1 April 2023
Sudha Bhuchar: Navigating death through the prism of faith and culture
Sudha shares her experiences with death and funeral planning
Have you ever thought about your fantasy funeral, pondered your dream epitaph or wondered what you do if knew you had a week left on Earth?
A selection of six writers, comedians and actors shared their innermost feelings about death, dying and loss with us with a carefully crafted combination of candour and comedy in our podcast series Dead Good.
We’ve picked out some of the best bits in a new series of article and if you like what you read you can then click on the link at the end of each one to hear the whole of that interview. They really are rather good – Dead Good in fact.
Tanzanian-born British Asian actor and playwright Sudha Bhuchar has appeared in some of Britain’s favourite TV and radio shows including Coronation Street, EastEnders and The Archers. In a brutally honest interview with Sajeela Kershi for our Dead Good podcast, Sudha, recalls storylines that could be straight out of a soap opera and reveals that she’s only ever really been able to show her true emotions while in character.
With almost all the family back in India, Sudha’s early life encounters with death were limited to news conveyed in letters. Until that is her father died suddenly when she was just 15, a week before his 50th birthday. Both he and Sudha’s brother, who died aged just 43, suffered heart attacks. In fact, Sudha found her father after his.
Her emotional response wasn’t what some might consider conventional. “I remember a feeling of numbness. People depict deaths with people in floods of tears, hysterical. It wasn’t like that for me. I think that’s what I struggle with is tears and displays of grief.”
Similarly, years later when her brother died, Sudha didn’t shed a tear and still hasn’t.
“At times I do feel like it would be a relief to be able to cry like I see other people do and I envy them. I do actually envy people whose emotions are released when they’re needed to be.”
Instead, Sudha says, she’s embraced those emotions in her work, addressing issues of bereavement and death. Specifically she ran a project called Golden Hearts at St George’s Hospital in Tooting about the issue of Asian men’s propensity to heart disease, telling the story of patients she met and interviewed in the waiting room at the hospital.
As for those moments scriptwriters might have come up with, Sudha shares plenty, including when the Hindu pandit got her brother’s name wrong at his funeral.
Then, when Sudha’s mother died aged 76 in 2013, things reached a whole new level of drama.
“My mother’s funeral was actually a disaster, you know, like the worst funeral that people have been to in terms of practical arrangements.”
Looking back, Sudha says she and her siblings now laugh at the trail of mishaps surrounding what should have been a solemn event. Sudha and her sister went to see her mother’s body the night before the funeral only for the woman preparing it to take a phone call about a pizza delivery. Then on the day of the funeral, they missed the slot for the hearse and the crematorium very nearly couldn’t complete the process because of her mother’s pacemaker.
When it comes to plans for her own death and funeral and that of her husband, Sudha says there have been many discussions. He is Muslim and while not a frequent visitor to the Mosque, does want a traditional funeral. And she respects that. “He is adamant that that’s how he wants his funeral, because he actually sees it’s bigger than an individual person. So that is what we will honour, you know, and I do I think it is quite moving when you go to the mosque and it isn’t just immediate friends and family.”
As for Sudha, who was raised in a Hindu household, her wishes are simple, and she’s already shared them with her children. “So I’ve just said to my kids that, you know, have a kind of humanist ceremony and then you can go and do something nice in terms of the ashes going into the river by the sea. I love the sea.”
Sudha’s Departure Lounge
How would you spend your last week on Earth: By the sea, drinking champagne with family
Fantasy funeral: A friend singing Morning has Broken, her ashes scattered in the sea – followed by lots more champagne
Epitaph: I’m still here
For Sudha’s top tips on how to deal with bereavement (spoiler alert: they include baking and yoga) and how she’s expressed her emotions on camera, listen to this episode of our podcast Dead Good here.
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