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General news Archives - St Christopher's Hospice

My fantasy funeral would be a celebration with 80s party food

As I envision the grand finale of my mortal existence, the word ‘traditional’ is nowhere
in sight.

No coffins, no sombre gatherings, and certainly no hushed remembrances wearing black. I’m opting for a celebration that mirrors the quirky essence of my existence. A nod to my peculiar life that’s sure to leave everyone scratching their heads.

Let’s kick off the festivities with a grand entrance – or should I say, roll? Forget the fancy coffins or even a cardboard box; toss me straight into a wheelbarrow. Let’s keep it simple, and more importantly, get me cremated ASAP. There’s no need for my physical form to linger any longer than necessary. Efficiency is key to me, even in the afterlife.

Now, about that funeral service everyone dreads – not on my watch! The idea of a traditional funeral service makes me cringe. A group of people gathered around, speaking in hushed tones about what a nice guy I was? No, thank you. No whispers and black-clad mourners here. Instead, let’s throw a party – a bash that I’ve curated from beyond the grave.

Picture it: upbeat tunes I love, sprinkled with just enough morbidity to keep the mood appropriately eerie. A Joy Division track, perhaps? Nothing like a bit of post-punk to get the party started.

And speaking of parties, I’d love a shrine dedicated to the many (un)glorious faces that I’ve managed to ruin perfectly pleasant photos with over the years (sorry mum). The more absurd, the better – because why take life too seriously, even in death? It’s a celebration, after all, and laughter should be the centrepiece.

A photograph of a table of party food, including bowls of crisps, plates of party rings and a Thomas the Tank Engine cake.
Party rings and sausage rolls galore!

Now, onto the sustenance – the food. No fancy caterers or gourmet delicacies; I’m talking about the nostalgia-inducing delights of 80s party fare. Cheese and pineapple on sticks, party rings, and pork pies cut into quarters to make them go further. Cap it off with jelly and ice cream, a culinary throwback
to the simpler times when life was just as sweet.

They say you should never speak ill of the dead, but let’s not sugar-coat things. In the spirit of honesty, let the guests share all the things they thought about me – the cheapness, the grumpiness, the infuriating neck cracking when stressed. It’s a roast I won’t be around to hear, but I’ll be smiling from the great beyond, neck-cracking and all.

So, as I bid adieu to this mortal coil, remember me not with tears, but with laughter, music, and a questionable spread of 80s delights. After all, if death is inevitable, why not make the exit memorable?

In the end, let my send-off be a testament to the joy of imperfection, the beauty of laughter, and a celebration of a life lived authentically – warts, quirks, and all.

:: This story was from our Spring/Summer issue of Connect magazine. To read the full magazine, or to sign up to receive future editions, please click here.

Gail’s marathon story

A compelling mix of personal and professional reasons driving physiotherapist Gail Preston to complete her third marathon

Marathon runners usually have at least one strong reason for pushing themselves through the pain barrier. For St Christopher’s physiotherapist Gail Preston there are numerous motivations for running the London Marathon.

Where to start?

Well, Gail was born and brought up in Beckenham and has been aware of the hospice for pretty much her whole life.

She’s worked as a physio at St Christopher’s, in the in-patient unit, the community and now with outpatients for almost 13 years – a job she says she absolutely loves.

Then there’s the deeply personal motivation. After a youth spent actively avoiding running but being incredibly active – playing water polo at county level and rowing at university – Gail was determined to get fit again after having her first two children.

“I took on my first marathon in London in April 2016. That was after I’d had a miscarriage in the previous October. It was my therapy.

“Then later in 2016 I lost another baby and decided I had to do it again. I would go out for two hours running and once I’d written the shopping list in my head, worked out what presents I was buying the kids, there were no more mundane things to think about and it became really mindful. No one was asking anything of me, other than myself.

“As parents, wives, daughters and employees, there’s always someone who needs a bit of you. While I love giving a bit of myself to be alongside people on their journey it’s also exhausting. I’m doing this for myself, for the sense of achievement and of course to raise money for St Christopher’s. I find it really cathartic.”

So, after a seven-year gap – necessitated by the arrival of her now five-year-old son – Gail is out tramping the trails, tracks and roads as she trains for the rigours of the 26-mile course on Sunday 21 April.

For a woman who’s also completed three triathlons and has plans for two more this summer, Gail isn’t fazed by the prospect of the London race. She just wants make sure she has all aspects of the preparation covered this time.

“This year I’m doing it because I want to and I want to enjoy it. I’m determined to get the refuelling right this time so I can soak up the last few miles, finish tired but strong and good about myself.”

A broken toe and a chest infection haven’t provided with Gail with the perfect build-up, but having started training in October, she reckons she’ll be ready for the big day and able to soak up the atmosphere she remembers so well from her two previous runs.

“It’s the cheering, everybody willing you to do your best and total unconditional support. I mean where else do you ever have so many strangers who genuinely want the best for you. It is such an uplifting atmosphere, especially after you’ve been through so much blood, sweat and tears to be there.”

Gail’s husband, three children (who think she’s mad doing it!) and many friends will be there to support her.

That leads us to another important personal motivation. Gail’s father recently started being supported by St Christopher’s and she’s really hoping he’ll be well enough for her mother to leave him and come and watch and for her parents to host the post-marathon party.

Wearing her professional hat, Gail hopes that running for St Christopher’s will also help to dispel some pre-conceptions and raise awareness about what the hospice really does.

“I want to get it out there that it’s not just about the very end of life but about living and all the staff and volunteers are here to support you live well until you die –it is about putting life into days and not days into life.”

This isn’t the first time Gail’s raised money for St Christopher’s. She and her mother are veterans of wreathmaking, firewalking and both Fun and Moonlight walks. If you’d like to support Gail in her bid to raise at least £1,000 for St Christopher’s click here.

Connor’s marathon story

If he hits his fundraising target Connor will be running in a fairy outfit and with a plate in his leg.

Connor Norris possibly wasn’t following doctor’s orders when, recovering from a broken leg and dislocated ankle, he applied to run the London Marathon to raise money for St Christopher’s.

But, having missed his target of completing the iconic challenge before his 30th birthday, the property manager from Bexley, was determined to do it in his 30th year.

“When I got the call to say I’d got a place I was really chuffed. Then it hit me; I’ve got to run very far,” added Connor.

Pushing him on through the months of training and the race itself, will be memories of his father, Steve, who spent his final few weeks at St Christopher’s 18 years ago after a terminal lung cancer diagnosis, when Connor was just 12.

“I was too young to really appreciate the place and to fundraise back then,” he remembers.

“But the whole family have fond memories of the place and an affiliation with it ever since and my mum is still in touch with one of the nurses who looked after Dad. I remember going there after school, getting something to eat from the café and then going and spending time with my Dad in his room and watching something on TV.”

It’s not the first time Connor has raised money for St Christopher’s. He has organised two charity football matches at Cray Valley Football Club with two teams of friends playing against each other raising more than £3,000.

“I remember when my mum and I went to pick up the collection buckets from St Christopher’s, it was the first time we had been back there since Dad died and that was quite a moment.

“I’ve not known anyone else who’s been cared for at St Christopher’s but so many people I know have relatives who have been and it’s such a special place for people.”

There’s a particular memory of dad, Steve, that Connor might quite literally carry with him as he treads the streets of London in April.

“I’ve pledged on my Just Giving page that if I manage to raise £3,500 before the race I will run as a fairy in memory of a photo of my dad dressed as one at a New Year’s Eve party at the millennium.”

That’ll be a minor test compared to all the training Connor’s doing, with a plate in his leg, after the winter weather accident he suffered last year, for which he’s still receiving physiotherapy, and the fact that, despite having played football regularly to a decent standard, he’s never done much running.

“The running itself really isn’t too much of a problem. It’s afterwards, my legs just start to go. But I’ve got my family and friends coming down on the day to watch and I’ve booked a pub for after, so I am determined to run it all if I possibly can and hopefully in under 5 hours.”

So long as Connor finishes the marathon unscathed, he’s planning to organise a third and deciding fundraising football match.

If you’d like to take on a challenge for St Christopher’s you can find out more on our events calendar

Chloe and Tracie’s story

When Chloe Newman read through all the hundreds of personal stories on social media of people running the London Marathon just a month after her grandfather Michael Liston had died at St Christopher’s in March 2023, she knew she had to act. But not alone. No, Chloe and her mother Tracie both applied for places in the 2024 marathon.

“When we got the email to say we’d been accepted it was like, wow, we’ve really got to do this now and my Nan couldn’t believe it and said by grandad would be laughing his head off,” says Chloe, 25.

Chloe knows what she’s letting herself in for, as she ran the marathon in 2018. But for mum Tracie this is a whole new experience and she’s honest in her assessment of her own readiness for task ahead.

“I might not be the fittest,” says Tracie, “but it’s a challenge I want to take. It’s a personal thing. I want to give back to St Christopher’s for some of the kindness they gave us. They were our light in the dark and if we can just contribute something to help them to carry on and care for others then that’s what I’m aiming for.”

Tracie and Chloe spent most of the last five weeks of Michael’s life at his bedside in the hospice and say their only regret was that he wasn’t admitted earlier.

“Nothing was ever too much trouble,” says Tracie, 58. “Not once did anyone ever say, can you wait a few minutes please. It was the best possible place for him and for us we knew he was being well cared for, so we had peace of mind.”

For Chloe, it was the home away from home aspect of the care that really struck her as she and Tracie set up shop work remotely from the St Christopher’s café.

“We could take grandad round the gardens, bring our dogs in to see him and managed to have a giggle sometimes too. Then a week before he died, we celebrated his 80th birthday. The nurses decorated his room with balloons, we all sang Happy Birthday, had cake and grandad had his favourite meal – proper East End pie and mash.

“From start to finish there really was nothing more anyone could do, everything was amazing, and all the staff were fantastic.”

After having running shoes fitted, training started in earnest in January for Chloe and Tracie. Tracie is used to walking her dogs and is confident that one way or another she will cross the line.

“I will be at the start line and will finish it, no matter what. I think the crowds will carry us,” she insists.

The pair will do two short runs a week and something a bit longer on Sundays and are realistic about what’s ahead.

“I mean no pain we suffer along the way will be anything compared to what Grandad went through and nothing we do for St Christopher’s can be too much,” added Chloe.

Tracie and Chloe are hoping to raise £5,000 and will give that total a boost when they host an event in March with live music and a raffle to mark Michael’s birthday, the anniversary of his death and to highlight their upcoming marathon adventure.

If you’d like to take on a challenge for St Christopher’s you can find out more on our events calendar

Poppy’s marathon story

Marathon Runner Poppy Younger

Poppy’s father Ricky spent seven and half weeks being cared for at St Christopher’s before he died on 1 March, having been diagnosed with inoperable cancer in October 2022.

“We’d heard of St Christopher’s and been to the charity shops but had never been to the hospice and had no idea what it was really like. Coming from hospital, the difference was amazing. Everyone from reception to the café staff, nurses and volunteers, they were all so lovely. We felt so welcome and at home. My mum stayed over for the last two weeks and I was often there until midnight. It was just a magical place for us to spend the last few weeks with Dad.

“He particularly loved the foot massages, which made him feel relaxed, and the ice creams – he couldn’t get enough of them.”

When Ricky died, aged 62, Poppy and her mother and brother Josh, vowed to raise as much money as they could for St Christopher’s. He was a familiar and popular figure in the community having been the site manager at a local school and the family quickly raised £5,000 for the hospice.

Poppy was determined to do more. She and her mother had been to watch the London Marathon for years – supporting friends and enjoying the atmosphere.

“For ages I’ve said I’d run it one year and I just thought there would never be a better year to do it so I applied, without telling anyone, not really thinking I’d be successful and then when I heard I’d got a place, the reality set in.”

Poppy describes herself as fit-ish. Her dad taught her to play golf and she started going to the gym regularly over the last few months. She’d never really done any running though.

“I’d be out of breath just running for a bus, so it was hard work when I started training in September.”

A few months into training, and Poppy is now running for an hour three to four times a week but is acutely aware of the challenge and distance ahead as her morning commute to Tunbridge Wells is 25 miles – just less than the marathon distance. She says everywhere she goes she is conscious of distances.

So far, Poppy thinks she’s on track to be ready for the big day and says that having the personal motivation really helps on those days when she’s just not feeling it.

“It can be hard when it’s dark and chilly. But I am determined to keep going and know Dad’s laughing at me and saying, ‘get your backside in gear!’.”

A carol concert at St David’s school in West Wickham, where Poppy’s mother works, gave a serious boost to her £2,500 fundraising target.

Looking ahead to the big day in April, Poppy is expecting sizeable support from her large family and friendship group and expects the crowd will help carry her to the finish line.

“I feel good running on my own but I’m also getting used to crowds by doing Park Runs at the weekend. If I hit the wall at about 18 miles, I expect I’ll probably just burst into tears. I’m not worried about times; I just want to get to the finish.

“But I can’t wait to have the medal, put it in a frame on my wall, have that amazing feeling of being able to say I’ve done it and raised as much money as I can for St Christopher’s as my way of giving something back.”

If you’d like to take on a challenge for St Christopher’s you can find out more on our events calendar

Close family connections motivate marathon man David

With a grandfather and uncle who were cared for at home by St Christopher’s, a grandmother who was employed in various roles in the hospice for 25 years and a sister who has volunteered in a number of its shops, there was never any doubt which charity David Shaw would be running for in his first London Marathon.

When you add in that David’s father and four uncles used to participate regularly in a very different kind of a fundraising race for the hospice 50 years ago, it really was a done a deal.

“The whole family just loves St Christopher’s,” says David, 31, of Crystal Palace.

David’s Grandparents

“It all started with my grandmother Ann who worked in the kitchen and various other roles up to the early 90s. Dame Cicely Saunders attended her funeral in 2001. Then they looked after my grandfather Jack, when he died of cancer in 1996. I always wanted to give something back.”

David’s Uncle Tony

David’s uncle Anthony Shaw was also cared for at home at the end of his life. As a result, David’s family, particularly his mother Janet Shaw, have participated in many events and been involved in numerous fundraising efforts, including bake and plant sales, over the years.

David, who was brought up in Petts Wood and now lives in Crystal Palace, passes the hospice regularly on his training runs and is glad of the reminder of the cause for which he’ll be running in April.  Although he does bemoan the hilly terrain of south east London.

“Being 6ft 4ins puts a real strain on my knees and all the hills just make it even worse,” he adds.

Those training runs also see David cover the same ground as his father, John and four uncles in the 1970s and 80s when they competed in fancy dress in the St Christopher’s Pram Race, down Sydenham High Street from the top of Wells Park Road to The Bell pub at Bell Green.

“Dad and his brothers grew up in Kingsthorpe Road and competed in this event many times and even won it one year, in the late 70s I believe. This was our family’s first recorded instance of organised fundraising for St Christopher’s and we have participated in many other fun events since then – it’s nice to think that we are still trying to do our small bit (in race form too!) to support the hospice 50 odd years later.”

It won’t be David’s first marathon – that was a very different affair. The Marathon du Medoc, staged near Bordeaux, involved drinking a glass of wine every mile. “Amazingly, I felt better at the end of the race than I did at the beginning,” David recalls.

He’s also completed the Brighton marathon and, with a fair wind, is hoping to beat three and a half hours, both for personal achievement and because it will mean doubting friends will have to make good on offers to up their sponsorship, helping to drive him towards his £6,000 target.

With such a close family connection, David is guaranteed plenty of support on the day and is looking forward to celebrating with them all afterwards.

If you’d like to support David’s fundraising, visit his page where you can make a donation

If you’d like to take on a challenge for St Christopher’s you can find out more on our events calendar

My Grief is: A collective community poem

As part of National Grief Awareness Week in December 2023, we invited staff, patients, volunteers, and the wider community to create a collective grief poem.

Titled ‘My Grief Is’, we collected submissions both in-person and virtually for our poem which stretches at more than 10 metres long.

The images below capture some parts of the poem which we’re now working on turning into a more permanent form.

Ron and Ann’s story

“Unfortunately, my wife died in the July, and then in the December I was given the fact that I had cancer. So, my world had already fallen apart, but then it fell apart even more. And then St Christopher’s gave me Ann,” Ron bravely tells us as he confronts these difficult emotions. His initial response to being matched with a stranger was slightly sceptical.

Then his eyes brighten as a smile beams forth from his face: “But she was lovely,” he says simply.

For five years, St Christopher’s has been running its Compassionate Neighbours project, which reaches out to the community to train volunteers and connect them with those who have been diagnosed with a life-limiting or terminal illness, as well as those who have been facing loneliness social isolation.

What impact could such a project have on the community? Speaking to us at our recent fifth anniversary celebration of the Compassionate Neighbours project, Ron and Ann told the story of what it has meant to them.

Like all Compassionate Neighbours, Ron and Ann began with a simple phone call; this is a way to get to know each other: a way of getting to know one another’s lives, interests and personalities.

“I’m more of a listener than a talker,” explains Ann, and the pair agree that this certainly works for both of them.

“I have someone that I can talk to,” Ron concurs. “I have a family – but you can have a family and still be lonely.” The initial phone calls certainly helped him unburden himself, and over time their friendship blossomed to the point where they now meet regularly to check in with each other.

Ann reflected that the two “had something in common. I had lost my husband about a year before Ron had lost his wife, and so I had the same sort of feelings – I knew what he was going through. I think it made a lot of difference that we had this sort of commonality.”

For so many, the power of the connection is having someone there to listen, to build a friendship with and to connect them with their communities.

“My wife was my life,” Ron nods in agreement. “But now I have someone to talk to again.”

Most important of all, the relationship between Compassionate Neighbour and Community Member is based on respect and mutual benefit. Because of this, individual relationships flourish.

To use Ann’s words: “It’s not just the person you’re matched with that finds it helpful; I think you get something out of it yourself. I think it’s a brilliant scheme.”

Compassionate Neighbours is always looking for volunteers like Ann to help people like Ron. If you would like to find out more about this scheme, or to apply to volunteer for it, click here.

LGBTQ+ History Month

“The further we develop, the more we see the people we’re not recognising”

Nearly twenty years after becoming St Christopher’s Chaplain, Rev Dr Andrew Goodhead, takes the opportunity this LGBTQ+ History Month, to reflect on his own journey and the progress the hospice has made in addressing inequalities.

Hear from Andrew by watching the video or read our interview with him below.

It took St Christopher’s chaplain, Rev Dr Andrew Goodhead, fully 20 minutes to realise that he was being offered the role of Chaplain and Spiritual Care Lead when he was called back the day after his interview back in 2004. Almost two decades on, Andrew says he’s delighted he did eventually twig and didn’t miss the chance to take up the role.

“I think the fact I’ve been here at St Christopher’s for nearly 20 years, tells you what I think of the role and the place. It’s been very interesting and challenging and my colleagues have been amazing.”

When Andrew, who is gay, reflects on his own achievements in the job, and the progress of St Christopher’s and the wider hospice movement in tackling issues of equity and equality, he’s overwhelmingly positive, but stops well short of complacency.

Spiritual care Andrew Goodhead

He adds: “The role and the organisation have changed just as society has. But we always need to keep changing and to change more.

“There are undoubtedly inequalities that still need addressing, whether they are around cultural or religious beliefs. And when it comes to gender diversity, there are people who find it difficult to access healthcare and who are therefore not receiving the end of life care they could be because they’re worried about how they will experience it and be treated.”

It’s in the words Andrew uses to describe what being chaplain means, that he truly encapsulates his approach to inclusivity and extending access to end of life to all.

“It’s about meeting people where they are and for who they are. And while we absolutely should recognise difference, we don’t want to be talking about supporting difference as a badge of honour.”

It’s that focus on being with people that drew Andrew to St Christopher’s in the first place, after more than a decade working as a Methodist Minister in a number of locations across England. He recalls feeling bogged down in relentless admin, rather than providing the spiritual and pastoral support that had motivated him to join the ministry in 1987 after a period as Legal Executive in his home city of Plymouth.

“I wanted to leave behind the aspects of being a Methodist Minister which were not fulfilling  and come to a place where I knew I could work with people pastorally.

“It’s such a varied job with a massive number of functions. As well as supporting patients and their families there’s a staff support role too.”

Providing training for colleagues around trans diversity is one example of how the hospice is changing and moving forwards, Andrew adds.

Among many high points since joining St Christopher’s in 2005, Andrew picks out a single event and a recurring one.

“Soon after the Same Sex Marriage Act came in in 2013, there was a man in the in-patient unit with his partner and they were talking about having a civil partnership. I suggested they get married. They were surprised they could, but we got the registrar in and made a real event of it. They were so pleased and then when he died, I took the funeral and I was able to talk freely and openly about him.

“Then, I also love the thanksgiving memorial services we do because in a society that says, ‘we don’t want you to grieve’, we bring people together every year and they can come and be sad together. The grief is theirs but they’re not alone. It gives people permission in a gentle way to engage in grief and to step back.”

Any resting on self-satisfied laurels is certainly not something you’ll find Andrew doing. He’s always looking for more ways for the hospice to be more accessible and equitable.

“The further we develop, the more we see the people we’re not recognising or reaching. An example of this would be around hospices’ initial approach to HIV and AIDS. We could have responded more proactively and thoughtfully. I think today we’re probably better on these issues, but we mustn’t give ourselves a pat on the back  for caring for someone who is trans or gender diverse. We should be treating them as a patient like everyone else, recognising the need to be more sensitive about pronouns and family relationships.

Andrew Goodhead

“Generally, things are moving forward as society becomes more tolerant and I would love to see a time when LGBTQ+ people are not seen as a minority but as part of the whole.”

While he remains fully committed to supporting everyone at the end of life and doing everything he can to make the experience a good one, there is an important skill Andrew has learned – to compartmentalise his work so that when he walks out of the hospice at the end of day he leaves his work behind.

“It’s about meeting people where they are and for who they are. And while we absolutely should recognise difference, we don’t want to be talking about supporting difference as a badge of honour.”

Sleep easy after writing your own Death Book

Harriet Inglis is a woman determined to help us all feel more relaxed about life and about death. So much so, that she’s created two totally different products designed with those laudable twin aims in mind. One, a facemask, to mellow your face and eyes, the other, a ‘deathmin’ organiser to give you and your loved ones peace of mind about when you die.

Having experienced the death of both her mother and father by the age of 22, neither of them having left any sort of useful instructions or expression of their wishes, Harriet decided early on that she’d tackle death and dying head-on in a matter-of-fact way.

Central to that is speaking openly and honestly with her four children aged 13-20 as well as her wider family and friends.

“I’m not frightened of dying and these conversations don’t need to be sad,” Harriet says.

She launched Spacemasks, the jasmine scented, heated eye patches, in 2017 and their success, including raising thousands for the Royal Marsden, has given Harriet a platform via her 82,000 followers on Instagram to talk about death and dying.

“During lockdown I started giving people daily tasks to do. It was random stuff, like tidying your sock drawer. Then one day I told my followers to write down their choice of hymns and readings for their funerals and it just blew up.

“Everyone said they were really grateful that I was talking about something like this. And that got me thinking that there would be demand for a book.”

The Death Book says on its bright orange cover: Organise the aftermath to perfection. Make sure your nearest and dearest know exactly what’s what following your demise.

That’s exactly what Harriet wishes her parents had done 30 years ago. Now, she’s helping thousands of people put their minds at rest.

“When someone dies, particularly unexpectedly, people will be in such horrible shock that talking about the practical things is the last thing you want to be doing, so to have it all written down makes them feel better and they can just put it in a drawer and forget about it,” she adds.

“The worst thing would be to arrange someone’s funeral and to mess it up or to feel like you hadn’t done what they would have liked.”

While absolutely providing an aide memoire for people to leave precise funeral instructions, The Death Book also encourages the writer to detail all sorts of crucial information, including where they’ve left their will, bank account and social media logins, important details about pets and anything else that matters to them and will make life easier for those they leave behind.

“I know of people who have bought the Death Book for the family and organised a party and they’ve written their Death Books together, while sharing a bottle of wine. I think that’s a great idea.”

Harriet, who lives in Blackheath, is the first to admit that it was only recently that she came to understand the truth about hospices.

“I had a friend who died in St Christopher’s last year, but until then I used to imagine they were depressing, horrible places where you go to die. I now know that they are the most marvellous places offering loads of therapies and nothing like sterile hospitals.”

St Christopher’s recently took delivery of a batch of Spacemasks from Harriet and she’s keen to support the hospice’s efforts to engage people in conversations about death and dying using the Death Book.

What about plans for her own funeral?

Harriet reveals two details about what she’d like, when the time comes. Firstly, all the guests should wear something purple, as a nod to her love of the singer Prince and secondly, after her grandparents vetoed it at her wedding, she fully expects a trumpeter to play at her funeral.

If you’d like to help a loved one spare you the dreaded ‘deathmin’ or feel ready to start recording wishes and vital information, you can buy your copy of The Death Book here.

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