not know the benefits system. The Social Services sent me a letter six months after his death to tell me that three months after his death I should have claimed £2,000 widows benefit but now it was too late. And I was really struggling financially because I had taken two and a half months off because my mother was, was in a coma following a cancer operation. She went into a coma in intensive care with an infection the day of Nicholas’s death. My family didn’t tell me that but at some point they must have done because I then went out to see my mother.
Dealing with utility companies was awful. I needed to change the bills into my name, but it was so hard. I spent hours on the phone. They double charged me.  I couldn’t claim the money back, I was so exhausted. You have no energy when you’re bereaved and these organisations, nobody’s responsible, you know, it’s none of their problem and I think really when somebody has died, particularly when somebody has died suddenly, there ought to be someone who sorts these things out for you. There should be a Government organisation that helps people. Just imagine what it must be like for older people, I mean I was quite young and still I had no energy, I just gave up, you know, and luckily I had help from my sister-in-law, helping me with an insurance claim and that took years and that dragged on and on… I suppose insurance companies never want to give you money so they give you a hard time but to give you a hard time when you’re bereaved just feels very cruel.
And I just don’t know if there’s any way to make things easier but I certainly could think that from a practical point of view if there were Social Services, a social worker could come round and take you through, to see exactly what a new situation you are now eligible for. And for someone to sort out some of the basic matters with Gas, electricity, phone, and, you know, because they know, they would then know very well what, they couldn’t run rings round you, as I feel they did because I was, and any other bereaved person especially if they’re elderly, they’re just victims of circumstance and so they give up. Lots of people don’t claim what’s their due because they can’t be bothered to, they can’t be bothered to fight for it.
You never got the benefit you could have had?
No, that was £2,000 apparently, I didn’t get. But I was lucky because I had family who gave me some money. 
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Josefine thinks that funeral directors should tell families that they can choose what ever they...

I think funeral directors should always tell families that they have the right to do things themselves, and actually want to support them to do as much as possible for themselves. But of course funeral directors, unless they’re green funeral directors and influenced by The Natural Death Centre, will have a great interest to do as much, to earn as much money as possible, but I feel that’s grossly unfair and, you know, we don’t live in Victorian times and to most people Victorian outfit, Victorian attitude, well the interpretation of it, the somber talking and this ugly outfits and everything so, it doesn’t appeal. It shouldn’t be the rule of things and people should know what choices they have.
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Josefine explains that usually people can be buried on private land as long as relatives do not...

Are there any rules about where you can bury people in this country, or how you can bury them?
The Natural Death Centre collected  information and is providing information in the Natural Death Handbook so yes you can be buried on your own land and  provided that you don’t erect a gravestone and turn it into a graveyard, you don’t change the use of the land. But nowadays, there are so many green burial grounds up and down the country [over 250 of them]. Some are more like park land, some are more like meadows and some are like woodland. There are different types. For people who want to find out about natural burial grounds in their area, they should contact the Natural Death Centre www.naturaldeath.org.uk.
So anybody who wishes to bury somebody they love in their own garden, that’s fine?
Yes, you can do that. And people have done that but, you know, your neighbours might object if it’s a little, tiny little garden there are not many rules around, there are a few about not too close to a spring and so forth, you know, and... 
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